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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!!
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!
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.
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!
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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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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!
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.
While that title could be the headline of the next James Bond movie, I feel lucky enough to be able to say that I haven’t been running from any super-villains or assassins. Instead, I’ve been having an epic start to my 2016 international racing season. For those who haven’t been keeping up to date, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the goings on so far.
After a fairly average 2015 international season, I raced a few rounds of the New Zealand National series to have some fun and get back to having fun on the bike with my mates. As the races went by I started really enjoying myself again and my riding improved greatly. I raced the Oceania champs in Queenstown at the end of March and had a great weekend winning the race and the title of Oceania Champion. Good times!
Carins World Cup:
After the success of the Oceania champs, I found myself on an unplanned adventure to Cairns all of a sudden to race the second round of the 2016 UCI World Cup.
Having never been to the tropics before, it’s fair to say it was a new experience trying to function in 32 degree heat with 90% humidity and racing wasn’t exactly any easier. Despite this I made the best of the conditions and had a great weekend, qualifying and finishing 50th on the day.
Between the Win at the Oceania’s and the strong finish in Cairns, I was feeling really good heading into the overseas adventures and with some good travel buddies lined up in Louis Hamilton/Connor Sandri and an itinerary sorted, I couldn’t wait to get into it!
Arriving in the Uk:
After a HECTIC final month before I left getting everything organised before I headed off, it was quite nice to finally get on the plane and just relax knowing that all I have to focus on for the next 3 ½ months is riding my bike!
However the rest was short lived, after we arrived in the UK we spent the first 5 days with Louis’ family in Bradford, and his uncle happens to own a Ferrari 458 spyder, one of the best super-cars out there, this thing is incredible to look at and indescribable to go for a ride in and Ali (Louis’ uncle) isn’t afraid to give it the beans which is the most amazing feeling…I think I’m addicted…bugger
Tires in the dirt!
After a few days of falling asleep on the floor at random times and waking up at 5.30 am , we decided it was time to go and actually do some riding. Luckily Louis and Connor had a friend who lived nearby called Andy who was looking for some people to ride with. We went to a place called hamsterly Forsest, not a big hill but it was a great day out and just nice to get some tires in the ground finally!
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Ralph’s in Scotland!
Luckily, one of Louis’s other uncles (they’re a big family) owns a van rental company (Ex-fleet vans 😉 ) and so we packed up Ralph the rental Renault and headed on our first adventure up to Fort William for the 3rd round of the UCI World Cup in Fort William!
Guns and big hills:
We had a bit of time before the race kicked off and so we went and spent a few days with my friend Fraser Coates out in Mallaig, it’s always a great time staying with Fraser, greeted with Buckfast (tonic wine made by monks), Bramble juice (basically Scottish moonshine) and Guns it was a good few days! Fraser also lives at the bottom of some pretty impressive hills, so we went for a wander and swam in a loch which surprisingly wasn’t that cold!
For a final hit out before the World Cup, we went to a local hill just outside of Fort William called Glencoe. The track there was rough and steep like the Ft Will track and the loose gravel surface was a great mirror to the conditions of the race-track, we had a great day smashing it down the hill there and it was a great last ride before things kicked off properly!
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Finally to the race itself!
Looking at the track during course walk, I felt confident that I could ride well; the track hadn’t changed too much since last year so I knew it suited me well and the new sections in the woods looked like they would be a great challenge.
Practice went well, for this race I was bestowed with number 69, which, aside from inspiring amazing quantities of inappropriate jokes, also meant that I was in timed-training for the first time ever. Having that extra 1 ½ hours of training is awesome, it just takes a little bit of pressure off you and lets you focus more on what you are doing rather than constantly looking at your watch.
I got up to speed quickly and focused on improving my lines, holding consistent speed throughout the run and making sure my bike was set up for the physicality of a full run.
For qualifying my aim was to finish top 60, I knew this was achievable and I was looking to put the final nail in the coffin of my qualifying demons. A good clean run had me safely through in 56th so job done there and it was onto the finals.
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For finals I just wanted to lay down a good run, stay off the brakes and pedal like a mad man. I’ve never been a particularly fast starter and so I got into my groove early on and let it rip once I got to the rocks.
