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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2017 World Cup #6, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada

If there is one name that is synonymous with downhill racing then Mont Saint Anne in Quebec, Canada would be the one. Having been a part of the World Cup schedule every year since 1991 it is a venue steeped in the history of the sport and with one of the best tracks on the circuit it is a rider favourite.

2017 would be my second year in Quebec, having qualified and raced to 49th in 2016 I was excited to try and break into the top 40 and get things back on track for the end of the season. After picking up our massively oversized truck for the 10 days we were there in Montreal, we set about cruising up to the Mountain to set up nice and early for the event.

Big car next to normal car for scaling…5.7 litre V8!

After a good few days acclimatising to the time difference and the high temperatures it was time for action.  Track-walk greeted us with a long and rough old beast, with the rocks more prominent than ever it was claimed that 2017 was the roughest year yet. Between the rocks and the high speed sections it was going to be a crazy track just to ride, let alone race!

Awesome week with an awesome crew!
Found a massive snake on track-walk!!

I had a great time during practice; I felt good on the dusty track, finding some good lines and enjoying the jumps. The strengths of the track suited my style and I was beginning to feel like I was riding properly again. This was immensely comforting given how the season had felt so far and I was excited for qualifying.

Getting into it with Harry in tow. Pic: Moonhead Media
As the photo says… #longlivechainsaw Pic: Dan Hearn

Qualifying day rolled around with a hiss and a roar, but with thunderstorms in the forecast, everybody’s eyes were trained to the sky.  I wasn’t too worried either way, I felt good enough on track that I would be able to deal with a slippery course.

Dropping into more rocks! Pic: Moonhead Media
Love a good jump. Pic: Moonhead Media

With the rain holding off I rolled out of the start gate and into the run. I felt that on a long course like Mont Saint Anne it was important to get into a rhythm early and focus on holding your speed the whole way down the mountain.  I hit the first few corners fast, felt good and smashed on through the first split in 28th position!  However after this, just like in Spicak, things went a bit pear shaped.  I hit a couple of corners off balance and completely stalled out. From here I tensed up again, feeling the pressure and starting to ride tight. This type of riding is a death sentence at Mont Saint Anne and I knew it but in the heat of the moment I froze up and bumbled my way through the next split. From here down I did manage to relax a little but the damage had been done and I was feeling the effects of riding so cagey.  I crossed the line just inside the qualifying time but then got pushed out by the remaining riders to finish in 83rd place. To say I was fuming with myself would be the understatement of the year, what had happened is what I trained for 6 months of the year to avoid.  To go from being in a top 30 position to not qualifying in the space of a run hurt bad, real bad.

Flat out and fast! MSA never disappoints Pic: Moonhead Media.

Watching the race the next day added to the punishment and will simply not be acceptable in Val Di Sole in 3 weeks time, I know the speed to be a top 30 rider is there so watch this space!!!!

Was a wet old race day, improvising for some shelter with the other Kiwis (and Auzzie). Pic: Dan Hearn

I am currently typing this sitting on the plane back to the UK, we have another Street Velodrome race this week in London which will be awesome to attend and then an IXS cup on the weekend in Germany so redemption won’t have to wait too long!

 

The Wild Wild… East? IXS European Cup Rd 4, Spicak, Czech Republic.

Hello and welcome to Blog number 3 for this year, normal programming has resumed and from now on the blogs will be about one race rather than 4!

After the chaos of the start of the season it was a nice break to spend some time Italy without having to pack and unpack the van every day. While we have the best van ever (Tony the Transit), we also have a LOT of stuff, and so packing things in and out every day is a Tetris players wet dream as well as quite time consuming.

Stunning views everywhere in Italy! Bormio, suspension testing.

After 10 days of living the Italian lifestyle it was time to put everything back in Tony and get underway to Spicak, Czech Republic for the 4th round of the European cup.  A 5 hour drive had us over the border into the Wild West and ready to go! I have always liked Spicak both as a place and a race-track but have struggled with issues with flat tires, concussions and crashes so I was keen to get the monkey off my back.

