Val Di Sole World Cup 2017

The end of the season always comes around faster than you expect it. I was talking about it with Harry the other day, when I come to Europe the first month always flys by. Plentiful races and a crazy travel schedule always seem to pass time at a crazy speed. The second month is a lot slower, the races generally taper off a little bit and because you aren’t so fresh off the boat you feel more used to the European way life.

The third month is always a bit different. By this stage the pie cravings are thermonuclear, you are sick of ham and cheese, you forgot just how hot it was here and that you can still get sunburnt. Your savings are haemorrhaging and you’re not feeling quite as fit as you were when you left New Zealand.

However the third month also means that the racing tends to kick up a notch once more. This year it also meant that last World Cup of the season, Val di Sole, was upon us.  Traditionally known as the hardest track on the World Cup circuit, it is a destroyer of bikes and bodies from the highest order. I have to be honest I have struggled at Val di Sole, but if there was ever a race to turn a hard  season around why not make it happen on a track you have struggled on and kick that in the teeth aswell.

Val Di Sole is pretty epic.

Complicating matters was the fact that for Val di Sole I was going to be in B group practice as I hadn’t accumulated many World Ranking points this year. This meant early morning practices before the track had really started to ride in and having to relearn the track once the group A riders had their practice and the lines change, the 5 hour wait between practice and racing also isn’t great and it’s hard to stay focused.

It really is a messy track! Pic: Moonhead Media

Practice started well for me, I focused on picking lines that I thought would hold up the whole weekend and allow me to miss as many holes as possible.  I felt strong and having changed a few things in my set-up I was riding confidently and with good speed.  I headed up the track after my practice had finished to watch the A group riders and the timed training and felt even better having watched the other riders seemingly struggle in sections I felt like I was riding well. I ended up changing a couple of lines that had blown through but for the vast majority of the track things were looking good!

The morning practice made things tough with the different light conditions. Pic: Moonhead Media

Qualifying was another hot and dusty affair and after 3 good runs in morning practice, the reality of B practice set in. I had 5+ hours to wait before my qualifying run and there was still nearly 2 hours of A group practice to go with 100 riders on track. When it was eventually time for my run, I knew that the track would have changed but at the same time to just focus on keeping things smooth like I had been doing all weekend and attacking the track with confidence.

Yea it was pretty dusty Pic: ThePerfectLine

The run itself went well, I felt smooth and composed the whole way down the hill, my arms started to fade a little at the bottom but I put in a good effort in the sprint and crossed the line in 38th position. My best ever qualification result and safely through the big show, needless to say I was ecstatic! It had seemed so simple and to have it pay off was such a good feeling! I was excited for race day, not only because I was in the big show, but also because it meant I got to have a sleep in!

Up close and personal Pic: ThePerfectLine

Race day was another gorgeous sunny day. I enjoyed the extra sleep and was feeling surprisingly fresh for the 3rd day in a row. Cruising down to the track, I was excited and ready to get up the hill! There was already a big crowd on track during practice making heaps of noise which was wicked and gave a cool atmosphere the whole way down. I hit my lines well and was amped to go and race my bike.

At the top of the hill I was sitting there warming up and I couldn’t wait to get into the run! Sitting in the start hut wasn’t much different and I had to focus on relaxing, not from nerves, but just from wanting to get stuck in. I pedalled out of the start gate into my final racing run of Europe 2017 and felt good straight away, I knew what to do, where to brake and where to let off, which corners to hit hard and which ones to ride smooth. I made sure to keep my arms relaxed and looking as far ahead as I could to give myself plenty of time to adjust. I was hitting my lines well and nice and relaxed, not focusing on going faster, just riding well.

At this point your arms want to fall off… Pic: Moonhead Media

I felt like I was on a good time coming out of the last corner and gave it everything on the last sprint to the line. I crossed the line in 2nd place meaning that the worst result I could have gotten was 39th! My previous best World Cup result was 48th so things were looking good. I took my place on the 2nd step of the hotseat and set about waiting to see where I would end up.

