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!

 

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!

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!

 

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!