Everything went well until the woods where I got off line and had a small crash just at the end of the roots. Losing 4 seconds while I got myself back on the track, I had a great bottom section clawing back 14 places to finish in 51st, with the 7th fastest speed-trap and 16th fastest final sector. This was particularly satisfying at the end of a 4 ½ minute run as it shows that my training is paying off and with more time on the bike I am confident I will continue to improve from here!
Heading forward to Leogang this weekend I have gained 9 places to sit 60th overall in the World Cup standings and am looking for another strong result, hopefully this time inside the top 45!
Stay tuned for the next installement on #racingformydinner !
For the final World Cup race of the season we headed back to Val Di Sole, Italy to take on the roughest and toughest track we will ride this year. Having raced on the new track here last year for the IXS cup, I had a fair idea where the track was going was hoping that this previous experience would help me get up to World Cup pace easier.
Fortunately track walk showed a pretty similar line to what I was expecting with fast and rough being the main characteristics. Val Di Sole is well-known for having copious amounts of line choice which can mess with your focus and makes it all the more important to keep your head together and not get too distracted by what other people are doing and concentrate on your own riding. Unfortunately the Valley of the sun didn’t really live up to its nickname and just as we finished track walk the heavens opened and a good drenching of rain followed. After this the mood in the pits was a lot more apprehensive as this track is difficult enough to ride in the dry let alone after a mountain downpour.
Fortunately after this initial soaking the weather forecast was wrong and we woke to blue skies and calm weather for practice day, this left a lot of relieved faces around the pits, mine included. first impressions during practice were that the track was even rougher and faster than I expected and between this and the rain we had had added that little bit extra to keep you on your toes , all in all it was great fun and I couldn’t get enough! However just as I started getting into the swing of things I had a serious setback when I had a big crash in which I landed straight on my hip that I had hurt the weekend before in Spicak. This was a major blow both physically and mentally, having nursed my hip all week it was just starting to feel normal again and then to land on it once more and be left feeling crippled was just so frustrating. That crash was the only one of the day and to land straight onto my hip was not even a surprise. I really felt like this moment summed my season up perfectly, so close yet so far and with nothing I could do about it except keep trying.
After this I kept riding but I could instantly tell l that I was riding really stiff and all the flow I had found on the first couple of runs was long gone. That said I tried to make the best of things and by the end of practice I felt like I still had enough pace to sneak into the top 80 the next day and so headed home to get a good night’s rest and have a good go at it the next day.
Waking up on qualifying morning was a sore affair however popping some strong painkillers made a world of difference and I headed up the track to check out the situation. Things weren’t much different from the day before; the track builders had done a good job of moving some of the more dangerous rocks and tree stumps and the lines were more established after the group B riders had gone down again. I did 3 runs and with the painkillers onboard I felt reasonable but still very stiff and knew that it was going to be tough to make it into the finals. I did 3 runs and then headed down to get some lunch before things kicked off at 2.48pm.
Val Di Sole is such a rough track that holding on for an entire run is an effort in itself, let alone trying to do it at race pace. I pedaled out of the gate determined to do my best to make it to finals the next day. However it was not to be as unbelievably, a minute or so into my run, my kneepad decided that it didn’t want to be attached to my knee anymore and slipped down and ended up by my shoe. Now this normally wouldn’t too bad, except that it was my rear foot and so it was right by my rear wheel, this meant that as I was riding down I could hear it bouncing in and out of my wheel. Not really wanting to have my wheel jam up because of this I rode a bit more cautiously and between this and my hip still giving me grief I ended up riding way off the pace I should have been going.
Unfortunately this meant that I missed qualifying by some margin which is so ridiculously frustrating given how my season has panned out so far. For yet another thing to happen that was outside my control (these pads are awesome and they have NEVER fallen down before) it was a serious kick in the teeth. From here I am just looking forward to having two fun/clean races in Germany and Austria before I head home for a much-needed rest.
So stick with me to see what other adventures I can get up to in two weeks at Illmenau, Germany for the final round of the German cup.
With Lenzerheide all done and dusted it was time to make the big trek over to the Rhone Alpes region of France for the Crankworx festival that was to be held in the Les Deux Alpes. I have been coming here for the last 4 years and if one thing is almost guaranteed about the place it’s that the weather will be sunny and hot! This year was no different with a big heat wave having come up from Africa and temperatures reaching the mid to high 30’s, it was making life rather warm and the trails more than just a little dusty. Nonetheless it was still really nice to get back there and I was looking forward to the week of riding and racing!