Rocks, roots and steeps. VDS had it all! Pic: Moonhead Media

As rider after rider came down and finished behind me, I couldn’t help but get more and more excited…one moment I was guaranteed a top 40 result, then a top 35, then a top 30. Before long there was a break in the racing while we waited for the TV coverage to start and would you know it, I was still sitting there in 2nd place!!! Stoked to be on the TV, I couldn’t quite believe what was happening…

On Tv…stoked!

I got bumped off the hot seat about 5 riders into the TV coverage but I was sitting pretty for a top 25 result! Then I slowly started creeping towards top 20 and before I knew it the last rider crossed the line and there I was….sitting in 20th place!

Me on the left, Florent Payet (FRA) on top and Stefan Garlicki (RSA) on the right.

Excited….probably the biggest understatement of the year for me!  It entirely hammered home the saying of never give up, just keep going because you never know what might happen next time! It was such an incredible feeling and one that for sure will be repeated next year. A great way to finish the season on a high note and with the knowledge that what I am doing is working! I can’t wait for the 2018 World Cup season!

Now, while this is the last blog of my 2017 European adventures, it does not signal the end of Racingformydinner this year…there are some things in the works, so keep an eye out for those soon and thank you to everybody who has read the blogs this year! You’re all awesome!

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2017 World Cup #6, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada

If there is one name that is synonymous with downhill racing then Mont Saint Anne in Quebec, Canada would be the one. Having been a part of the World Cup schedule every year since 1991 it is a venue steeped in the history of the sport and with one of the best tracks on the circuit it is a rider favourite.

2017 would be my second year in Quebec, having qualified and raced to 49th in 2016 I was excited to try and break into the top 40 and get things back on track for the end of the season. After picking up our massively oversized truck for the 10 days we were there in Montreal, we set about cruising up to the Mountain to set up nice and early for the event.

Big car next to normal car for scaling…5.7 litre V8!

After a good few days acclimatising to the time difference and the high temperatures it was time for action.  Track-walk greeted us with a long and rough old beast, with the rocks more prominent than ever it was claimed that 2017 was the roughest year yet. Between the rocks and the high speed sections it was going to be a crazy track just to ride, let alone race!

Awesome week with an awesome crew!
Found a massive snake on track-walk!!

I had a great time during practice; I felt good on the dusty track, finding some good lines and enjoying the jumps. The strengths of the track suited my style and I was beginning to feel like I was riding properly again. This was immensely comforting given how the season had felt so far and I was excited for qualifying.

Getting into it with Harry in tow. Pic: Moonhead Media
As the photo says… #longlivechainsaw Pic: Dan Hearn

Qualifying day rolled around with a hiss and a roar, but with thunderstorms in the forecast, everybody’s eyes were trained to the sky.  I wasn’t too worried either way, I felt good enough on track that I would be able to deal with a slippery course.

Dropping into more rocks! Pic: Moonhead Media
Love a good jump. Pic: Moonhead Media

With the rain holding off I rolled out of the start gate and into the run. I felt that on a long course like Mont Saint Anne it was important to get into a rhythm early and focus on holding your speed the whole way down the mountain.  I hit the first few corners fast, felt good and smashed on through the first split in 28th position!  However after this, just like in Spicak, things went a bit pear shaped.  I hit a couple of corners off balance and completely stalled out. From here I tensed up again, feeling the pressure and starting to ride tight. This type of riding is a death sentence at Mont Saint Anne and I knew it but in the heat of the moment I froze up and bumbled my way through the next split. From here down I did manage to relax a little but the damage had been done and I was feeling the effects of riding so cagey.  I crossed the line just inside the qualifying time but then got pushed out by the remaining riders to finish in 83rd place. To say I was fuming with myself would be the understatement of the year, what had happened is what I trained for 6 months of the year to avoid.  To go from being in a top 30 position to not qualifying in the space of a run hurt bad, real bad.

Flat out and fast! MSA never disappoints Pic: Moonhead Media.

Watching the race the next day added to the punishment and will simply not be acceptable in Val Di Sole in 3 weeks time, I know the speed to be a top 30 rider is there so watch this space!!!!

