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!

 

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.

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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!

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!

Lenzerheide World Cup 2016

Rapid fire on the blogs this week! This time I am writing to you from Lenzerheide in Switzerland where we have just finished up round 5 of the World Cup series!

After Spicak last weekend, we spent a few days heading down through Austria to Switzerland via a stop at the KTM factory for a tour of their facilities and to send ourselves off a ski-jump in Leogang! This was an amazing experience and something that definitely needs to be revisited in the future with proper planning!

Despite the increase in costs, Switzerland is a gorgeous place, stunning mountains and picturesque lakes make for an amazing place to ride your bike. This coupled with a full on race-track meant that it was going to be a good week!

Track walk revealed a line with minimal changes and given that I enjoyed last years track I was stoked on the similarities and was ready to keep my rise up rankings going.

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Dropping in for the first practice runs – Pic: Klemen Humar

First practice was a shake-up for me. Going into the day with a few pre-conceived ideas based on how last years track rode was a big mistake and despite enjoying the track/conditions I was struggling to really get up to pace. I took a step back to try and re-evaluate why this was but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  This said by the end of the day I had a few good lines down and was confident that with a good nights rest I would be able to step things up for qualifying the next day.

It was hot all week in Lenzerheide! Pic - Eibi Fox
It was hot all week in Lenzerheide! Pic – Eibi Fox
Heading into the step up at Mach chicken - Pic: Jay French/ Freeride New Zealand
Heading into the step up at Mach chicken – Pic: Jay French/ Freeride New Zealand

Qualifying day brought with it the lifting of the weather curse that seems to be following us around this year. Finally things stayed dry and after some good practice runs in the morning I was confident that I wouldn’t have any troubles making it into the top 80. The run itself started a bit slowly but I built into things as I went down, crossing the 3rd split in 50th position, I was feeling good before things started to unravel a bit. Over braking into corners and a lapse in concentration meant I dropped back 22 places in 1 minute of riding to make it through to the big show in 72nd position. This shook me up a touch however I was determined not to let it get to me and went home to watch some helmet cams and find those lost seconds!

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Cruising through the top rock garden – Pic: Jay French/Freeride New Zealand

Race day was another sunny day and boy did it feel good to be putting sun-screen on instead of a raincoat!

Through watching my helmet cams the night before I had identified a few sections to have a look at and after stopping on my first run I headed up for my second run ready to put it all together. The 2nd practice run was a struggle, looking back on it now I think I was trying to do too much in one run and this caused my issues but after having a tough weekend I wanted to try and get everything sorted for my race! Despite this I actually felt quite confident before my run, after all, it was just another race run. I knew where I was going to be able to push and where I would do better to focus on riding smooth over maximum pace.

Into the gate and the familiar beeps sent me on my way.  I felt a little tight in the first corners but calmed down and felt like I rode the next section quite cleanly. A big mistake just before split 1 put me back off the pace I struggled to recover, the confidence just wasn’t there and I tightened up. I tried to force myself to loosen off a bit but this was hard to do mid-run and I couldn’t shake it.  Crossing the line with a time that is slower than your qualifying time is never a good start and I was bitterly disappointed with the final result of 70th.

Looking back on another race weekend! onto the next one! Pic - Zach Faulkner/Descent World
Looking back on another race weekend! onto the next one! Pic – Zach Faulkner/Descent World

With 6 races in 6 weekends I do feel like I have been battling a bit of fatigue both physically and mentally and it will be nice to have the next 10 days to rest up and prepare for the 5th European Cup in Les Deux Alpes, France!

 

IXS Cup Spicak 2016

Hello all!

Sorry for the delay in this blog, but hey better late than never!

here is the next update from the European conquest! This one is coming to you from the Czech Republic and the town of Spicak for the 4th round of the European cup.

Heading into the Czech Republic is always a bit of a trip to the wild west, things are super cheap there and the things you can buy for next to nothing are highly entertaining if not a bit scary! In the past we have came back with things such as tasers, bb guns, fireworks and pepper spray, all of which can be conveniently brought right next to a shaver…..

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It always amazes me what you can buy off the streets in the Czech Republic! knives, guns, tasers and a shaver…that’s diversity if I’ve ever seen it….

Highly entertaining if not a bit scary is also a good way to describe the track in Spicak, a fast and rocky beast; it is hard on both bikes and gear. Despite this I love the technical nature of the course and that you have to get everything spot on to not only put in a good time but to also stay safe!

The track hadn’t changed much from last year and so with only a few small line changes I was up to speed quickly and looking to find those extra seconds to get onto the podium again! There were a lot of quick riders here but I wasn’t lowering my expectations of myself, I wanted to be on the podium….

Rocks, rock s and more rocks.....
Rocks, rock s and more rocks…..

Qualifying day brought with it the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm, but as the weather appeared to be holding on for our runs, we headed up with quiet optimism….how we were wrong. As seems to be a habit this year, the clouds broke and we ended up soaked and faced with a very slippery monster in front of us.

Luckily for me, I was a protected rider and so I automatically qualified for Sundays super-final….this was a massive relief and so I took a very mellow qualifying run just to get myself down the hill without crashing. Riding within yourself like this is never much fun but with a lot of unnecessary risk and a World Cup just around the corner I didn’t want to do any damage to body or bike.

The steed looking fresh for race day!
The steed looking fresh for race day!

The second stroke of luck for the weekend was that the weatherman was actually correct for a change and race-day dawned to beautiful blue skies and no thoughts of rain whatsoever.  I had my plan for the day all sorted out and once again set about dialing in the last couple of sections before race time. This went well again and I felt super confident heading into my race run.