The first order of business once we had arrived was to head up the slopes with Clint Trahan, Clint is the official Crankworx photographer and he needed some pre-event photos and myself and Louis Hamilton were more than happy to oblige for a great afternoon of fun. Luckily at the end of the day Clint was still in once piece after riding around with a 25 kg camera bag on his back on a borrowed bike and he was kind enough to send through a bunch of the great photos that you see in this blog, if I can say one thing about that shoot it’s that snow is bloody hard to ride on!
The great thing about Crankworx is that it is a MTB festival rather than just a downhill race so it has a lot of different events going on throughout the whole week, one of these events is the whip off championships. It is a pretty simple concept, hit a jump, throw your bike as sideways as you can, try not to crash and make it look good! I love doing jumps and so this was something I definitely had on the checklist, I had entered last year and made it to the final round of the judged event so was keen to make it again this year.
Looking back on it now it was a great event and I loved having the chance to ride my bike outside of a racing environment, with all the travelling this year it has been hard to find time to get out on the DH rig so to go and do some whips for the afternoon was a nice change. I was feeling pretty good on the bike and apart from the sun being in the riders eyes as we were coming into the jump it was really good fun. At the end of it I was stoked to make the finals again and get a couple of banging photos out of it so all in a great evening and I was looking forward to the DH in a couple of days.
The DH track at Les Deux Alpes is a strange one, it is ultra fast and wide open at the top before you cross a bridge and everything changes into some of the thinnest and tightest single-track there is on the circuit before things open right up again near the bottom. This makes things challenging as the top and bottom are so fast and rough that to transition from the mindset of going flat out to riding smooth and calculated is difficult and with the thick layer of dust coating the course it made things slipperier than if they had of been covered in mud! Unfortunately, except for one section, the track was pretty much exactly the same as it had been for the last few years. Not that this was really an issue but it made things a bit dull during practice, nevertheless I was feeling really good and looking forward to getting into the super final the following day.
I still don’t really have much of an idea what happened in my qualifying run. One moment I was flying down the track and the next I was on my head tumbling through the dust and grasses with no idea what was going. The photographer who was there said that I flipped over the bars and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t end up in the hospital….all I knew was that I felt like I had been through a washing machine. The crash happened on the wildest part of the course and meant that I would be the 2nd rider off the start gate the following day, by this stage I didn’t care I was just glad to be ok and headed home for some food and rest.
I woke up on race day feeling pretty tender, but with limited time to practice I headed up the hill and began to loosen up a bit. The track hadn’t changed much over the week so it didn’t take long to get back to the speed from the previous days and I headed up to the start hut feeling like I could put a good run together.
Aside from the obvious downsides to crashing in a qualifying run, the big disadvantage I had was that I didn’t actually have any concrete data as to how fast I was riding compared to my competitors. This made life difficult as I had no idea how hard to push on the slippery dust. Having a choice to either give it the beans and hold on or ride it slightly conservatively there was only really one option that I was going to take…
I rode well for the top section and safely negotiated the section I had crashed on the previous day but coming into the tight and technical sections I could tell that I was riding too erratically, too focussed on going flat out rather than braking and setting up for the corners properly. Unfortunately just as I had calmed myself down I had a crash which promptly threw that mindset out the window again resulting in another small get-off 20 seconds further down. After these two costly mistakes I pulled myself together but I knew that any chance I had of doing well was gone and the sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Finishing up 8th in the small final was a huge disappointment after riding well all in practice and the flat tire issues from the previous week in Lenzerheide but sometimes no matter what you things just don’t work out.
Keen to put a smile back on the dial and do something other than bikes for a day, we got up early on the day after the race and headed up the gondola nice and early to make the most of the summer skiing that Les Deux Alpes is lucky enough to have. It’s an awesome novelty to go skiing in a t-shirt in the middle of summer at a higher altitude than the highest point in New Zealand, and one that I hope to repeat in the future! After squidding around the slopes for the day we cruised down and have headed off to Morzine, France to spend some time relaxing and riding our bikes. With the next race not for another 4-5 weeks it will be nice to get a chance to recuperate from the hectic schedule and just focus on having fun for a bit!
See you guys in a few weeks for the next IXS European cup race in Spicak, Czech Republic!
