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.

 

 

Advertisements

Leogang World Cup 2016

The Drive:

After Fort William, We packed up and headed back to Manchester to spend the night with Louis’s family before heading to the continent the following evening. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic leaving the Fort was too much for the wee highland roads to cope with and so we spent an hour and a half in a standstill waiting to get some clear road. Finally free, we made good time but the delay meant we got in at 3am….lovely.

The following evening we got on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam which was much nicer than having to drive through England. After tucking into the onboard buffet and eating far far too much we got some rest before the big drive through Germany. Stopping off in Salzburg, we spent a few hours wandering around the Red-Bull’s Hangar 7, which is like a museum for all things Red Bull. It’s pretty incredible to see some of their machines up close in person, and to see just how many pies they have had their fingers in.

See ya later England!
See ya later England!
I'm an athlete I swear....
I’m an athlete I swear….
Daily driver
Daily driver
Shuttle wagon?
Shuttle wagon?

Leogang:

Arriving to a pretty gloomy day with the forecast not supposed to improve. Trackwalk was a pretty miserable affair, lots of rain in the preceding days had turned parts of the track into a bog and this coupled with some average taping decisions looked like it was going to be pretty hard to ride.

Picking up some supplies thanks to Maxxis Germany! -Photo: Duncan Philpott
Picking up some supplies thanks to Maxxis Germany! -Photo: Duncan Philpott

Practice:

Despite the initial average forecast, practice was a gorgeous day, and following feedback from some of the teams the UCI had adjusted some of the more average taping decisions and opened up the course allowing it to flow much nicer and with the boggy sections drying up it was quickly turning into a great track. I was having a great time on course, loving the technical aspects mixed with the high speed and jumps. At the end of practice I was absolutely fizzing, my bike set-up was perfect, I was feeling fit and strong, I felt like I had good lines sorted and I couldn’t wait for Qualifying

 

13410361_10208460829455956_508322131_o
This is pretty common at downhill races…standing there and looking at things….Photo- Raffi Diewaldfee

 

Qualifying:

Unfortunately the weather gods came to play for Qualifying and we woke up to a wet, grey day.  Luckily with some opportune parking we snuck ourselves onto the back of one of the parking garages so we had some shelter. The track itself was a slippery affair but it had enough rain that meant the surface was fully wet rather than greasy which kept it quite ride-able. I knew I had the speed to qualify here and so was just focused on staying upright in my run as I knew that if I did that I would be safely through. I put together a solid run and crossed the line into 42nd position. My best ever Qualifying result and safely through to the big show! Stoked!

Qualifying day practice..full rain gear! Photo - Sebastian Sterneman
Qualifying day practice..full rain gear! Photo – Sebastian Sterneman

Race:

With overnight rain and the weather supposed to be pretty average again for race day I was picturing a hard day on the hill. Though by the time we got to the tack the clouds were lifting and we were seeing the odd section of blue skies here and there, while it was nice to be riding in the sun again, it made the track unbelievably greasy. It’s not often that the track sweeper has to stop on their course clearing run for riders, but on this day he had to wait for a good 5 minutes at one of the technical sections while about 20 riders (Including the big dogs) were trying to pick their way through, it was a war…

Race day practice - Photo- Raffi Diewaldfee
Race day practice – Photo- Raffi Diewaldfee

With the rain looking like it was going to hold off for race, the next question was how dry was the track going to be. I figured that given how fast things dry it was going to be awesome and shifted my focus to riding the technical sections well. The thing with Leogang though is that times here are so tight this approach turned into a double edged sword, I rode the technical sections really well but I was overly aggressive in the simpler turns, blowing my feet of the pedals and just not riding 100% smooth I forced myself to calm down and things picked up from here, I felt good through the middle section of the track and coming into the final rocks I hit my line spot on and was so surprised I actually over braked into the next section. Cleanly through onto the final straight, I kept it low over the jump to cross the line into 48th place. My best ever finish at a world cup race.

Yeow! whipping it out - Photo: Boris Beyer
Yeow! whipping it out – Photo: Boris Beyer

I’m in two minds about this, on one hand, I really wanted a top 45 finish and I am a bit annoyed that I let the nerves get to me and I rode overly aggressive at the top which cost me some time. However on the other hand, 48th is my best ever finish, it is only just outside the top 45, it is another consistent result in the bag, it’s good for the World Cup overall and also pushes my case further for World Champs selection which I will hopefully know about in the next day or so!