Was a wet old race day, improvising for some shelter with the other Kiwis (and Auzzie). Pic: Dan Hearn

I am currently typing this sitting on the plane back to the UK, we have another Street Velodrome race this week in London which will be awesome to attend and then an IXS cup on the weekend in Germany so redemption won’t have to wait too long!

 

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!

 

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!

Val Di Sole World Champs 2016

This is it, World Champs, the end of the season.  Fort William seems like an age ago and I swear Cairns was last year…So many races, airports, motorway miles, new friends and old friends, photos and videos, stressful times and  good times and finally it comes to a close. After being sick all through Andorra I just wanted to get healthy to put in a good showing for World Champs, having never been to World Champs as a racer I was excited to get a chance to don the Silver fern and race for New Zealand.

By the time I left Andorra I had finally started to kick the Strep throat from the week before, it was so nice to be able to function normally and I was looking forward to getting my strength back in the days before jumping back into practice on the Thursday.

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The opening ceremony had epic fireworks!

However I was about to get hit with another bit of bad luck, amongst my travels from Andorra to Val Di Sole I managed to get sick again, this time with a cold, while not as serious as the Strep throat it was still not ideal and I started on the cold and flu pills and Vitamin C to try and get rid of it asap.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to kick the cold by the weekend but after walking the track I was hoping that I would at least be able to minimise its effects before race. We were faced with one of the most vicious courses I think there has ever been. Relentlessly rough and physical with no respite until the finish line, it was classic Val Di Sole but with the intensity turned up to 11.

You were very happy to see this at the end of each run!
You were very happy to see this at the end of each run!

Val Di Sole gets so blown out throughout a race weekend that choosing lines is particularly difficult as no one really knows how the track will change or where the roots and rocks will appear. By the time I got on the track, the Juniors and Elite Women had already spent 3 ½ hours ploughing through all the nice loam on top of the rough stuff and the track was beaten up . With 3 days of practice before the race, and with the track still to change so much, I took the first day easy and tried to get a feel for the terrain and the dirt, as well as see which tires felt best on the powdery ground. I felt pretty good and was looking forward to start turning the speed up the next day.

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Hanging off the back! Pic: Zach Faulkner

The second day of practice was hard; my cold had arrived in full force and the track had changed massively again.  My head was all stuffy and I was struggling to ride at the pace I wanted to, so I changed tack and tried to concentrate on looking at the lines others were riding to see if I could make any improvements to where I was going. At the end of the day I was pretty satisfied with my choices and headed to bed early to try and kick the worst part of the cold.

Saturday was our third day of practice and also our timed run. The timed run is quite a strange one, on one hand it is a good way to gauge how you fast you are riding on track and for many people it would be the first full run of the week so it is a chance to see how your hands/arm hold up for a whole run.  On the other hand, seeing as there is no qualifying for the main race, it is a run that in itself doesn’t count for much but will cost you quite a lot of energy to put a good effort in.   I thought I would aim for a technically smooth run but nothing too flashy as I didn’t want to expend any extra energy. I went out of the gate and into what felt like a washing machine with a brick inside it. I achieved my goal but popped out at the bottom feeling pretty buggered and went home knowing I would need a massive effort the next day if I wanted to finish up the ranks.

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Dry, dusty and rough….cant forget rough! Pic: Zach Faulkner

I woke up on race morning with my arms feeling better than I thought they would given the efforts the previous day and went up the hill for 2 runs before it all kicked off. Both of the runs were smooth and clean, I felt like there was some good pace and I was looking forward to racing later in the afternoon.

I got into the start hut for my last racing run of the international season and I really, really wanted to do well.  To finish on a high note would be a fantastic end to a great year.  I pedalled out of the start gate and into the track. I got about a minute or so into the track before my strength started fading, the cold hadn’t left me yet and I just couldn’t deal with the speed and brutality of the track without feeling 100%. I carried on regardless; the atmosphere was amazing and despite not riding how I wanted to the experience was incredible.

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I loved riding in this jersey! Pic: Ruggero Saccon

I gave it everything I could but I crossed the line knowing that I was going to be way off where I wanted to be. Frustratingly this was proven true and I finished in 63rd position.