Norway….Who would have thought that I would be able to say that I have ridden my bike in the land of the Vikings, yet as I stood at the top of the Rollercoaster trail in the Hafjell bike park it seems as though this was going to be the case and over the following 4 ½ minutes of manicured bliss I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky to be in such an amazing place riding my bike…..then I hit a tree.
Taking things back a notch or two, I’ll start with the trip up to the frozen north. After the world champs we went back to Thüringen, Germany for 2 days to recuperate with our friends the Herold’s and to do some much needed washing and fixing of the bikes. Once goodbyes were said we began the 2000km trip up north. Normally most people would take the long, overnight ferry from Kiel (Germany) to Oslo (Norway), but because we were on a budget we decided to only take a small ferry and drive the remaining 1800km or so. This route would take us through Finland, Denmark, Sweden and then into Norway. A big job to say the least!
It was only once we arrived in Rostock (Germany) that we realised that the faithful Tomtom GPS unit had taken us on the shortest route, which, while not quite the route we had in mind, turned out perfect as the One hour Forty five minute ferry left us in Gedser (Denmark) with a short and easy drive up and into Sweden where we camped for the night in a McDonalds car park. The following day was spent covering the remaining 900 or so Kilometres with us arriving in Hafjell at about 7pm or so and setting up camp in the parking lot for the Bike park which was amazingly camper friendly with free Toilets, Showers, Wi-Fi, Camping spots and Electricity. Definitely the best set up resort we have been to so far, good job fellas!
Getting to the resort on the Friday week before the race turned out to be a highly awesome idea as it meant we got to sample the other tracks in the bikepark aside from the World Cup track which were all amazingly fun to ride however with the race approaching we did do a few sneaky runs on the world cup track to better our chances. The track was an interesting one, some big jumps right out of the start gate left you with smiles for miles before dropping into the first tree section and the pinball machine began. I think when the trail builders were sorting the track out they must have been playing computer games or something because the speed that you carried into the trees was like something out of Need for Speed. Indeed as the track carried on down the high speed became a recurring feature with big berms and several jumps, all in all it seemed like a nice fun track, and then we hit the “Rock Jungle”. Now I’m not sure who came up with the term, “Rock Jungle” but it was actually quite fitting as at first glance there was seemingly no way through the endless jagged rocks and off camber roots. It took about 20 minutes of solid looking just to even find a semi-usable line through and even then it wasn’t the easiest line with numerous rocks looking to jump out and grab your front wheel/forks and send you over the bars and onto a nasty mattress. The rest of the track was more of the same, fast and open with technical sections that would prove to be the difference for many riders come race time.
We rode the park for 2 days and in that time we realised a couple of things, 1 Norwegians build awesomely sick jumps and 2; It is BLOODY cold in Norway. Sleeping across the front seats of the car in -5 degrees is not something that I would recommend! On our travels around the park we bumped into several friends of ours and one of them, Sven Martin even took some time to take a couple of pics of us that got featured on mountain bike website www.vitalmtb.com . pretty cool to get some images up in the public eye so thanks to Sven for that!
On the last day before the whole event kicked off (Tuesday) we decided to go and check out the nearby town of Lillehammer, as it turns out Lillehammer held the Winter Olympics back in ’94 and one of the coolest things about that is that they held a ski-jumping contest. On our travel’s we have seen many of these massive structures but we had never had the opportunity to get a proper look at one up close and as there was no cost to go and have a look at this one that is exactly what we did. 954 steps later and I was standing at the top of the most imposing take off I have ever seen, how these dudes go off it is ridiculous, like honestly, it is crazy. If you were to jump off one, to make any kind of downside (landing) you have to jump at least 70 meters and to make it nicely you would have to jump 90 meters, but the jumpers must go a lot further than that because the markers don’t stop reading until 150 metres, really making you wonder what happened to them to make them want to jump off these things, I was awestruck and it is something that will stay with me for a long time.
Booking into our accommodation a night early, we set about making ourselves at home. I should mention here that everything is Norway is ridiculously expensive. Like 8 Dollars New Zealand for one can of beer from the supermarket, let alone at the pub! So bacon and eggs was the main diet for the following days…It’s got protein right =P.
