2013 IXS Cup Round 1, Leogang – Austria

Following on from the mechanical disappointment of Val di Sole, I was keen to make amends the following weekend in Leogang, Austria, where the first round of the 2013 IXS European cup was to be held on the same track as the 2012 World championships. One step down from the World Cup series, the IXS cup races are the second most prestigious series there is and to do well at these events is certainly not easy given the immense amount of talent there is here in Europe.

Dropping into one of the wood sections
Dropping into one of the wood sections in the middle of the track.

Having never ridden here before I had no idea what I was in for, however the lack of technicality and overall lack of difficulty that I saw during the track walk wasn’t what I expected. Despite initial reservations my first practice runs revealed a fun track which, while not very difficult, was incredibly entertaining to ride and I was actually quite a nice departure from the rough and rooty Val di Sole. The simplicity of the track meant that it was very easy to get up to speed and within 3 runs had all of my lines dialled and was feeling pretty good for qualifying the next day.

Come for a run down the Leogang DH course,courtesy of my GoPro helmet camera:

Dry and dusty in the berms at the start of the track. It was 35 degrees on practice day!

Unlike the World Cup races, the IXS cups don’t require you to qualify to race in the final race run, however you do have to do a seeding run which determines your starting order for the finals. Now at the world cup races there might be 250 riders or so which, while it is a lot of riders. Is nothing compared to the 450 riders at the Leogang IXS. All these riders meant that qualifying took almost 4 hours and in that time, the heavens opened and it absolutely poured down, turning the track into a slippery river.

The rain came out for Qualifying.

The word on the street was that it was going to stop raining straight after qualifying and then rain the following day at 3 pm. This gave us a bit of dilemma given the high chance of rain, do you purposely ride slow and seed low down in an attempt to get a run in the dry before the rain the next day or do you go hard in qualifying and hope that the rain stays away. Having never really been much of a gambler, I decided to cruise down in my qually run and hope that it rained the next day. Cruising down the track and into 75th position, I wasn’t too bothered with my placing knowing that I had heaps more in the tank and was ready to let it out for the race the next day.

Back to the dry for race morning practice

Despite the weather forecast of cloud turning to rain, the start of race day was a hot, sunny affair and morning practice showed the track had dried out a lot overnight and with the gravel surface effectively soaking up all the moisture leaving a track in ideal condition for racing. After my seeding result the day before, I was off quite early in proceedings at 3.19 pm with the las rider down at 4.01pm. After a couple of runs in the morning to make sure I was riding up to speed I sat down to get myself ready for the race. Bike ready, kit ready, mechanic ready (Nugget had woken up after his big night out!) and off up the hill we went for warm up and to prepare for the race.

Fun in the sun!

Heading off behind fellow Kiwi Lawrence Cawte, the routine that Nugget and I had sorted out was working well and I was sat in the start hut ready and rearing to go. Like always the 5 beeps came and went and I was off! By the first corner I realised that the track had dried out a lot since practice and as such pushed a bit too hard in the top corners trying to go fast, pulling back a little bit, I started riding better and pushed hard on the long pedalling sections. Pedalling hard out of one of the tree sections I almost lost it on one of the jumps after hitting it way faster than anticipated and going absolutely to flat, I made sure from that point on that I landed on the landings of the jumps rather than the flat ground after them. Coming into the finish carrying a lot more speed than I had previously, I knew I was going to overshoot the last jump and so tried to scrub the top off it to stay low. However this all went pear-shaped when I scrubbed a bit hard and went sailing off the take-off completely sideways and nose-heavy. Somehow managing to hold onto it I smashed the pedals and crossed the line in 1st place by 7.5 seconds in a time of 3.24.802 . I knew this was a good time as I was as fast as the fastest qualifier from the day before and I got comfy in the hot-seat as I was hoping to be there for a while.

Having a bit of fun on the bottom jump, such a good hit, I hope they leave it there for the world cup!
Having a bit of fun on the bottom jump, such a good hit, I hope they leave it there for the world cup!

