2013 Nordkette Downhill Pro – Innsbruck, Austria

 

In the lull between Crankworx and the next round of the World Cup in Andorra, I had 2 weeks or so during which there wasn’t a lot going on though I had heard of an invitational race in Innsbruck, Austria that was to be held the weekend before Andorra. Called the Nordkette Pro, this particular race was more of an enduro downhill with times being around 10 minutes, I thought it sounded like a bit of fun and so after a few emails back and forth between myself and the race organizers I found myself on a 10 hour train trip from Geneva to Innsbruck for the race.

Out of the start and straight into it!

Arriving to cold temperatures and heavy rain wasn’t exactly what I had signed up for but after talking to Kiwi’s George Brannigan and Wyn Masters who said that the more it rained the better it would make the track I wasn’t so worried. Off to bed early and I woke up to sunshine and a bus ride to the track, getting on the bus was actually a pretty cool way to see just a small part of a really cool city but before too long I was at the bottom of a fairly imposing mountain with a big ol’ trip up a cable car to the top.

Cruising through the grass.

 

With practice running form 9am-5pm we had a lot of time to get runs in, but when the track is 10 minutes long you need a few run to at least try and remember the most difficult parts of the track. Unfortunately though this turned out to be quite a lot of the track, with the incredibly loose gravel and awkward tight corners making for a interesting challenge, I can’t really describe the entire track in any other way than awkward and loose. A challenge it certainly was but I’m not sure it was a race track and I focused on riding smooth and relaxed so as to not take a closer look at any of the rocks/tree stumps that were just all over the place.

Landing of the road gap was pretty rough.

6 runs, a couple of crashes and a set of brake pads later, I felt like I had some sort of Idea where I was going and felt as comfortable as I could have done on the surface of the track. It had dried out a lot during the heat of the day and was even more slippery than at the start of practice leaving me feeling that to do well the next day was going to require just a little bit of luck and a smooth and composed run, something that isn’t all that easy to achieve when you are under the pressure of the clock.
Waking up nice and early to get on the bus we cruised up for one practice run in our allotted 1 1/2 hours which was ample given that not much had changed from the day before and conserving energy was going to be the main aim of the day. I had an average practice run but knew that I would be alright for the race and it was just a case of familiarizing myself with the sketchiness of the track.

10 minutes of racing over, 18 seconds to go!

At 1.10 pm I got in the gondola for my final run, and at 1.59 pm I left the start hut for my longest ever downhill race. Attacking the course at the start, I found this to be a terrible idea and blew out several corners. Relaxing a bit, I started riding smoother and more in control and while I still felt like I was going snail’s pace, at least it was a consistent and relatively smooth speed. This worked well for about 5 1/2 minuted before things went off the rails, coming into one of the right handers where there was too many bushes to see around it properly, I felt the front end start to wash out on the gravel and tried to correct for this but I had no luck and before I knew it I was on the ground and scrabbling for my bike, up and on again I forced myself not too rush to make up the time I had just lost because I knew that would only end in more crashes.

Road gapping!

The lower half of the course was certainly more rider friendly than the top half, and as I progressed down the mountain I found myself picking up speed again and was feeling confident coming into the last woods. However it was not over as I soon found out, turning just a fraction too late, hitting a tree stump and then off the bike and on the ground again. Up and going once more and from here on it was just pin it to the bottom. No more mishaps and I crossed the line in a time of 10.18.69. Not too bad for my first time out with two crashes but given the two crashes were such silly little mistakes, I was a little bit annoyed to have not put in a clean run. Once it was all run and done though, I finished 6th, 14.5 seconds off the win with two crashes. But such is racing and congratulations to the local racer who managed to keep it upright to take the win. I am just happy that I made it through the race with both my bike and body intact and ready for the next round of the World Cup starting on Wednesday in Andorra, see you then!