Registration was handled the following day with ease and it was off to walk a track that we had already ridden. This was a weird feeling but it was good as it gave us another chance to see lines whilst having an idea of the speed that you would have coming into the section. This is actually very helpful because in some sections it can be hard to tell how much speed you will have and therefore what lines you will (or wont) be able to take come race time so to have this prior knowledge was an advantage that we were keen to exploit.
Home for dinner and then off to bed ready for practice the next day. We awoke to another cloudy day and staying warm was going to be the key, with nothing really warm in my possession I put on 4 t-shirts, my race shirt and then off I went. With the practice from the previous day’s I found it was pretty easy to get up to speed quickly and set about solidifying my lines on the quickening track. I had just stopped to check the entry into one of my lines in the bottom rock garden when I made a complete Joe of myself and am still paying for it now. After finishing looking at my line I got back on my bike to keep going and clipped back into my pedals before I had enough speed, this proved to be disastrous as 3 metres later my front wheel went out from under me and, unable to unclip I fell over on my hip straight onto one of the millions of sharp rocks on the side of the track. Straight away I knew that it was sore and the next 20 minutes were spent on the side of the track in more pain than I have been in for a while! I got back up and cruised back down to the pits feeling very sorry for myself but as nothing apart from my pride was dented I headed back up the hill and continued my campaign finishing practice day feeling sore but pretty confident in the speed that I had and looking forward to qualifying the next day.
Overnight rain made the track on qualifying day mighty slippery and on went the intermediate tires. Tire choice is honestly the downhiller’s nightmare with a million different choices being available to riders. Normally with the amount of rain we had had I would put on mud tires but because the tire knobs are so tall on mud tires they tend to roll and fold and so are only good for trails where the dirt is soft and given the hardpack nature of the middle section and the amount of rocks littering the trail I decided to try intermediates because they would still have better grip than dry tires but wouldn’t be susceptible to folding in the faster berms. This was a good choice and these tires would stay on my bike for the rest of the weekend. Morning practice went well and come qualifying time I was ridiculously amped to get up and do my run. I went to the top where our travel companion/Mechanic /Player, Mike “The Hippy” Williamson (Sarah’s replacement) had his bike set up on a wind trainer for us to warm up on. This was incredibly helpful and definitely something that will be repeated in the future leaving me feeling, to be honest, perfect for my run.
Into the start hut and read…I was calm, collected and ready to get it done. Beep, Beep, Beep…and off I went. Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! This was my mind on repeat for all of the first jumps, I’m not sure why but in timed runs things always seem to be going faster and I was feeling mighty fast coming into the first wood section, through and pedalling off into the second woods I was getting into the run and feeling good when all of a sudden disaster struck. I still have no idea how this happened but about 40 seconds into my run my chain just decided that it was like two identical magnetic poles and completely split apart….this was not ideal., completely messing with my game plan I was faced with a choice, play it safe and hope that I had the speed to qualify without pedalling or give it death and hope that will be enough to get me in. Based on my previous world cup experience’s and the fact that I had no idea how fast I was going I decided that I should probably give it death to up the chances of getting in. This, may have been a bad choice because unbeknownst to me I had gone through the first split in 50th place despite not having a chain for half of that. Pinning it into the rock jungle however I was feeling good and that qualifying was well within my grasp when a rouge root caught my front wheel and next thing I know I am on the ground thinking “oh dear” . Back up and on the bike I kept going, having a pretty solid lower section despite not being able to pedal to cross the line in 64th position. Now I had a very nervous wait while another 80 riders came down the hill and attempted to push me out of the top 80 and out of the race. I’m not going to lie I did hope that I would be able to hold on but unfortunately, while it did take a long time to happen, it was a bit of an eventuality as such and I finished up in 88th position, less than a second off qualifying.
This was gutting, I am still gutted about it now, and the whole year my goal was to qualify and to have it firmly within my grasp only to slip away once again was incredibly infuriating. To think that it was only because I had not one but two bits of bad luck is the most annoying aspect. Like if I had crashed but my chain hadn’t broken or if my chain had broken but I hadn’t crashed then I would have qualified, but because they BOTH happened in one run that I didn’t qualify is hard to take but hey that’s the way the cookie crumbles and I will be back next year to finish where I left off!
After the race was run and won the following day we set about getting ready for the long drive back down the continent and towards the end of our trip, luckily for me however, after Richard and Mike left I still had one more race left in Todtnau, Germany and was keen to make the most of it before things shut down for the season, look out for that report soon!