With Lenzerheide all done and dusted it was time to make the big trek over to the Rhone Alpes region of France for the Crankworx festival that was to be held in the Les Deux Alpes. I have been coming here for the last 4 years and if one thing is almost guaranteed about the place it’s that the weather will be sunny and hot! This year was no different with a big heat wave having come up from Africa and temperatures reaching the mid to high 30’s, it was making life rather warm and the trails more than just a little dusty. Nonetheless it was still really nice to get back there and I was looking forward to the week of riding and racing!
The first order of business once we had arrived was to head up the slopes with Clint Trahan, Clint is the official Crankworx photographer and he needed some pre-event photos and myself and Louis Hamilton were more than happy to oblige for a great afternoon of fun. Luckily at the end of the day Clint was still in once piece after riding around with a 25 kg camera bag on his back on a borrowed bike and he was kind enough to send through a bunch of the great photos that you see in this blog, if I can say one thing about that shoot it’s that snow is bloody hard to ride on!
The great thing about Crankworx is that it is a MTB festival rather than just a downhill race so it has a lot of different events going on throughout the whole week, one of these events is the whip off championships. It is a pretty simple concept, hit a jump, throw your bike as sideways as you can, try not to crash and make it look good! I love doing jumps and so this was something I definitely had on the checklist, I had entered last year and made it to the final round of the judged event so was keen to make it again this year.
Looking back on it now it was a great event and I loved having the chance to ride my bike outside of a racing environment, with all the travelling this year it has been hard to find time to get out on the DH rig so to go and do some whips for the afternoon was a nice change. I was feeling pretty good on the bike and apart from the sun being in the riders eyes as we were coming into the jump it was really good fun. At the end of it I was stoked to make the finals again and get a couple of banging photos out of it so all in a great evening and I was looking forward to the DH in a couple of days.
The DH track at Les Deux Alpes is a strange one, it is ultra fast and wide open at the top before you cross a bridge and everything changes into some of the thinnest and tightest single-track there is on the circuit before things open right up again near the bottom. This makes things challenging as the top and bottom are so fast and rough that to transition from the mindset of going flat out to riding smooth and calculated is difficult and with the thick layer of dust coating the course it made things slipperier than if they had of been covered in mud! Unfortunately, except for one section, the track was pretty much exactly the same as it had been for the last few years. Not that this was really an issue but it made things a bit dull during practice, nevertheless I was feeling really good and looking forward to getting into the super final the following day.
I still don’t really have much of an idea what happened in my qualifying run. One moment I was flying down the track and the next I was on my head tumbling through the dust and grasses with no idea what was going. The photographer who was there said that I flipped over the bars and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t end up in the hospital….all I knew was that I felt like I had been through a washing machine. The crash happened on the wildest part of the course and meant that I would be the 2nd rider off the start gate the following day, by this stage I didn’t care I was just glad to be ok and headed home for some food and rest.
I woke up on race day feeling pretty tender, but with limited time to practice I headed up the hill and began to loosen up a bit. The track hadn’t changed much over the week so it didn’t take long to get back to the speed from the previous days and I headed up to the start hut feeling like I could put a good run together.
Aside from the obvious downsides to crashing in a qualifying run, the big disadvantage I had was that I didn’t actually have any concrete data as to how fast I was riding compared to my competitors. This made life difficult as I had no idea how hard to push on the slippery dust. Having a choice to either give it the beans and hold on or ride it slightly conservatively there was only really one option that I was going to take…
I rode well for the top section and safely negotiated the section I had crashed on the previous day but coming into the tight and technical sections I could tell that I was riding too erratically, too focussed on going flat out rather than braking and setting up for the corners properly. Unfortunately just as I had calmed myself down I had a crash which promptly threw that mindset out the window again resulting in another small get-off 20 seconds further down. After these two costly mistakes I pulled myself together but I knew that any chance I had of doing well was gone and the sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Finishing up 8th in the small final was a huge disappointment after riding well all in practice and the flat tire issues from the previous week in Lenzerheide but sometimes no matter what you things just don’t work out.
Keen to put a smile back on the dial and do something other than bikes for a day, we got up early on the day after the race and headed up the gondola nice and early to make the most of the summer skiing that Les Deux Alpes is lucky enough to have. It’s an awesome novelty to go skiing in a t-shirt in the middle of summer at a higher altitude than the highest point in New Zealand, and one that I hope to repeat in the future! After squidding around the slopes for the day we cruised down and have headed off to Morzine, France to spend some time relaxing and riding our bikes. With the next race not for another 4-5 weeks it will be nice to get a chance to recuperate from the hectic schedule and just focus on having fun for a bit!
See you guys in a few weeks for the next IXS European cup race in Spicak, Czech Republic!