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!

 

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!

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.

 

 

Crankworx Europe 2016

 

 

After the World Cup circus had finished up in Austria we jumped in the car for the long haul over to France and our base in Morzine for the next event, Crankworx Europe. Only 5 km down the road from where Crankworx is held in Les Gets,  Morzine is a great place to be based and we couldn’t wait to get riding….except for one thing.

This June has been SERIOUSLY wet in Europe, and once we saw the weather forecast for the week it didn’t look like it was going to get any better. With 6 days of rain on the initial forecast we knew that we were going to be in for a war. The day of riding we did before the event had us absolutely covered in mud and I was hoping that the race- track was going to ride well because otherwise it was going to be a long week.

Track walk was one of the more interesting experiences of the week; having to go up two chairlifts to get to the top was a first and the top lift was so slow it was going to be miserable in the rain.

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Earlier in the week were the European Whip-Off champs. Unfortunately due to some scheduling changes myself and lot of other riders showed up a bit late, however it was still good to go and throw the bike around for a bit! Pic thanks that Klemen Humar
Getting down the hill was essentially like going down a mud-side, the people who walked down before us had turned the track into a complete mess.  Slipping and sliding down the hill was great fun and to give the track-builders credit they had created a great looking line! Fast at the top, technical in the trees and wide open corners at the bottom meant the only option was full mud tires and I was excited to get out and amongst it.

Practice day was wild…..with the B practice riders having already gone through the track was seriously cut up and hilarious to ride.  There aren’t many occasions on a race track where you can be hitting 70km one minute and then be stuck in the mud with your wheels unable to turn the next. You couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy it, though the clean-ups got old pretty dam quickly. Looking back on the day I know I did too many runs but it was just so much fun sliding around in the mud!

Foot out, catch the rut - that was the name of the game all weekend.  Bryn Dickerson demonstrates.
Zach Faulkner caught me sliding around in the mud during practice day!

One thing that was super nice was being able to head back to a nice place to stay, this week we have been staying with Riders Refuge, I have been coming here for the last 3 years and every time it is just as awesome as I remember. It’s so nice being able to come home covered in mud and be able to focus on getting everything ready for the next day while the hosts sort out an awesome dinner for us…actually might go jump in the hot tub after I finish this post up!

Literally the best place to stay in Morzine....
Literally the best place to stay in Morzine….

Qualifying day rolled around and with more intermittent rain and even deeper ruts there weren’t really many lines to choose from. The main aim of the game was to carry speed, no so much for a fast time but just so that your tires cleared enough to keep going. At one point I crashed in practice and the mud was so thick that my tires literally wouldn’t turn. I had to pull all the mud out before I could keep going.

Basically to make it down the hill through the mud with no grip, you couldn’t touch your brakes… seems reasonable.

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Before and after a standard day on the hill.
For qualifying I just wanted to stay upright which was a lot harder than it sounds! That said I had a pretty clean run and found myself in 26th place, I was pretty happy to just be down in one piece by this stage and given the high class field I was looking forward to a good run the next day!

Finals day was more rain…by this stage I was pretty accustomed to it, but was getting sick of the endless cleaning and heavy bike.  The track was getting pretty hammered as well, I think by this stage everybody just wanted to get racing so we could all go home and get away from the mud! As I said before, the track was great fun to ride, but being out in the cold and wet for 3 days isn’t quite as much fun. That said, practice still went pretty well, a couple of good runs and one crash and it was time for racing!

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Dropping in for race run! Pic thanks to Clint Trahan
My race run was an interesting affair, with a couple hours of hot sun the track had started to dry up leaving the top greasy and the woods ultra sticky. I had a reasonably clean run, but something was just missing, I’m not exactly sure what it was, the intent was definitely there but the conditions were seriously challenging and I crossed the line 10 seconds slower than my qually run. I was disappointed to be that much slower than qualifying however it was still good enough for 24th on the day!

From here we have a few more days with Riders refuge’s awesome hospitality before a short drive into Austria to Brandnertal for an IXS cup race this weekend. I’ve never been there before so can’t wait to see what it is all about!

