Val Di Sole World Cup 2017

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

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

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

Val Di Sole is pretty epic.

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

It really is a messy track! Pic: Moonhead Media

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

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

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

Yea it was pretty dusty Pic: ThePerfectLine

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

Up close and personal Pic: ThePerfectLine

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Tv…stoked!

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

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

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

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

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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!

Andorra World Cup 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Sainte Anne World Cup

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All loaded up again!

Chatel and Les Deux Alpes

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

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

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

The first hit went well
The first hit went well

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

G'day Cleetus
G’day Cleetus

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

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

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

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

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

Lenzerheide World Cup 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IXS Cup Spicak 2016

Hello all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IXS Cup Brandnertal 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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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!