30 minutes later and I was still in first place in the hot seat. This meant I had secured a top 30 finish, and after I had finally been kicked out of the seat I couldn’t have finished any worse than 25th. By the time that the last rider had come down I found myself in 22nd position, 8 seconds off the win but only 5 seconds off the podium. This highlights just how tight everything is, with 17 riders within 5 seconds of each other after three and a half minutes of racing, it’s a fine example of just how perfect your riding has to be to get on that podium . That said I am pretty happy with how things turned out, especially considering it was my first time in Leogang racing on a track where times are so tight that any local knowledge would be immensely helpful to save those extra seconds.
From here we travel to Spicak in the Czech Republic for the second round of the IXS cup series, make sure you check back next week to see how it all went down.

Advertisements

2013 Val Di Sole World Cup, Italy

After things had wrapped up in Fort William, a mammoth drive of 2200 km lay between us and our next destination of Val Di Sole, Italy and naturally, in the infinite wisdom of the sport’s governing body, we only had 2 1/2 days to do it in before practice started at Val Di Sole. So we left Scotland straight after the race and began the long drive south. Stopping off in Manchester overnight, we woke up refreshed and ready to go. Another 6 hours or so later we were in Dover and getting on the boat to Calais where myself and Nugget managed to scrape together just enough left over pounds to secure our last proper dinner for a couple of days. Driving long distances is horrible, made even worse by a short time frame and a limited budget. You spend so much time in the car you end up with no sleep and the food at the motorway stop-off’s is so ridiculously priced that you can never afford to buy any of it anyway! So, tired and hungry we rolled into Val Di Sole on the Tuesday night after 2 days straight of driving and it was straight off to sleep for us.

Picturesque Italian landscape
Picturesque Italian landscape

Waking up on Wednesday to an angry Italian telling us to move our van off his paddock and it was off to the track for course inspection. At first things seemed pretty similar to last year with only one minor change in the top section, however this all changed pretty quickly with the addition of several new sections that would prove to be pretty difficult come qualifying time. All in all though, the track looked pretty similar to last year, super rough and fast, with plenty of time to be made up if you had the guts to let go of the brakes for long enough.

Catch netting can only mean one thing, the track is gnarly!
Catch netting can only mean one thing, the track is gnarly!

With the weather forecast looking good for the whole weekend, everybody breathed a sigh of relief as racing this track in the rain would be nothing short of dangerous. That said, first practice runs were still taken cautiously, with no-one wanting to end their weekend in the first session.

Practice went well for me, I managed to find some lines that I knew I would be able to ride fast for qualifying and that would not be overly blown out by the 270 odd people riding the dusty course. This achieved, I started to pick up the pace and spent the rest of the day getting my speed up to a point that I felt happy with without being too out of control and called it a day, going home to get a good nights sleep before the all important qualifying run.

Need I say more?
Need I say more?

Another hot, sunny Italian summer day greeted us on Qualifying morning. After our 1.5 hour allocated practice session I went and got my brakes bled by the SRAM technicians in preparation for my Qualifying run and off up the hill I went. Time always seems to go fast at the top of the hill and before I knew it I was in the start hut getting the all too familiar countdown.
5…4…3…2…1…go! And off I was, pedalling off into the trees. I hit all my lines correctly in the top section, was feeling confident in my riding and I was going a good pace when all of a sudden I noticed that my rear brake was fading fast. Now on most tracks this would be a bad thing, but when you are riding down one of the steepest and gnarliest tracks on the world cup circuit…well lets just say that it was game over. About 10 seconds after I first noticed it was fading, there was nothing at all left and that was that. I still rode down the hill and crossed the line in 71st position but there was no way that my time would have ever held up and as I slipped out of the top 80 I couldn’t help but think of what could have been.

The track is like this the entire way down, makes for fun times!
The track is like this the entire way down, makes for fun times!

You never want to have a mechanical in your run and when that run determines your ability to race it’s even worse. However in the same vein as Fort William I’m not one to dwell on things and so I am already looking forward to my first non-world cup race of the trip in Leogang next weekend for the first round of the IXS European downhill cup. Make sure you check back for a report which will be up in the next few days.

N.B. Apologies for the lack of riding photos, haven’t been able to find any since the race. Hopefully will have some more for Leogang.