 

 

 

 

Ilmenau IXS Cup 2015

Hi there, just a short blog this time as time is tight! But hopefully it is a welcome break from my  previous essay’s and you enjoy it nonetheless!

After another 2 week break from racing it was time for the final leg of the trip before I head back home, hopefully to more summer! The setting for the first of the last two races was Ilmenau, Germany for the 4th round of the German IXS Cup.  Having heard nothing but good things about this race I was really looking forward to experiencing what everybody calls “the best race in Germany” .

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Credit: Freestyle Media World

Arriving to a cold, grey day, it definitely felt like summer is gone and autumn is well and truly here. Thankfully though, the smatterings of rain the days before hadn’t affected the track and we were greeted with what looked like one of the coolest tracks of the year. Nice turns, technical jumps and some really loose dirt, along with a big ski jump at the end of the track meant that everybody was amped to get out there and ride!

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Credit: Freestyle Media World

Gladly my initial impressions from track walk were spot on and the first couple of runs were some of the best I have had all season, seeing as this is the first and only new track that I will be racing this year I think the excitement was partly due to this but nonetheless I was having a great time and finished the day feeling good and ready for seeding the next day.

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Credit: Freestyle Media World

Having had a good result at the last German cup in Totdnau, I was keen to put on a good showing in my seeding run so I knew how hard I would be able to push come race-time.  I had a good start to my seeding run but that was about it with my head just not being in the game and riding quite frankly like an idiot. No particular mistakes or crashes but just a culmination of little things getting me down and this was reflected in my time when I crossed the line in 21st position…confused as to how things had gone so wrong, I went home, rested and tried to relax and prepare for the race the following day.

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Credit: Tobsen PiXs

Another sunny race day left me a happy boy and 3 good practice runs in the morning were enough to get the confidence back up and I was ready to go! A good warm up at the top, game face on and into the start-hut once again.  Another strong start got me into a good rhythm and unlike the day before I had the sense of urgency back and was riding much better. The only problem being that on a short 2 minute track, you have to be perfect and as this was a race run on a loose and dusty track, I fell victim to 3 or 4 costly errors that would ultimately see me finish way off the back in 18th which is certainly not what I was looking for. I don’t know what has happened this year with my race runs but I am determined to change it around for the next weekend in Leogang and then it will be time for a well-earned break!

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Credit: Mtb-news.de

On the plus side, at least in terms of mechanical mishaps my luck seems to have turned around!

See you all next weekend for the final race of the European season!

Crankworx Europe 2015

 

With Lenzerheide all done and dusted it was time to make the big trek over to the Rhone Alpes region of France for the Crankworx festival that was to be held in the Les Deux Alpes.  I have been coming here for the last 4 years and if one thing is almost guaranteed about the place it’s that the weather will be sunny and hot! This year was no different with a big heat wave having come up from Africa and temperatures reaching the mid to high 30’s, it was making life rather warm and the trails more than just a little dusty.  Nonetheless it was still really nice to get back there and I was looking forward to the week of riding and racing!

The first order of business once we had arrived was to head up the slopes with Clint Trahan, Clint is the official Crankworx photographer and he needed some pre-event photos and myself and Louis Hamilton were more than happy to oblige for a great afternoon of fun. Luckily at the end of the day Clint was still in once piece after riding around with a 25 kg camera bag on his back on a borrowed bike and he was kind enough to send through a bunch of the great photos that you see in this blog, if I can say one thing about that shoot it’s that snow is bloody hard to ride on!

(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)
(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)

The great thing about Crankworx is that it is a MTB festival rather than just a downhill race so it has a lot of different events going on throughout the whole week, one of these events is the whip off championships. It is a pretty simple concept, hit a jump, throw your bike as sideways as you can, try not to crash and make it look good! I love doing jumps and so this was something I definitely had on the checklist, I had entered last year and made it to the final round of the judged event so was keen to make it again this year.