I’m really disappointed in this, 63rd is a long way off where I know I am capable of riding, but the illnesses over the last 2 weeks have just absolutely taken it out of me and I was just glad to make it down the hill in one piece.  Looking to the positives though, I was super stoked to have the chance to race in such an incredible event, being selected to don the Silver fern was a great accomplishment given the strength in the New Zealand downhill ranks and 63rd is a hell of a lot higher up the rankings than I was last year!

Andorra World Cup 2016

For the final World Cup of the 2016 season I headed back to Europe and to the long and imposing slopes of Andorra, more specifically La Massana. I was really excited about heading back here, it is probably the best track on the World Cup circuit, super fast and steep with good dirt and plenty of line choice to keep you entertained. The last time I was here aswell I had some really great split times inside the top 40 before suffering a front flat tire so I was keen to see if I could turn those splits into a result.

As well as a great track I was also stoked to get out of Whistler, it is an amazing place but after having to sleep on the floor for 3 weeks and listen to the various goings on and parties within the house I was more than ready to move on.

It was a pretty long flight over to Frankfurt, followed by a hectic transfer and then on to Barcelona, a couple of late night mishaps en route to Andorra meant that we didn’t arrive until after 1am. Time for a good sleep!

Unfortunately I was about to have a whole lot of problems. Somewhere in amongst the poor sleeps in Whistler and living in a house with too many people in it I contracted a vicious case of Strep Throat which decided to hit with full force the morning after I flew into Andorra. If you have never had it before or are unsure what it entails, it is basically a bacterial infection in the Throat and Glands that causes massive swelling of the area along with the roof of your mouth becoming incredibly raw and pustules forming all over the inside of your mouth and throat. The end result of all of this means an incredibly uncomfortable feeling, the inability to eat anything other than porridge and sleeping becomes a nightmare, constantly waking up with a fever, sweating and unable to swallow.

I headed off to the chemists straight away and loaded up on basically anything that would help improve my situation.  The initial relief was much needed as I hadn’t been able to get a respite since it had kicked in.

Compounding my problems was the fact that I had to function the next day for track-walk. I headed to bed super early to try and get some rest but despite all the pills etc I didn’t get much sleep.

Up the hill an amazing track greeted us, it was everything I had hoped for the final race of the season and despite feeling like death I was still excited to ride my bike!

All good things here in Andorra!
All good things here in Andorra!

Practice day came around and I got stuck into some riding. I loved the track from the outset, it certainly lived up to expectations and I was so excited to start riding it at top speed I just needed to try breathe and hang on. A satisfactory day given how stuffed I was,  I finished up, had a quick bite to eat and basically went to bed straight away to try and recuperate as much energy as possible for qualifying the next day.

Another restless night and I woke up without much improvement. I did two runs in the morning, took my medication and headed up to try and get myself into the big show. Normally just trying to qualify is not my end goal, I want to be moving my way up the ranks and into the top 40 but with everything that was going on a top 80 would be like a top 40.

 

I took off out of the start gate and into the initial pedal section, I knew that if I was to make the cut I was going to have to give it everything I had, I pedalled as hard as I possibly could but there was no hiding my breathing problems and lack of strength.  As I continued I could feel myself fading and despite how badly I wanted to do well I ended up being a passenger on my bike. By the time I got to the bottom I was just focussing on breathing properly and not letting my hands blow off. I ended up in 110th position….this was horrible. I was devastated; I wanted to make the main show so badly…

To not make finals at the last World Cup of the year, having made the final of every other race I had been in was a massive disappointment. Sick or not I wanted to be there on Saturday, but the level of racing is so high these days that you can’t afford to be off your game let alone ill.

Dropping in! Pic: Ben Karalus
Dropping in! Pic: Ben Karalus

Not qualifying for this race means that I ended the season in 66th overall on the World Cup standings having qualified and raced at 5 races with finishes of 48th, 49th, 50th, 51st and 70th, not qualified in Andorra and missed Lourdes.  Despite the problems in Andorra this is still my best season by far, I made real progress in my quest to move up the ranks, the conversations I had with people changed from “did you qualify?” to “how well did you qualify today?”  I proved that I have the speed and consistency to race at the highest level and I am really excited to come back next year and move higher and higher up the ranks.  From here I believe that with more training and hopefully less working for next season I will be able to put more of my focus into racing itself rather than how to fund my racing and then the sky is the limit!

