The Wild Wild… East? IXS European Cup Rd 4, Spicak, Czech Republic.

Hello and welcome to Blog number 3 for this year, normal programming has resumed and from now on the blogs will be about one race rather than 4!

After the chaos of the start of the season it was a nice break to spend some time Italy without having to pack and unpack the van every day. While we have the best van ever (Tony the Transit), we also have a LOT of stuff, and so packing things in and out every day is a Tetris players wet dream as well as quite time consuming.

Stunning views everywhere in Italy! Bormio, suspension testing.

After 10 days of living the Italian lifestyle it was time to put everything back in Tony and get underway to Spicak, Czech Republic for the 4th round of the European cup.  A 5 hour drive had us over the border into the Wild West and ready to go! I have always liked Spicak both as a place and a race-track but have struggled with issues with flat tires, concussions and crashes so I was keen to get the monkey off my back.

A course with plenty of changes awaited us and it was nice to see that they were good changes aswell. Many a time organisers have changed race tracks in the hope that change is better only for it to be worse, luckily this was not the case in Spicak and I couldn’t wait to go ride!

With Friday’s thunderstorms not eventuating, it was an awesome afternoon of riding bikes. I finally felt like I was taking steps in the right direction with my set-up and knew that I was riding well. The track was dusty, rough and running quite fast, Spicak has traditionally been a slow and awkward track and while some of the awkwardness remained, for the most part it flowed well and the new jumps were welcome additions!

Into the trees at Mach Chicken! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert.

Saturday’s practice went really well until I decided to have a bit of a dirt nap in my last practice run and stick my paw into a rock. Bruised up but not broken I went and got some of the miracle spray that soccer players always seem to use (N.B. it does nothing…bloody useless), took a couple of painkillers and headed up for qualifying.

“left, right, left, jump…..ooh how about schnitzel for dinner?” Pic: Raffi DieWaldfee

Luckily Saturday’s forecasted thunderstorms also passed over  and so qualifying got underway with deep dust and tight times. I wanted to put down a good run but also save a bit for Sunday’s finals, particularly with the aforementioned sore paw. Spicak isn’t a long track but it is quite physical, there is a lot of body language required to generate and maintain speed so not wasting energy is important.  With this is mind I took off out of the start gate and got into the run. While it was not the best start I pulled things back in and rode reasonably well in the bottom section to cruise across the line in 9th. I had a few mixed emotions as I wanted to ride a bit cleaner than I had but at the same time my hand didn’t give me much trouble and it was nice to be back in the top 10. All things considered not a bad day out and I was excited to drop that number a few places for race day!

Slithering through the tight trees during qualifying, 9th place. Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

After holding off for 2 days, the rain came in overnight and left a very greasy track come Sunday morning.  It didn’t take long for the dirt to get pulled onto the rocks and make things even slipperier, This didn’t bother me too much though, after a brief adjustment period and one face-meets-crash pad incident I got my head around things and was looking forward to the race run! Unfortunately for all the competitors, just as we were about to head up for our finals runs the clouds broke and one of the most intense 10 minute rain showers followed. All the hard work the sun had done in the 4 hours beforehand drying up the course was gone and we were back to a greasy slip-fest. The times instantly got much slower in the preceding classes. One consolation of this though was that at least everyone in the super-final had the same conditions…Game on!

Race day was a greasy one, good thing there were plenty of ruts! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

I was really excited for this race, I wanted to put in a really good effort and get myself right up onto the podium. I knew I was riding fast enough and I knew how to ride in these conditions. This time my start was perfect, a really good first 45 seconds or so with strong pedals, good body position and hitting all my lines.  I wanted to push on from here and really go hard, a rookie mistake where I should have just keep riding smooth and focused on where I could push rather than just trying to fast everywhere in the slippery conditions. I made one big mistake, and then another before the first split, undoing all the hard work of the start. I got rushed from here and lost my composure, riding tense and missing lines I made a mess of the last 2 corners which are super important for carrying speed onto the long finish straight and while I pedalled with everything I had I know I lost a bunch of time. I made up 6 places from the split time to the finish to cross the line in 15th place. Bitterly disappointed to throw away not only such a positive start to the run but also a fantastic weekend. I had felt in great form from the get-go and really wanted this race to kick start the last half of my season. I guess that can wait to Mt Saint Anne.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda… Pic: Ales Kocner

As I write this I’m back in England or a few days before we fly out to Canada for the Monte Saint Anne World Cup. I had a great time there last year and can’t wait to go back and get things cranking in the right direction, the foundations are there now and MSA is where they will all come together!

 

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2017 Part 2, the troubles continue.

Hello and welcome to 2017 part 2! This blog covers the next 4 weeks of travel around Europe and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Picking up where we left off in Schladming…

Schladming is a wicked track, the dirt there is amazing and the gradient means that you barely have to pedal from the minute you leave the start gate. This years track was pretty similar to previous years so we knew what to expect, I’ve always ridden aggressively here and with this being the first European cup of the season for me I wanted to finish well inside the top 10.