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Crankworx Europe 2013 – Les Deux Alpes

Leaving the Czech republic with BB guns and more bullets than the New Zealand army, it was a long drive down to Les deux Alpes, France for our first stand-alone event of the year, Crankworx Europe. The Crankworx events started in Whistler, Canada 10 years ago but it was only last year that they moved across the pond and started up the European version hosting the same events as it’s Canadian brother but in a French setting. A week long festival, there are a lot of events throughout the week ranging from Pumptrack races to Slopestyle competitions and there was even a Whip off contest (more on that later), but I was there for the Air Downhill race that was to be held on the “Piste Fury DH track!”.
Having practiced the track last year (I din’t get to race as I crashed and broke my wrist), I already had a fair idea of where I was going, and on track walk there were only a few small changes from last year leaving fast, wide-open top and bottom section’s with a tight and twisty middle section. With Crankworx being the first event since Val di Sole to have race support from the big companies I took advantage of this and stripped down my bike to get my suspension, brakes and gears some much needed loving from the people who know how it all works. The only downside to this is that everybody else was doing the same and by the time I got my bike back together again I only had time for one practice run on Monday before the thunderstorms rolled in and closed the lifts for the rest of the day.
Tuesday, fresh dirt, fresh tires, fresh start! The rain from the day before had made the track nice and tacky with ruts forming where they were needed and so to make up for lost time the day before I was smashing out the runs and having a whale of time! my bike was feeling mint after all the loving it got the day before and by the time my seeding run came around I was ready to get it done! however things weren’t going to be as simple as first thought with a big thundercloud rolling in from across the valley and threatening to absolutely pour down on us. Luckily I was up pretty quickly and left the start just as it started to really rain. I had a good run but I was more focused on getting to the bottom without crashing so I didn’t have to spend any more time in the wet than necessary. Crossing the line in 4th place I didn’t stick around to see how things ended up as there was no shelter at the bottom and I wanted to get out of the rain. As the weather continued to deteriorate with thunder and lightning rolling in, the decision was made by the organizers to cancel the rest of the seeding run due to the weather conditions being unsafe to go up the chairlift and that was the end of that!

Race day was a funny one, due to the weather patterns the organizers had decided to move everything forward substantially to try and miss the impending afternoon rain. This meant that practice was from 8.30-10.30 and then racing from 11 onwards. I had decided that I wanted to do 2 runs in the morning but after the first run I revised that to 3 after the first practice run showed that the rain had had more impact than I expected and things were a little bit slippery. Despite the extra rain, the surface wasn’t wet for long, and at the end of my practice run the track was mint and I was feeling fast and confident, ready for race time!
Warming up at the top it would have to be one of the best views I’ve had the pleasure of warming up to, massive mountains all around and clear skies made for a pretty amazing vista. But no time for that as it was race time! Down to the start hut and waiting for the beeps. I was following fellow Kiwi Cam Johnson down the hill and wished him luck as he started his run, then 1 minute later it was my turn and without wasting a moment I was out of there into my run. I had a good top section, fast and loose without being out of control. coming into the tight section in the middle of the track I knew that I had to go slower to go fast, so i made sure that I did all of my breaking before the corners and let off as soon as I could, chucking in a ninja pedal here and there for good measure, things were going well when all of a sudden I came over a rise to see Cam climbing out of the bushes off the side of the track having evidently come a cropper, he looked ok in the glimpse I got of him so I carried on. 20 seconds or so later I was coming out of the tight stuff feeling good, I smashed it down the goat track and over the jumps, only a long pedal and a corner were left between me and the finish so I made sure that I pedaled strong and came over the finish line in a time of 3.55….except that 3.55 wasn’t my time.
At the World cup races, ever rider is given a transponder that matches their number, however here we weren’t given such luxuries so when I crossed the finish line the timing equipment just assumed I was Cam and so stopped his time, leaving mine running until when Cam crossed the line stopping it at 4.10 . So I walked up and had a chat to the timing fella who assured me they’d sort it out as he understood what had happened. So with a good run but no time, I didn’t really know what to think or do and hung around for a bit watching the times come and go waiting till the timing staff were able to sort my time out.
About 20 minutes or so later I walked up to check in with them and got told some pretty good news, after a manual recalculation given my start time and the moment that I actually crossed the line I had done a time of 3.40.63 which had conveniently left me in 1st place in my grade and 1st overall at the current time….”wait,what? I won my grade?? what do you mean my grade? am I not in Elite?” and as it turns out, because I am not on a trade team and not in the top 150 riders in the world (Currently 186th based on points) I wasn’t allowed to race in Elite so was put in Open men, great rule-making if I have ever seen it…

Stoked to be on top!!