I was the first rider down the hill in the Super-final and so had a few minutes in the gate to myself before heading down. I took the time to visualise my line and clear my head, I was so ready to go I almost went 30 seconds early. The run itself started great, great posture on the bike and strong pedals where they needed to be. I came flying into the longest rock garden on the track and hit it full gas, it felt amazing. I hit my braking point and started to slow up for the corner before my front wheel suddenly left the ground and my face/shoulder went smashing into a tree-stump. I still have no idea how this happened but my jaw was sore and my shoulder didn’t feel too crash hot either. Grabbing my bike it took the next 20 seconds of track to get everything back in order before I got back up to speed.

From here I just wanted to make up as many places as I could. I was furious with myself for crashing, especially since I was riding so well and it was such an innocuous place to crash. I crossed the line and then realised that I was a bit sorer than I had initially thought, with a decent cut under my arm and a throbbing jaw.

Leading out the lads, Louis and Connor in tow!
Leading out the lads, Louis and Connor in tow!

Once things calmed down and I reflected on my 24th place finish, I realised there are still a lot of positives to take away from it all. I was riding fast….up there with the guys who I want to be battling with and despite my crash I still had a super fast bottom sector.  My set-up felt on point and my fitness is holding up to the hectic schedule well with the training I am doing while over here.

 

IXS Cup Brandnertal 2016

 

With no rest for the wicked after Les Gets we were straight off to Austria for an IXS Cup in Brandnertal, it’s always nice to go to a brand new track and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store!

After all the rain of the last 3 weeks I was looking forward to finally getting to ride some dry trails and when we arrived into Brandertal on Friday afternoon it looked like we were going to get just that. Beautiful blue skies and high temperatures meant that I finally had to use my sunscreen which was a welcome change however there was rain in the forecast so I made the most of the beautiful weather early on. Walking the course it looked amazing, technical and fast but not super steep; it was all about carrying your speed and hitting your lines precisely. A fast jump section towards the bottom meant fitness was going to come into play here also and I was amped before my tires had even hit the dirt!

Stunning views in Brandnertal - Pic IXS Downhill Cup/ Sebastian Gruber
Stunning views in Brandnertal – Pic IXS Downhill Cup/ Sebastian Gruber

Initial practice runs confirmed my thoughts on the track with the ability to hold speed being the number one priority. The roots that littered the track were still slick from the previous weeks’ rain which kept you on your toes the whole way down. I was really enjoying the style of track, with the technical sections being interspersed with a few sizeable jumps it meant you really had to focus on more than just one aspect of riding and make sure you were in the right gear to pedal into the features.

Following Louis Hamilton down the Motorway. Pic - IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber
Following Louis Hamilton down the Motorway. Pic – IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber

Qualifying day dawned sunny. But with some overnight rain the track was a different beast from practice the day before. The roots were suddenly a minefield and anything that had the slightest semblance of clay in it was icy. Thankfully the sun was intense and it wasn’t long before the track was in perfect condition for Qualifying.

Unfortunately my run was a shambles. I wanted to do well at this race so badly and seeding highly seemed like the best way to go about it.  Naturally because of this I got over-aggressive and didn’t ride my usual style crashing 3 times and eventually rolling down the hill just to keep myself in one piece.

Will we ever see the end of the rain . Pic - IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber
Will we ever see the end of the rain . Pic – IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber

I was pretty gutted about this, I knew it was just qualifying but I wanted to set the tone for Sunday’s race.  Anyway, I went home and studied my helmet cams of the sections that I was struggling with and made a plan of attack for Sunday.

I should mention here that it was hammering it down overnight and when we awoke on Sunday things were not showing any sign of improvement…ohwell another wet one then….As I said I had my plan of attack and set about sorting myself out.  This went well and by the time practice finished I knew where I was going and was ready to race.

Before the rain, Following Louis again
Before the rain, Following Louis again

Having seeded 51st due to my crashes, I knew that I was going to have to put down a stormer of a run to get close to my goal of a podium finish!

Starting with strong pedals out of the gate; I knew the first corner was an important one to get through nicely as it would set the tone for the rest of the run. I nailed it and from then on things went smoothly, I caught the rider in front of me in a good location to pass and he was nice enough to let me through. The only issue I had was trying to scrub one of the jumps a bit hard and coming up pretty short on it. Back on the pedals and over the line 11 seconds up on 2nd place, 3.17.8 was my time and I was caught in two minds. On one hand, I was bummed I had cased the jump on the motorway as it was so important to carry speed through the long section. On the other hand the technical sections went really well and I knew that conditions were treacherous given all the rain. I settled in for a nervous wait in the hot-seat.

Early morning race practice....eyes on the prize. Pic - IXS Downhill cup/Sebastian Gruber
Early morning race practice….eyes on the prize. Pic – IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber

As rider after rider came down all outside of my time I was edging closer to my goal of a podium finish…and then I was top 3…and then when the last rider crossed the finish line over 5 seconds down I knew I had done it! I had won the race…I was so, so happy. To put in so much work in the off-season, come over to Europe, ride really well and have all the hard work pay off is enormously gratifying and getting to stand on top of the podium is just the best feeling in the world!

Boom! Pic - IXS Downhill cup/Sebastian Gruber
Boom! Pic – IXS Downhill Cup/Sebastian Gruber

From here we are heading east to the Czech Republic for another IXS cup in Spicak before returning to Switzerland for the Lenzerheide World Cup.