You can’t help but have a good time in Schladming! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert
Good dirt and an awesome forest, what more could you want? Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert
Dual Slalom! I wish more races had these events, so much fun! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

After our practice session on the Friday there was a dual slalom race on the lower part of the hill. I’ve never done a Dual Slalom before It was such a fun event and despite a crash in the semi-finals I was stoked to come away with 3rd place and 50 Euros! Things were looking up! Downhill was next. I was riding fast through sections and I knew it, but was still struggling to get my suspension feeling how I wanted it to and knew that a full run at race pace would be very difficult to hold on. Nevertheless I went out hard and rode into 20th place. Not ideal but a dam sight better than other events thus far.

On the podium! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert
Two seconds before I almost cleaned out a photographer. Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

The main downside from the weekend however was Harry breaking his hand in Qualifying. In his words it was a silly crash but unfortunately sometimes those ones are the worst! While this was followed by a few trips to various hospitals to make sure everything was still in the right place, worse was a lengthy downtime period which meant he was likely to miss the next 4 weekends of racing.

 

We made a video of the days before the race in Schladming but I’m struggling to get it to embed properly. The above is a teaser of the full video which can be found here:

https://www.pinkbike.com/video/474383/

There is plenty more funny moments worth watching so make sure you check it out!

Following on from Schladming we had a choice. Either head to Innsbruck for the European Crankworx or get on a plane and head to Manchester to ride as guests for a Street Velodrome series there.  The Street Velodrome is basically a downsized version of a proper Velodrome where you compete head to head with another rider for 3 laps. It was a fantastic opportunity as the series is shown in 80 countries all around the world! Given things hadn’t been going so well on the Downhill front we decided to head to Innsbruck for the Whip off and Pumptrack events and then jump on a plane to Manchester!

Yea the whip off jump was pretty epic! Pic: Moonhead Media

This turned out to be an awesome idea! I got to ride in Innsbruck on the sickest whip off jump ever, check out some of the cool trails there, and say hi to a bunch of buddies before flying out on the Saturday to Manchester to race in a completely different capacity. The actual race itself was rad, everything about it was completely different from what I am used to yet at the same time totally wicked! Even better than this was racing (and beating) an Olympian, getting the announcer in a bunch of trouble with another Olympian and finishing up on the Podium in 3rd place, good times!!

Podium again, 3rd again! Pic: Henlit Photography

Following another visit to the hospital to get Harry’s hand looked at, we jumped back on the plane to Europe and then missioned Tony down to Andorra for World Cup number 4! Andorra is yet another race track that I love racing on and after being sick for the event last year I really wanted to start taking steps in the right direction to get something out of this year. Trackwalk looked amazing and I was really excited to go riding. I felt good during practice and when qualifying came around I was happy to make it through in 65th position. Given my first splits were in the low 40’s I knew there was still time to be made up and if I could just hold on I would be in for a good result.

Best track of the year? quite possibly! Pic: Moonhead Media
By this stage your arms feel like they are falling off! Pic: Moonhead Media

 

When race day came around I was ready to kick it in the teeth and get up in the mix. I had a decent start to my run with splits once again in the 40’s but just couldn’t hold onto my bike towards the bottom of the track, still struggling with suspension set-up and faded to 63rd place. Nevertheless it was heartening to see the split times and with changes in the future I left Andorra ready to go for the next weekend! 1-3

Scrubbing into the finish line! Pic: Moonhead Media

Another big drive back across France to Lenzerheide, Switzerland for World Cup number 5. I have had a mixed bag here, finishing 6th at a European cup here in 2014 and good split times through 2015, 2016 but never finished higher than 70th at a World Cup. The track this year was super dry and dusty. I started a bit slow but worked into things and felt ready to go for qualifying.

Dry and duuuussstttyyy this high speed turn required full commitment. Pic: Moonhead Media

Qualifying was a bit of a disaster; I had a bunch of bike cleaner on my brakes out of the gate and promptly blew out the first few turns still trying to ride at race speed with no brakes. After this I had been continuously unclipping/clipping in and just couldn’t get myself settled.  It was honestly one of the worst racing runs of my life…  1-4

The jump immediately after the corner above, definitely need to carry maximum speed for this one. Pic: Moonhead Media

By this stage I was pretty frustrated and ready for a few days of just riding, luckily we had a photoshoot organised with Lenzerheide Bike Park and along with photographer Dan Hearn we had a fantastic couple of days exploring everything there was on offer and getting some pretty epic photos which no doubt you’ll get to see soon!

Dan is a magician….making me look good! Pic: Dan Hearn

Following on from the photoshoot we drove to Tremeno, Italy at Veronika’s house for 10 days before heading to the Czech Republic for the next European cup this last weekend. I’ve written a separate blog for this race which will be posted in a couple of days so watch this space!

 

Welcome to 2017, a fresh start!