Anyway, once it was all run and done, I won Open men by 1.7 seconds over fellow Kiwi Matt Walker and was bloody stoked on getting on the top step of the box! My time was also good enough for 8th in Elite men less than 3 seconds off the podium which was a mint result in itself as-well so this left me a very happy boy! It was a great feeling to get to stand on top of the podium and hopefully not the last time I will get to be up there! It was also good to give both Devinci and John Foord some extra publicity so thank you to both Gabe and Greg for all their help thus far this season!
Plans from now on are up in the air a little bit but the next round of the world cup is in Andorra 3 weeks from now so if nothing else you will be hearing from me then! Caio!

2013 IXS cup Round 2, Spicak – Czech Republic

Leaving rainy Leogang behind, our next port of call was Spicak in the Czech Republic, just across the border from Bavarian Germany, everyone had been telling us about how cheap everything was over there and we were not disappointed arriving to 8 Euro meals and 10 Euro a night hotel rooms. It’s probably worth noting that the hotel rooms weren’t actually 10 Euros but when you say that there are only two of you staying and then sneak another two people into the rooms, it does help to keep the prices down.
having never raced here before I was looking forward to walking the track as it looked like it would be a step in the technical direction after the motorway’s of Leogang the week before. But I don’t think I was expecting something quite so technical and in parts, awkward as what we came across during track walk. With rocks littering the top half of the track, roots in the bottom half and some of the corners tighter than an Italian alleyway, the key to doing well here was going to be holding speed around the tight corners, holding off the brakes down the straight sections and staying relaxed on the bike.

Check out a helmet cam run I did of the track here:

One of the best things about the IXS races is the amount of practice you are given, at the World Cup races practice is split into two groups to split the field up, and at Val di Sole we only had a total of 4.5 hours worth of practice on the track before having to qualify. This is a marginal amount of practice, however at the IXS cups, we had 6 hours of open training after track walk and then another 5 hours on qualifying day before the qualifying run. This is good because it means you aren’t in a hurry to get your runs in and can take your time in getting to know the track and build up your speed without rushing.

Fast and rough
Fast and rough

Qualifying day was wet, cold and miserable. I could probably sum up the entire day with that sentence there, but I did do my qualifying run so will tell you about that. After a day of good practice, I went up the hill to prepare for my run and man it was cold. Sitting in the start hut absolutely frozen I couldn’t help but think about the nice warm hotel room at the bottom and how much I just wanted to get to the bottom. I had a conservative run, not doing too much in the way of pedaling and crossing the line in a time of 3.34.60. This left me with a lot to do the next day but I knew that I had a lot left in the tank and so wasn’t too worried about it.

A bit close to the tape!
A bit close to the tape!

Sun. Possibly the best thing to happen on race day was that it was sunny and warm. However the rain from the day before had made the track ultra greasy and it was like trying to ride on ice during the morning practice. I did 3 runs, just trying to get my head around how slippery everything was and trying to find a way to ride it without feeling like a muppet. I felt alright at the end of practice and as the first riders came down saying that it was drying up even more I went to the top feeling confident that I could put in a good run.

Qualifying was wet!
Qualifying was wet!

After a good warm up, I went up to the start hut and got ready to do the deed. The 5 familiar came and went but by the time the last beep sounded I was off and going. Through the top rocks and into the pedals, the track had dried up a lot since the mornings practice and I let the brakes off to suit. I got the tight rock sections good and pedaled hard across the ski-run sections. Not much had changed in terms of lines, and nothing had really gotten that much rougher so I knew that I could push it a bit more in the bottom section. I got that well too and pedaled over the jump and across the line to stop the clock in 3.13.92, this conveniently left me in 1st place by .06 from David Trummer, a friend of mine from Austria. While I didn’t manage to stay in the hot-seat for as long as Leogang I was still there for 15 or so riders before being bested by fellow kiwi Wyn Masters. Despite not being in the hot-seat, my time was still good and after everything was run and done I found myself sitting in 15th poistion out of 265 riders, 4 seconds off the podium and 1.4 seconds off the prize money. This left me pretty happy. A good day, a good run, a good placing and another step in the right direction towards that prize money!

Coming in hot off the piste on my last practice run before racing.
Coming in hot off the piste on my last practice run before racing.

From Spicak we have a week and a half off before heading to Crankworks Europe, a big week-long bike festival held high in the French Alps, so for now it’s off to do some sight-seeing and riding in the Italian/Swiss high country. See you in France!