And so it begins again, the annual migration north, away from winter for the 15th consecutive time. As they say some things never get old and summer is certainly one of them! Despite being far too pale for this kind of carry on at least now I realise and take my sunscreen with me….
While I say summer, I should clarify that normally April in Europe is most definitely NOT summer. Just last year at the first race of the season in Lourdes, France there was snow on the track during the first day of practice. So to arrive in Maribor, Slovenia and find a rapidly drying track was a nice surprise. I mean, after all I did have a shiny new bike and it would be rude to get it all muddy.
The bike in question is a 2018 YT tues, readers of the blog will know that I was on YT bikes back in 2015/2016, with 2016 being a particularly successful year. I am really stoked to be back riding on YT’s , they are awesome bikes, and most importantly bikes that I feel comfortable on. While there have been a few changes to bikes components, I will remain with my team from last year, re-branded as FS Funn Factory racing with Harry Molloy and Veronika Widmann. Awesome people, great bikes, lets go!
Unfortunately due to the bike industry moving slower than a snail in yoghurt, it did take a while to get the bikes built up and ready to go. Talking to friends in the industry, it seemed like this was a common occurrence this year. This meant I arrived into Maribor for the first round of the 2018 IXS European Cup with just 10 runs on the YT…lots to do then!
Luckily Maribor is an awesome track, having never been there but having always been told about how good it was I was excited to get riding. However once I got on the hill I realised just how much work I had ahead of me with the bike set-up. With so many options for adjustment and so many new components, practice day was as much a case of survival as it was setting up. With the race just one week before the first World Cup in Croatia, there was a strong contingent of World Cup riders there which was going to make getting a strong result particularly challenging.
By the time qualifying had rolled around, I had made progress on the bike but certainly wasn’t where I wanted to be. To be honest qualifying was a shambles, I went off track and missed the top 30 cut off. It is always massively disappointing to be out of the big show; however the beauty of the IXS cups is that you still get to race in the small final the following day. I decided just to continue to use it as practice for the World Cup and focus on bike set-up; after all, World Cup’s are the big prize.
The track at Maribor was immense, long, rough, lines everywhere and fast as anything. I loved riding it and wish I had had more time to practice there. By the time racing rolled around, I was feeling better on the bike, at least in terms of my set-up. The lack of proper downhill riding at home showed through leaving me with sore hands and quickly forming calluses. Despite this I felt strong, with my training paying dividends. This season I continued to work with long time coach Adrian Armstrong and trainer Malcolm Toeaina from Centurion Athletic Performance. These guys are constantly pushing me and apart from the sore hands, the potential was bubbling away, I just needed to connect the dots!
During the race, things definitely improved from qualifying, I stayed on track for a start, but more importantly my riding was starting to click again, both mentally and physically. There is so much to the 4 minutes that we compete for and keeping everything working together is key. I was beginning to link the turns together, pre shift gears before the big sprints to make the most of the pedalling opportunities and keep my eyes looking forward. I pushed hard to the line and came across in first place by 6.5 seconds. Now bear in mind my qualifying was appalling so there were still plenty of fast riders to come down. Eventually I would finish 33rd on the day which, while very unsatisfying, still showed plenty of promise looking forward to Croatia the following weekend. With a bike set-up heading in the right direction and my riding I couldn’t wait to get there!!
Check back in a couple of days for the next blog, World Cup number 1, Croatia.