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!

Advertisements

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!

 

Schladming IXS Cup 2015

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

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

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

n3x9116_whip
Photo credit: Boris Beyer @maddogboris

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

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

18026_1124726864207723_1951138070699294640_n
The steed ready for action!

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

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