Val Di Sole World Cup 2017

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

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

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

Val Di Sole is pretty epic.

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

It really is a messy track! Pic: Moonhead Media

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

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

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

Yea it was pretty dusty Pic: ThePerfectLine

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

Up close and personal Pic: ThePerfectLine

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Tv…stoked!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

 

Crankworx Europe 2016

 

 

After the World Cup circus had finished up in Austria we jumped in the car for the long haul over to France and our base in Morzine for the next event, Crankworx Europe. Only 5 km down the road from where Crankworx is held in Les Gets,  Morzine is a great place to be based and we couldn’t wait to get riding….except for one thing.

This June has been SERIOUSLY wet in Europe, and once we saw the weather forecast for the week it didn’t look like it was going to get any better. With 6 days of rain on the initial forecast we knew that we were going to be in for a war. The day of riding we did before the event had us absolutely covered in mud and I was hoping that the race- track was going to ride well because otherwise it was going to be a long week.

Track walk was one of the more interesting experiences of the week; having to go up two chairlifts to get to the top was a first and the top lift was so slow it was going to be miserable in the rain.

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Earlier in the week were the European Whip-Off champs. Unfortunately due to some scheduling changes myself and lot of other riders showed up a bit late, however it was still good to go and throw the bike around for a bit! Pic thanks that Klemen Humar
Getting down the hill was essentially like going down a mud-side, the people who walked down before us had turned the track into a complete mess.  Slipping and sliding down the hill was great fun and to give the track-builders credit they had created a great looking line! Fast at the top, technical in the trees and wide open corners at the bottom meant the only option was full mud tires and I was excited to get out and amongst it.

Practice day was wild…..with the B practice riders having already gone through the track was seriously cut up and hilarious to ride.  There aren’t many occasions on a race track where you can be hitting 70km one minute and then be stuck in the mud with your wheels unable to turn the next. You couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy it, though the clean-ups got old pretty dam quickly. Looking back on the day I know I did too many runs but it was just so much fun sliding around in the mud!

Foot out, catch the rut - that was the name of the game all weekend.  Bryn Dickerson demonstrates.
Zach Faulkner caught me sliding around in the mud during practice day!

One thing that was super nice was being able to head back to a nice place to stay, this week we have been staying with Riders Refuge, I have been coming here for the last 3 years and every time it is just as awesome as I remember. It’s so nice being able to come home covered in mud and be able to focus on getting everything ready for the next day while the hosts sort out an awesome dinner for us…actually might go jump in the hot tub after I finish this post up!

Literally the best place to stay in Morzine....
Literally the best place to stay in Morzine….

Qualifying day rolled around and with more intermittent rain and even deeper ruts there weren’t really many lines to choose from. The main aim of the game was to carry speed, no so much for a fast time but just so that your tires cleared enough to keep going. At one point I crashed in practice and the mud was so thick that my tires literally wouldn’t turn. I had to pull all the mud out before I could keep going.

Basically to make it down the hill through the mud with no grip, you couldn’t touch your brakes… seems reasonable.

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Before and after a standard day on the hill.
For qualifying I just wanted to stay upright which was a lot harder than it sounds! That said I had a pretty clean run and found myself in 26th place, I was pretty happy to just be down in one piece by this stage and given the high class field I was looking forward to a good run the next day!

Finals day was more rain…by this stage I was pretty accustomed to it, but was getting sick of the endless cleaning and heavy bike.  The track was getting pretty hammered as well, I think by this stage everybody just wanted to get racing so we could all go home and get away from the mud! As I said before, the track was great fun to ride, but being out in the cold and wet for 3 days isn’t quite as much fun. That said, practice still went pretty well, a couple of good runs and one crash and it was time for racing!

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Dropping in for race run! Pic thanks to Clint Trahan
My race run was an interesting affair, with a couple hours of hot sun the track had started to dry up leaving the top greasy and the woods ultra sticky. I had a reasonably clean run, but something was just missing, I’m not exactly sure what it was, the intent was definitely there but the conditions were seriously challenging and I crossed the line 10 seconds slower than my qually run. I was disappointed to be that much slower than qualifying however it was still good enough for 24th on the day!

From here we have a few more days with Riders refuge’s awesome hospitality before a short drive into Austria to Brandnertal for an IXS cup race this weekend. I’ve never been there before so can’t wait to see what it is all about!

 

 

 

 

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!

Welcome to 2016! Gun’s, Ferrari’s, a World Cup and more!

 

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.

 

Oceania Champs:

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!

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Credit: Si Williams

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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.

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Credit: Boris Beyer

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!

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Credit: Downhill247.com

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!

My set-
My setup for this year, head over to the sponsors page and click the links to check out all the rad people behind me!

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

This car = insane speed
This car = insane speed

 

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!

 

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!

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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!

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DCIM999GOPRO

 

More bikes:

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!

The Race:

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.

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 !

 

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!