Of course from here I still have the World Championships next weekend in Val Di Sole before heading home, I am beginning to feel a bit more normal now so I look forward to being able to put in a good performance to cap off what has so far been a fantastic year!

Crankworx Whistler 2016

Man what a crazy couple of weeks!

Things have been absolutely crazy since Crankworx has finished which seems ironic but I have been trying to make the most out my time here in Canada and have just got back from a quick trip over to the Sunshine Coast to sample some of the riding at the Coast Gravity Park. Awesome place to go and shred with well built trails and some decent sized jumps, it is a super beautiful place aswell, all in all a great trip!

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They have lots of cool things at Coast Gravity park!

Making friends with the locals
Making friends with the locals

Onto the crazy, hectic week that was Crankworx, I would be lying if I said that in my mind I wasn’t already looking ahead to both Andorra and Val di Sole. Crankworx was all about having fun for me, the long season with a massive amount of travelling meant that this was going to be a good opportunity to just relax and enjoy riding my bike.

I had entered for 3 races and the whip off, I was looking forward to getting stuck into some different courses throughout the week and testing/tinkering with a couple of aspects of my rig before I head back to Europe.

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After rain in Europe, the weather here has been all-time. Pic: Boris Beyer

First up was the Garbonzo DH race.  At 13 minutes long of the roughest terrain on the hill, it is 3 times the length of most race courses and certainly brings out any fitness issues in your riding. I was quite excited for this race as I do fancy myself as being quite fit and felt that I should be able to put in a good result. Unfortunately I had a crash about 30 seconds into the race on a flat fire-road turn; this left me with a pretty swollen arm and a deep gash in two of my fingers. I kept going but I wasn’t able to claw back much time and finished in 32nd position.

Onto the A-line race, one of the polar opposites of the Garbonzo, only 4 minutes long and full of jumps, it is basically a downhill BMX track but the jumps are not made to be raced.  The lack of technicality means that you have to try and squash as much of the jump as possible and get on the pedals immediately to try and make up time. It is also incredibly physical but in a different way to the Garbo. I was feeling the effects of my crash earlier in the week with the fluid inside my swollen arm taking a bashing on the braking bumps that littered the trail.  I tried to put in a good effort but couldn’t push through all the bumps and eventually finished well off the back of the pack.

While the result wasn't great, A-line was still a bunch of fun
While the result wasn’t great, A-line was still a bunch of fun  Pic: Jay Wallace

Whip off was next, however a windy afternoon was playing havoc on the jumps and with so much hang time to be had on these monsters it made for some sketchy times with many riders opting to just watch instead, eventually I had one too many close calls with the wind pushing me around and decided to call it so I didn’t risk a big crash.

When it wasn't windy on Crabapple hits. Pic: Boris Beyer

When it wasn’t windy on Crabapple hits. Pic: Boris Beyer

Onto the final race of the week, the Canadian open was a more traditional downhill course, fast and rough with plenty of line choice this time, in everyone’s opinion a great track with tight racing. After a pretty rough week I just wanted to have a good, clean run. I wasn’t bothered about where I placed; I just focussed on riding well and getting through safely so I could begin to prepare for Andorra.  I had clean run, quite safe, but technically I know that I rode well which was what I was looking for heading into Andorra next week. Finishing in 31st in a stacked field given the rest of my week was a welcome bonus and now I am looking forward to both resting up and enjoying some riding here before I get back on the plane in a few days time to head to Andorra for the final World Cup of the year!

Canadian Open. Pic: Clint Trahan
Canadian Open. Pic: Clint Trahan

Despite the tough week, I am still having a great time riding my bike and I feel fit and ready to tackle two of the hardest courses this year!