A course with plenty of changes awaited us and it was nice to see that they were good changes aswell. Many a time organisers have changed race tracks in the hope that change is better only for it to be worse, luckily this was not the case in Spicak and I couldn’t wait to go ride!

With Friday’s thunderstorms not eventuating, it was an awesome afternoon of riding bikes. I finally felt like I was taking steps in the right direction with my set-up and knew that I was riding well. The track was dusty, rough and running quite fast, Spicak has traditionally been a slow and awkward track and while some of the awkwardness remained, for the most part it flowed well and the new jumps were welcome additions!

Into the trees at Mach Chicken! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert.

Saturday’s practice went really well until I decided to have a bit of a dirt nap in my last practice run and stick my paw into a rock. Bruised up but not broken I went and got some of the miracle spray that soccer players always seem to use (N.B. it does nothing…bloody useless), took a couple of painkillers and headed up for qualifying.

“left, right, left, jump…..ooh how about schnitzel for dinner?” Pic: Raffi DieWaldfee

Luckily Saturday’s forecasted thunderstorms also passed over  and so qualifying got underway with deep dust and tight times. I wanted to put down a good run but also save a bit for Sunday’s finals, particularly with the aforementioned sore paw. Spicak isn’t a long track but it is quite physical, there is a lot of body language required to generate and maintain speed so not wasting energy is important.  With this is mind I took off out of the start gate and got into the run. While it was not the best start I pulled things back in and rode reasonably well in the bottom section to cruise across the line in 9th. I had a few mixed emotions as I wanted to ride a bit cleaner than I had but at the same time my hand didn’t give me much trouble and it was nice to be back in the top 10. All things considered not a bad day out and I was excited to drop that number a few places for race day!

Slithering through the tight trees during qualifying, 9th place. Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

After holding off for 2 days, the rain came in overnight and left a very greasy track come Sunday morning.  It didn’t take long for the dirt to get pulled onto the rocks and make things even slipperier, This didn’t bother me too much though, after a brief adjustment period and one face-meets-crash pad incident I got my head around things and was looking forward to the race run! Unfortunately for all the competitors, just as we were about to head up for our finals runs the clouds broke and one of the most intense 10 minute rain showers followed. All the hard work the sun had done in the 4 hours beforehand drying up the course was gone and we were back to a greasy slip-fest. The times instantly got much slower in the preceding classes. One consolation of this though was that at least everyone in the super-final had the same conditions…Game on!

Race day was a greasy one, good thing there were plenty of ruts! Pic: IXS/Rick Schubert

I was really excited for this race, I wanted to put in a really good effort and get myself right up onto the podium. I knew I was riding fast enough and I knew how to ride in these conditions. This time my start was perfect, a really good first 45 seconds or so with strong pedals, good body position and hitting all my lines.  I wanted to push on from here and really go hard, a rookie mistake where I should have just keep riding smooth and focused on where I could push rather than just trying to fast everywhere in the slippery conditions. I made one big mistake, and then another before the first split, undoing all the hard work of the start. I got rushed from here and lost my composure, riding tense and missing lines I made a mess of the last 2 corners which are super important for carrying speed onto the long finish straight and while I pedalled with everything I had I know I lost a bunch of time. I made up 6 places from the split time to the finish to cross the line in 15th place. Bitterly disappointed to throw away not only such a positive start to the run but also a fantastic weekend. I had felt in great form from the get-go and really wanted this race to kick start the last half of my season. I guess that can wait to Mt Saint Anne.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda… Pic: Ales Kocner

As I write this I’m back in England or a few days before we fly out to Canada for the Monte Saint Anne World Cup. I had a great time there last year and can’t wait to go back and get things cranking in the right direction, the foundations are there now and MSA is where they will all come together!

 

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!