(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)
(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)

Looking back on it now it was a great event and I loved having the chance to ride my bike outside of a racing environment, with all the travelling this year it has been hard to find time to get out on the DH rig so to go and do some whips for the afternoon was a nice change. I was feeling pretty good on the bike and apart from the sun being in the riders eyes as we were coming into the jump it was really good fun. At the end of it I was stoked to make the finals again and get a couple of banging photos out of it so all in a great evening and I was looking forward to the DH in a couple of days.

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Photo: Dave Trumpore

The DH track at Les Deux Alpes is a strange one, it is ultra fast and wide open at the top before you cross a bridge and everything changes into some of the thinnest and tightest single-track there is on the circuit before things open right up again near the bottom. This makes things challenging as the top and bottom are so fast and rough that to transition from the mindset of going flat out to riding smooth and calculated is difficult and with the thick layer of dust coating the course it made things slipperier than if they had of been covered in mud!  Unfortunately, except for one section, the track was pretty much exactly the same as it had been for the last few years. Not that this was really an issue but it made things a bit dull during practice, nevertheless I was feeling really good and looking forward to getting into the super final the following day.

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Photo: Ben Winder

I still don’t really have much of an idea what happened in my qualifying run. One moment I was flying down the track and the next I was on my head tumbling through the dust and grasses with no idea what was going.  The photographer who was there said that I flipped over the bars and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t end up in the hospital….all I knew was that I felt like I had been through a washing machine. The crash happened on the wildest part of the course and meant that I would be the 2nd rider off the start gate the following day, by this stage I didn’t care I was just glad to be ok and headed home for some food and rest.

Bryn Dickerson of new Zealand gets sideways through the crowd at Crankworx Les Deux Alpes in France. (Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)
(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)

I woke up on race day feeling pretty tender, but with limited time to practice I headed up the hill and began to loosen up a bit. The track hadn’t changed much over the week so it didn’t take long to get back to the speed from the previous days and I headed up to the start hut feeling like I could put a good run together.

Bryn Dickerson of New Zealannd at the Official European Whip-Off Championship at Crankworx Les Deux Alpes in France.
(Photo by clint trahan/crankworx)

Aside from the obvious downsides to crashing in a qualifying run, the big disadvantage I had was that I didn’t actually have any concrete data as to how fast I was riding compared to my competitors. This made life difficult as I had no idea how hard to push on the slippery dust. Having a choice to either give it the beans and hold on or ride it slightly conservatively there was only really one option that I was going to take…

Photo: Ben Winder
Photo: Ben Winder

I rode well for the top section and safely negotiated the section I had crashed on the previous day but coming into the tight and technical sections  I could tell that I was riding too erratically, too focussed on going flat out rather than braking and setting up for the corners properly. Unfortunately just as I had calmed myself down I had a crash which promptly threw that mindset out the window again resulting in another small get-off 20 seconds further down. After these two costly mistakes I pulled myself together but I knew that any chance I had of doing well was gone and the sense of urgency just wasn’t there.  Finishing up 8th in the small final was a huge disappointment after riding well all in practice and the flat tire issues from the previous week in Lenzerheide but sometimes no matter what you things just don’t work out.

 

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Keen to put a smile back on the dial and do something other than bikes for a day, we got up early on the day after the race and headed up the gondola nice and early to make the most of the summer skiing that Les Deux Alpes is lucky enough to have. It’s an awesome novelty to go skiing in a t-shirt in the middle of summer at a higher altitude than the highest point in New Zealand, and one that I hope to repeat in the future!  After squidding around the slopes for the day we cruised down and have headed off to Morzine, France to spend some time relaxing and riding our bikes.  With the next race not for another 4-5 weeks it will be nice to get a chance to recuperate from the hectic schedule and just focus on having fun for a bit!

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See you guys in a few weeks for the next IXS European cup race in Spicak, Czech Republic!

Todtnau IXS Cup + German National champs

The last time I had the fortune to come to the Black forest town of Totdnau in Southern Germany, it was for the final race of my first ever European season in 2012 and it’s fair to say that things didn’t go down overly smoothly, operating out of a 3 door car in the rain with no tent meant for a pretty sodden weekend. This coupled with the fact that my cardboard back protector didn’t really cut the mustard with the officials meant I had a hell of a time even getting to the start line, however the track had been fun and I knew that I could do well there given the chance, so this time around it was time to make business happen!