Monte Sainte Anne World Cup

For this racing update, we have traveled over the pond to Quebec in Canada and Mt Sainte Anne for the 6th round of the World Cup series. Having never been to MSA before I was seriously excited,  after spending the last 4 years racing I have been to most places multiple times so it is really nice to be able to go somewhere fresh and get excited about new things all over again!

Landing in Quebec, we hit a wee problem with our rental car, some fine-print in the contract that hadn’t been emailed through to us apparently prohibited us from hiring the car we had lined up so after a few phone calls we found ourselves at the helm of “Lil Sammy mover”…a 400 horsepower 6.2 litre V8 ute for 1/5th of the price that we would have paid at the airport….pays to shop around.

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Even off the track there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained!

 

We packed Lil Sammy up and headed to the race. I was excited to see the track; I have always loved the look of the course in MSA, long rough and with plenty of options. Track walk revealed a line that lived up to my expectations and then some.  Super rough, really long, no dirt and rocks everywhere meant that line choice was going to be key in being able to hold on for the whole track without your arms giving out.

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This place is not for the faint hearted!
As practice got underway I was taken aback by just how consistently fast this track was….from the minute you left the start till when you crossed the line it was brutal,  sections coming at you so fast you have barely recovered from the last battering before being thrust into the next one.  After a couple of runs to adjust myself I started to get all my ducks lined up and by end of day was feeling confident for qualifying the following afternoon.

I did 3 runs in the morning of qualifying and was looking forward to getting business done in the afternoon, a change in front tire to a more aggressive tread gave me a bit of extra confidence to push in the dusty turns and hold momentum where I had been cautious before. I had my suspension working spot on and I was excited to go and get the job done! The familiar beeps sent me on my way and into the war-zone I went. I hit the top section really cleanly which was a great way to clam my head and think clearly about my riding. I kept it smooth through the middle woods but as I neared the bottom my arms started to feel the effects of the track, coming through the main rock garden I very nearly threw it away and had to use all my strength to stop myself from going over the bars onto some of Quebec’s finest granite. Regathering and holding strong to the bottom I finished in 51st position and safely through to the main show.

After the struggles of Lenzerheide it was nice to feel like I was riding well again at World Cup level and was looking forward to pushing hard the next day!

Race morning saw a damp track, some serious thunderstorms overnight had left the ferocious beast a wee bit damp which only added to the danger around every turn.  Luckily the skies opened up to a bluebird day and with a rapidly drying track and two good practice runs under my belt I was ready to go!

As I headed up to the top I couldn’t wait to get onto the track, it looked amazing from the gondola and the crowds were making full noise!

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Pit Set-ups with the Solid factory lads
Into the start hutt again and before I knew it the beeps were back and I was off and racing. I started a bit more nervous than qualifying and rode a bit cagey at the top but despite missing a couple of lines in the middle woods the adrenaline kicked in and helped keep me upright and on track.  I held good pace through the open sections under the gondola before my arms started to feel the burn heading towards the main rock-garden. I backed off a bit through here which I was a bit disappointed about but I wanted to make sure I was in one piece at the bottom.  The bottom section was quite clean except for one two wheeled drift down a slick rock face. Clearing the final rock garden I glimpsed the finish, gave it everything and crossed the line in 49th position.

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Arm’s just want to give in by this point, still 1 1/2 minutes to go.
49th place was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On one hand I was a bit disappointed in riding a bit cagey at the start and missing a couple of costly lines which put me on the back side of the 30th-50th place bubble. On the other hand however I know I can find that extra couple of seconds so it’s just a matter of piecing the run together, 49th is another good result, It bumps me up in the World Cup overall, I have qualified at every World Cup I have entered and consistently finished well and to top it all off I am still healthy and in one piece!

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Things got a bit wet on the way to the airport!
From here I’m headed over to Whistler for 3 weeks of riding around the Crankworx festival.  I haven’t been to Whistler in 6 years and can’t wait to see how things have changed and get stuck into some jumps!

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All loaded up again!

Chatel and Les Deux Alpes

After a weekend off, we are back into racing here in Europe, this time we traveled to Les Deux Alpes in France for a European cup, the last race in Europe before we head to Canada for (hopefully) a month of sun!