Hello and welcome to 2017, as luck would have it I am still racing for my dinner so the blog is back! I do know that I am a bit late to party with this one but as that famous saying goes; “Better late than never”. Now while I feel like this applies to my life quite generally it is even more appropriate for this post. Given that it has taken me this long to get blogging, there is quite a lot to cover and so I’ve split the first half of this season into two posts with the 2nd part to follow along soon!

So, 2017…where to start? Well first of all, after a hectic 2016, I took some time off to rest up and start planning for a fresh approach to 2017, the last 5 years had been awesome but I wanted to try and make things less sressful for myself and to avoid getting stuck in a rut of repetition.

The easiest way to go about this was to change the way I funded my seasons, for the last 7 years I have been working as a trail builder all over the world with a couple of different companies.  This has been a fantastic experience and the stories I was lucky to be a part of during this time will be re-told well into the future. However at the same time, with my current lifestyle I didn’t see any real development in the job and this along with long hours meant a change was inevitable.

I’ve seen some awesome views from the digger!

Despite my detest for school I have always seemed to have a talent for explaining things, and what better to explain than the one thing I do every day! I had previously done some coaching as a wee nipper but decided now was the time to have a proper crack at it and so Fluid Lines Coaching was born. With a fresh approach and a desire to see people improve I launched Fluid Lines at the end of January. I figured as long as it was reasonably successful I could just keep trail building and coach on the side. However after 2 weeks the demand for courses was that high that I had to pull the pin on trail building and begin coaching full time!

Smiles for miles with the Burkes Cycles lads!
Teaching an old dog new tricks!

Fast forward 5 months and in-between various racing commitments and trips around, I had coached over 130 people and had an amazing time whilst doing so. It’s been such an awesome change and I can’t wait to get back and pick up where it all left off!

So with a little less financial pressure I could focus more time to my training. I worked with my long time coach Adrian Armstrong again and also Malcolm Toeaina from Centurion Athletic Performance.  I want to say a massive thank you to both of these guys, this year I am the fittest I have ever been without a doubt and without them I would be nowhere!

So onto the riding, after 2016, the other aspect of my life I wanted to make easier was the sponsorship side of things. With a solid season behind me I was lucky enough to secure a ride on the FS Patrol Funn team.  With UK based World Cup racer Harry Molloy managing the team and Italian National Champion Veronika Widmann as a team mate, I was excited to get into things and take my racing to the next level.

3…2…1 Sunburnt
Ready to go and do bikes!
The trails in Lousa were siiiick!

The first time we met as a team was in Lousa, Portugal for pre season testing, it was an awesome week staying at Wheelers Mtb holidays and getting stuck in to some fantastic trails, I felt good at the end of the week and ready to hit the first World Cup in Lourdes, France with momentum.

After our testing wrapped up we headed across Spain to Lourdes for the first World Cup of 2017. My first time in Lourdes, I struggled to find the speed required to get properly up to pace on such an intense track in a short amount of time and struggled with suspension set-up. Nevertheless I pushed on and felt ready to go for qualifying, unfortunately 25 seconds out of the gate I hit a rock hard and detonated my front wheel.  To go all the way to Europe for one World Cup and have that happen was massively deflating (pun intended) and a shocking way to start the season.

I’ve always got time for jumps!
Rocks everywhere was the theme for Lourdes.

I headed home and jumped straight back into training and coaching to make the most of the 3 weeks I had before going back over. Fluid Lines continued to grow and I had some great training sessions, getting to come back between World Cups gave me a chance to evaluate the aspects that went well and what I needed to work on and to be able to round off my training gave my plenty of confidence heading back to Fort William, I knew it was a track I could ride fast and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.  On our arrival we saw there had been some much needed changes to the track and I felt like I had the speed to get myself back into contention for a top 40 overall placing.

Trackwalk was a wet and cold affair filled with midges….why do we keep going to Ft William again?
Fort William was a tough weekend.

Fort William is a rough and brutal track, the addition of a new woods section making things even harder. I pushed hard in my qualifying run but was still struggling with suspension set-up and in addition to this I had a big old crash in the woods section leaving me 0-2 for the season. Leogang was next up after a massive drive down from Fort William the previous weekend. Why the UCI schedule such a big gap and then have two World cups in consecutive weekends always amazes me. Anyways, we were greeted with a very different track in Leogang from Fort William, another one that I enjoyed riding; I had a solid practice session and was looking forward to getting myself on the board! When qualifying came around I had a great start to the race, feeling good out of the gate hitting the lines I picked out and then my fork pushed through a rut and down I went… 0-3.

Going mach chicken on the wall!
Practicing with Harry in tow.

By this point I was ready to race something other than a World Cup and the European cup in Schladming was the answer. While I have enjoyed riding in Fort William and Leogang, I LOVE Schladming, it is just one of those tracks that are awesome from start to finish and I thought this was going to be good weekend!

 

Look out for part 2 in couple of days!