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!

 

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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!

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!

 

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!

Val Di Sole World Cup 2015

 

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.

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Dropping into the gnar. Pic thanks to Patrick Sanow

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.

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Pic thanks to Patrick Sanow

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.

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Pic thanks to Raffi DieWaldfee

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.

Lenzerheide World Cup 2015

After the success of Totdnau the weekend before, I was keen to carry on my good form into the fourth round of the World Cup in Lenzerheide. I had been looking forward to going back to Lenzerheide; I raced there in 2014 and had a good result finishing in 6th place at a Swiss IXS cup so knew that it was a track I could ride well. Confidence is a necessity at this level and between the result at Totdnau and the knowledge that Lenzerheide was a track that I liked meant that I was on the hunt for a good finish!

After the wet start to the season, it was nice to look at the forecast for the week and see nothing but bright yellow suns all the way through to Sunday. With the track already dusty it was going to make for a slippery weekend and the tires would be fighting the unpredictable dust for grip the whole way down. Track walk revealed a few changes to last year that ultimately made for a better track, though why there was so much man made track when the forest right next to the track just screamed World Cup downhill track had many people  scratching their heads.

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Credit: Sebastian Schieck

Having walked the track the next task was trying to get to grips with it during our first training session. First runs were a scary affair; the track was fast, super fast, not to mention it already had its fair share of braking bumps from the public riding it in the lead up to the race. That said it was a good ride, challenging with plenty of sections for line choice and a good amount of jumps to keep the fun factor high. I was enjoying riding and after spending a good 3-4 runs figuring out where I wanted to go, I set about getting myself up to speed which was happening faster than usual, a good sign that the confidence was up.  By the time practice was over I was happy with how things were going and was really looking forward to qualifying the next day.

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Credit: Sebastian Schieck

Qualifying day was another stunner, sunny and hot from the get go, and I was very relieved that the Swiss cycling federation had decided to go with the UCI guidelines for compulsory protection rather than enforce their own like some federations do. The more relaxed guidelines certainly made life a lot more comfortable in the in the 30 degree heat that was feeling more like Australia than Switzerland.  After watching some onboard footage from riders the night before I ended up doing one more run than normal (four)  to change a couple of lines and ride them at race pace but with the extra run being a really solid, smooth ride I felt that it was worth the extra energy to feel ready.  I headed back to get geared up feeling 150% prepared to get up the hill and make business happen.

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Credit: Sebastian Schieck

Sitting in the start hut, I had no nerves, no second guessing, I was just ready, ready to get out there and into it. My start was a bit wild, the first corner had been blown away but I carried good speed around it and off into the rest of the track. I seem to remember thinking “hmm this is going reasonably well” it did seem like things were really starting to pay off, all that hard work and preparation was finally coming good, first split came and went and I was in 36th, looking good for a top 40!  I went through the second split in 42nd which was fine except for one thing…. I once again had a flat tire…. having got it about 25 seconds before the 2nd split it took a while to deflate completely but by the time I went through the second split it was definitely game over. This meant that for the third time this season I finished a timed run with a flat tire. No idea how it happened or what caused it. I was devastated, especially when I saw my split times, even writing this now three days on I can’t believe it happened. It seems like a bad dream that I haven’t had a single flat tire this whole year except for during three of the most important runs of the season. I have been trying various different methods to keep the air where it is supposed to be but so far nothing seems to be a concrete solution…

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Credit: Sebastian Schieck

Flat tire aside, this weekend was a success, I know I am riding at a World Cup pace, I feel confident on the bike, I am fit and healthy, the only thing left to do is keep that bloody air in my tire and I will be away laughing.  The next stop for me is Les Deux Alpes in France for the Crankworx festival/ IXS European cup. Check back next week to see how things went in the land of baguettes and croissants!