Course walk took place under the summer sun that I had been both looking forward to and dreading so much. If any of you don’t know, I have the skin tone of a ghost who hasn’t been out of the cupboard for a while, so while I love being in the warm I more often than not end up sunburnt…ah the joys of continuous summer, bring on skin cancer… Anyway, the track, much improved from 2012 I liked it from the outset, fast and rough, some pedalling and a fair few line choices I knew that this would suit my style and couldn’t wait to get my tires in the dirt!

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Credit: Raffi DieWaldfee

After the flat tire disappointments of Schladming and fort William I was trialling a new system this weekend to keep the air on the inside of my tires, unfortunately due to my inexperience it took a little while to get everything set up which meant that I only managed to get two runs in on the Friday. That being said they were both good runs and the lines I had looked at in track walk were working well which gave me confidence for qualifying the next day.

Qualifying day started out great, I got four runs in during practice and was getting up to speed well, riding confidently, I could feel the off season training paying off and was really excited for qualifying later that day. I should point out here that with this race being the German national champs/IXS Cup there was no top 30 “Super Final” nonsense and everybody who started a seeding run had the chance to race for the same prize come Sunday afternoon.  But before that, and more importantly, we were once again going to be at the mercy of the afternoon thunderstorms that were forecast. Watching the clouds roll in, I hoped for the best but when I jumped onto the chairlift in what I thought was a gap in the rain bursts the clouds rolled in and I arrived at top sodden and cold, lovely.

Not letting this get me down and knowing that the forecast for the next day was for hot sun, I was sat in the start gate as the first Elite male down the hill after a race entry mix up. Happily the rain had abated by this point but I knew that the track was going to be ultra slippery. This turned out to be spot on, sliding all over the place; I managed to keep myself on track and came down with a good time of 3.53. After this, the sun popped back out and promptly went about drying out the track but my time held up quite well and I finished in 7th knowing that on the dry track the next day I had plenty of time to gain.

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Credit: Raffi DieWaldfee

Thankfully the weather forecast held true and the sun greeted me as I turned up to the track, wasting no time in getting up the hill, sneaking in two good runs before just missing out on a third. However I still managed to get up the lift so I took the chance to cruise down beside the track and look at how it was drying out and how hard I could push without sacrificing grip. With everything looking bone dry again it was all systems go and I couldn’t wait to get racing.

Sitting in the start hut I felt really confident, I knew where I was going and how fast I could go. When the beeps started I wasted no time in getting out and off down the hill. The run itself was a bit of a blur, I remember getting super sketchy a couple of times but I was carrying enough speed that my tires found grip and kept me going. One thing that does stick out in my memory from my run was about halfway down when I somehow managed to pop my top brace off my teeth, not quite sure how I managed that but it came as a hell of a surprise mid run!  Getting myself back in order, I knew the run was going well and after clearing the final corner I put in a big sprint for the finish line to be rewarded with a time of 3.33.47, 20 seconds up on my qualifying run and putting me into First place by 1.3 seconds.  I was pumped, that was a really good run and I felt confident I could jump up into the top 5 on the day.

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Credit: Raffi DieWaldfee

Watching the other riders come down when you are sitting in the hot seat is such a nerve wracking time and this day was no different, as rider after rider came down and failed to go faster I found myself looking at a top 5 and then a top 3 finish. When the top qualifier Johannes Fischbach came into view it was still a pretty close though by the time he crossed the line he had just edged me into 2nd place by just .6 of a second. Nonetheless I am super happy with the result; to get second place at any National Championships is super hard as everybody goes just that little bit harder. Also the first podium of the season and to be so close to the win is a great feeling; it is so nice to finally get a reward for all the hard work that gets put in during the off season!

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Now it’s time to take the confidence from this race and head into the next world cup in Lenzerheide this weekend ready to go and looking to improve on the 60th from Leogang a couple of weeks ago, see you all there!

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.

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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.

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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!