From Leogang we have driven over to Morzine, France for Crankworx Europe where (weather permitting) we will have a few events to compete in this weekend! So stay tuned for the next update!

Schladming IXS Cup 2015

#Notleogang , this hashtag has been used over the last few years by riders who have, let’s say “disapproved” of the nature of the Leogang World Cup track and the fact that just down the road lies one of the best downhill tracks that most people will ever ride. Even with the changes made to Leogang this year, there is just something about Schladming that just makes it rad and gets you excited to ride the infamous Planai trail long before you arrive. Driving into town this year was no different and we wasted no time in getting up the hill and laying our own fresh skids down the well worn trail.

If there is one thing you can count on in Europe, it is that the weather will play absolute havoc with both the state of the trail and (if you prefer to ride in dust like me) the state of your sanity. The rain that came down the day before practice meant that we were going to be in for a hell of a weekend as the 500 plus enthusiastic riders turned the track into one of the roughest rides on the circuit.

Practice went well for me, I have done a decent amount of riding in Schladming over the years and I had a fair idea where I was going from the start. A couple of runs in, lines picked and it was all about picking up the pace and riding consistently. The intermittent rain throughout the day helped to keep the roots nice and greasy but that only added to the fun! Finishing the day in high spirits, I was particularly glad for the off season training which was definitely helping to keep myself from wadding it into the numerous trees and chairlift poles that were scattered around the course.

n3x9116_whip
Photo credit: Boris Beyer @maddogboris

Qualifying day, it seems weird to be saying that for an IXS race but for the 2015 season the organizers have made some “interesting” changes to the format of the races. Normally at an IXS you have a seeding run whereby the riders start in numbered order to get an idea of who is fast and who is struggling so that for the final run riders start in an order that better represents their speed on course.  Where you finish in this run isn’t normally super important because if you have a bad run you can figure out what went wrong and sort it for finals. However this year they have introduced something called the “Super final”, basically what that means is that they split the field into the top 30 qualifiers who get to race in the “Super final” and the rest of the pack who get to race in the “Small final”. Seems basic enough to understand but the problem is that if you have a crash or a mechanical and don’t make it into the top 30, no matter how good your run is in the finals the best position you can finish is 31st. This has certainly had its teething issues, at the first race, one of the top ranked riders who crashed and missed the cut for the top 30 promptly went and set the 2nd fastest time of the day but due to the way this system works he only finished 31t. I guess it promotes faster qualifying times but if you are going to allow everybody to race anyway (unlike a world cup where only the riders who qualify race) then at least allow everybody to race for the same prize.

Anyway, anxious to make it into the Super Final, I lined up on a rapidly drying track looking to have a smooth, clean run  that should hopefully see me through to the main show. I started as I had planned, hitting my lines cleanly and pretty smoothly, but after a reasonably complacent middle section  I got the feeling that I wasn’t quite going fast enough so started to push towards the bottom. This worked well until my back wheel squirted out of a rut and had me losing speed and pedals all over the show, I got going again and knew that mistake had cost me dearly after the cruisey middle section. Crossing the line in 7th, I knew that with 57 riders still to come I was going to be cutting it fine to get in the top 30. I slowly dropped down the order, eventually finishing 35th, 1.5 seconds out of the main event. Cursing myself for being too complacent in the middle section (even as I write this I am pissed just thinking about it) I reset my goals to at least being the fastest loser and taking out the small final (hopefully) with a time that would have me top 20 in the main event.

18026_1124726864207723_1951138070699294640_n
The steed ready for action!

Race day started out the same as any, 3 practice runs in the morning which were way too much fun, followed by a decent period of waiting around  before it was up to try and make the best of a bad situation. Surprisingly sunny and warm at the top, I was feeling surprisingly good myself and was keen to make a good go of things. Getting out of the gate well, I carried great speed through the first few sections and was feeling good for a decent time until disaster struck again. I felt the rock when it flicked up and hit my bike, I hoped for the best but unfortunately it was not to be and after losing the bottom part of my chain guide I felt the dreaded tire wallowing and within 5 seconds my rear tyre was, once again, flat. Furious at this, I kept on going for a bit until logic took over and, realising that I wanted to make it down the hill on my bike rather than walking, I relaxed and made sure I wasn’t in the way of the other riders coming down.

So, two flat tires in three races, both coming in crucial runs having not had any issues on both weekends beforehand, it’s time to bring out the tricks and put a stop to this flat tire bollocks! Check back in next week to see how that worked out for me at the German national championships at Totdnau!