Coming into the weekend I wasn’t sure I was going to race, I had a massive crash in Chatel, France earlier in the week. I have always loved doing jumps, just something about the feeling of flying through the air has always appealed to me. Luckily Chatel has some of the biggest jumps in the business with their “Mountain Style” jumps being used for various freeride competitions over the years, with the main kicker touching 65 feet lip to lip, it’s not for the faint hearted.

I had hit these jumps previously in 2013 and have always wanted to go back and have another crack at it, so we cruised on over and after checking it all out I had a go. First attempt went well; I came in with plenty of speed, hit the lip nicely and sailed over both the gap and 20 feet of the landing.  After this I figured I should be good to give it a bit of style and throw a no-hander.

The first hit went well
The first hit went well

I came in the second time, braked just a touch more than previously to make sure I didn’t send it deep again and off the lip I went. I was so focused on doing the no hander that I didn’t even realize I was coming up short until after I had got my hands back on the bars.  I tried to extend my legs to absorb as much of the impact as possible but it was not even close to being enough, I went over the bars before I even knew what was going on and hit the ground face-first for what was one of the hardest  crashes I’ve had yet.

I got up straight away (I didn’t realize until afterwards just how lucky I was to even do this!) and ripped my helmet off. Everything hurt and I was concussed.

Not wasting time before I started to seize up, we rode back home to Morzine and I spent the next 3 days eating soup while my bottom lip reattached itself, half of my back and chest turned into a scabbed mess, my knee pretended to be a watermelon and my brain just tried to piece together what actually happened.

So heading to the race last weekend in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have raced, but I wanted to give it another go after the disappointment in Lenzerheide and as a protected rider I was guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s super final.

 

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There are some pretty crazy views and roads on the way up to Les deux Alpes
Practice day/qualifying morning was the first time I had ridden my bike since the crash and the effects of the concussion were noticeable, things seemed to be coming up super quick even when I was cruising and I was still feeling pretty weak with all the other injuries from the crash.  However I took things slowly and as things continued on I started to ride with a bit more confidence.

Heading up for seeding I was a bit apprehensive, riding practice is one thing but giving 100% for a timed run etc is another story for your brain and I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Added to this was the fact that it started raining for the last 20 guys (as usual) which turned that track into an absolute nightmare. With this in mind I played it safe and cruised down not wanting to crash.

Race day began nice and sunny, but with thunderstorms forecast to begin at 2pm and my run scheduled for 2.13 pm I was hoping that the weatherman had indulged in a few too many vinos the night before.

As a quick note, adding insult to injury, I also managed to snap half of my front right tooth off during lunch on practice day, not really what you are expecting while eating a baguette!

G'day Cleetus
G’day Cleetus

My practice runs during the morning got heaps better and by the time I headed up for my race run I thought I had a half decent shot at good result. I was aiming for top 20, normally my aspirations would be a lot higher but I wanted to focus on having a clean run and riding well. I started out of the gate well and had a decent top section, I was enjoying myself and was riding well which was what I was looking for after Lenzerheide.

The middle section of the track is tight and twisty, with no margin for error, it is super hard to ride fast and not get thrown off in the various trees and rocks that litter the side of the course. I rode this clean but it was where my head came back into play a little bit, nothing too serious but just not quite 100% is probably the best way to put it.

I also borrowed Louis Hamilton's spare helmet for the weekend, cheers bro! Pic: Les deux Alpes Facebook
I also borrowed Louis Hamilton’s spare helmet for the weekend, cheers bro! Pic: Les deux Alpes Facebook

Coming into the last pedal I put in a good effort but once again felt a bit down on power, giving it everything I could I crossed the line into 5th, eventually dropping back to 19th. Normally I would be disappointed with this result but given everything that happened during this week and that my goal was to finish inside the top 20 and ride well I am stoked. The desire and intent to go fast was there, I rode cleanly and I just need to heal up a bit more before I’ll be back up the results sheet!

From here we are heading back to the UK before flying out to Canada next weekend for the 6th round of the World Cup in Mt Saine Anne, Quebec!