Europe is go! – 2013 Fort William World Cup

 

The inaugural race of my European season was the first round of the 2013 World Cup in Fort William, Scotland. After touching down three days before the race we spent the time riding a couple of cool places around the Fort William area and enjoying the sunny weather while we recovered from our jet-lag and adjusted to the time difference. Come Thursday, it was time to get serious, take a gondola up the hill for track walk and see what was what. On first inspection the track wasn’t much different from last year with no changes in the top section and only a couple of small changes in the bottom section leaving a fast, rough ride that was going to be hard to ride fast especially given the loose gravel surface of the track. luckily for us the weather was forecast to be perfect for the entirety of the race which was both unexpected but gladly accepted!

getting some runs in the sun, first day practice.
getting some runs in the sun, first day practice.

Being a group B rider I had practice from 8 – 11.30 and so I had to make the most of the limited morning session, smashing out 4 runs and feeling really comfortable on my new Devinci. The lunch break came and went and it was back into it for 2 hours of timed runs. While some riders chose this time to smash out a full run of the track, I opted to stop and look at a couple of lines that were giving me trouble in the top half of the track. After a short break I carried on and finished the day feeling happy and confident for qualifying the next day.

The weather was cloudy for a little bit on sunday but nothing to cause concern.
The weather was cloudy for a little bit on Sunday but nothing to cause concern.

 
Waking up on qualifying day was a funny feeling, I knew that I had pressure on me to qualify after a fairly poor season last year and I wanted to start off 2013 on a high by getting into the finals. A couple of morning practice runs and then into a long 6 hour wait until my qualifying run at 3.46 pm. At 2.40 I headed up the hill and set about my warm up routine knowing that to qualify I had to get in around the 4.55 mark to be safe. At 3.46 pm exactly I left the start hut, after a good top section I barrelled into the first rock-garden and the wheels fell of a little bit with me going way off line and into the roughest part of the track. Gathering myself I kept it together and spent the next few corners getting back up to speed and trying to get a flow going but only succeeding in riding more ragged than I had been previously. Forcing myself to relax and ride smoothly I could feel myself getting back up to speed but I knew I had lost a lot of time in the top section riding so poorly.

 

Earning turns on race-day
Earning turns on race-day

Sprinting through the line in a time of 5.02 and into 63rd position I was very nervous as there was still 70 or so riders to come down the hill and I only had 17 spaces before I was out of the finals…I spent the next hour or so watching the riders come down and feeling particularly nervous as I started to fall back further and further in the rankings. However after the last rider came down I was luckily enough to find myself in 77th position and therefore into my first ever World Cup final! Stoked was an understatement and I went home feeling super excited for racing the next day.
Race day was another bluebird stunner and I started the day off with a couple of runs to get myself ready and have a final check over of my lines before it was go time. At the top getting ready for my run I was both nervous and excited, my Devinci was running perfectly and I was feeling ready to go. After a good warm up it was into the start hut and with the nerves kept in check I was ready to go! With the marshal counting down I was all ready to go before things went pear shaped. After telling me to go, I got to the bottom of the start ramp before the marshal started yelling at me to stop. So turning around I yelled at him “what!?”, as it turns out he had forgotten to put the timing wand across in front of my before I started my run so I wasn’t being timed. Picking my bike up I ran back up the start ramp and jumped back on expecting to wait until the next minute before having to go so I could recuperate and get my head together but no, as it turns out, I had to go straight away. Pedalling out of the hut (this time successfully) I had no head-space and it showed in my riding, finally managing to get myself into some sort of rhythm about halfway down the run I promptly hit the wrong side of a root and slid off track into a tree and that was that.

Race run under cloudy skies!
Race run under cloudy skies!

Finishing up in 72nd position was definitely not ideal, however I wasn’t complaining seeing that I had actually made it to the main event which was a massive step higher than last year so I left Fort William a happy boy. On the drive back down England I couldn’t help but think about how good that weekend was and how much I was already looking forward to Val Di Sole. That along with how it would be a good chance to test out my bike on some really steep and gnarly trail and hopefully move up the rankings a little bit left me excited and keen and I couldn’t wait to get back into it!
Check back in a couple of days to find out how it all went down in Italy at Val Di Sole.