If there is one name that is synonymous with downhill racing then Mont Saint Anne in Quebec, Canada would be the one. Having been a part of the World Cup schedule every year since 1991 it is a venue steeped in the history of the sport and with one of the best tracks on the circuit it is a rider favourite.
2017 would be my second year in Quebec, having qualified and raced to 49th in 2016 I was excited to try and break into the top 40 and get things back on track for the end of the season. After picking up our massively oversized truck for the 10 days we were there in Montreal, we set about cruising up to the Mountain to set up nice and early for the event.
After a good few days acclimatising to the time difference and the high temperatures it was time for action. Track-walk greeted us with a long and rough old beast, with the rocks more prominent than ever it was claimed that 2017 was the roughest year yet. Between the rocks and the high speed sections it was going to be a crazy track just to ride, let alone race!
I had a great time during practice; I felt good on the dusty track, finding some good lines and enjoying the jumps. The strengths of the track suited my style and I was beginning to feel like I was riding properly again. This was immensely comforting given how the season had felt so far and I was excited for qualifying.
Qualifying day rolled around with a hiss and a roar, but with thunderstorms in the forecast, everybody’s eyes were trained to the sky. I wasn’t too worried either way, I felt good enough on track that I would be able to deal with a slippery course.
With the rain holding off I rolled out of the start gate and into the run. I felt that on a long course like Mont Saint Anne it was important to get into a rhythm early and focus on holding your speed the whole way down the mountain. I hit the first few corners fast, felt good and smashed on through the first split in 28th position! However after this, just like in Spicak, things went a bit pear shaped. I hit a couple of corners off balance and completely stalled out. From here I tensed up again, feeling the pressure and starting to ride tight. This type of riding is a death sentence at Mont Saint Anne and I knew it but in the heat of the moment I froze up and bumbled my way through the next split. From here down I did manage to relax a little but the damage had been done and I was feeling the effects of riding so cagey. I crossed the line just inside the qualifying time but then got pushed out by the remaining riders to finish in 83rd place. To say I was fuming with myself would be the understatement of the year, what had happened is what I trained for 6 months of the year to avoid. To go from being in a top 30 position to not qualifying in the space of a run hurt bad, real bad.
Watching the race the next day added to the punishment and will simply not be acceptable in Val Di Sole in 3 weeks time, I know the speed to be a top 30 rider is there so watch this space!!!!
I am currently typing this sitting on the plane back to the UK, we have another Street Velodrome race this week in London which will be awesome to attend and then an IXS cup on the weekend in Germany so redemption won’t have to wait too long!
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!
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.
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
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.
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
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.
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!
For this racing update, we have traveled over the pond to Quebec in Canada and Mt Sainte Anne for the 6th round of the World Cup series. Having never been to MSA before I was seriously excited, after spending the last 4 years racing I have been to most places multiple times so it is really nice to be able to go somewhere fresh and get excited about new things all over again!
Landing in Quebec, we hit a wee problem with our rental car, some fine-print in the contract that hadn’t been emailed through to us apparently prohibited us from hiring the car we had lined up so after a few phone calls we found ourselves at the helm of “Lil Sammy mover”…a 400 horsepower 6.2 litre V8 ute for 1/5th of the price that we would have paid at the airport….pays to shop around.
We packed Lil Sammy up and headed to the race. I was excited to see the track; I have always loved the look of the course in MSA, long rough and with plenty of options. Track walk revealed a line that lived up to my expectations and then some. Super rough, really long, no dirt and rocks everywhere meant that line choice was going to be key in being able to hold on for the whole track without your arms giving out.
As practice got underway I was taken aback by just how consistently fast this track was….from the minute you left the start till when you crossed the line it was brutal, sections coming at you so fast you have barely recovered from the last battering before being thrust into the next one. After a couple of runs to adjust myself I started to get all my ducks lined up and by end of day was feeling confident for qualifying the following afternoon.
I did 3 runs in the morning of qualifying and was looking forward to getting business done in the afternoon, a change in front tire to a more aggressive tread gave me a bit of extra confidence to push in the dusty turns and hold momentum where I had been cautious before. I had my suspension working spot on and I was excited to go and get the job done! The familiar beeps sent me on my way and into the war-zone I went. I hit the top section really cleanly which was a great way to clam my head and think clearly about my riding. I kept it smooth through the middle woods but as I neared the bottom my arms started to feel the effects of the track, coming through the main rock garden I very nearly threw it away and had to use all my strength to stop myself from going over the bars onto some of Quebec’s finest granite. Regathering and holding strong to the bottom I finished in 51st position and safely through to the main show.
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
After the struggles of Lenzerheide it was nice to feel like I was riding well again at World Cup level and was looking forward to pushing hard the next day!
Race morning saw a damp track, some serious thunderstorms overnight had left the ferocious beast a wee bit damp which only added to the danger around every turn. Luckily the skies opened up to a bluebird day and with a rapidly drying track and two good practice runs under my belt I was ready to go!
As I headed up to the top I couldn’t wait to get onto the track, it looked amazing from the gondola and the crowds were making full noise!
Into the start hutt again and before I knew it the beeps were back and I was off and racing. I started a bit more nervous than qualifying and rode a bit cagey at the top but despite missing a couple of lines in the middle woods the adrenaline kicked in and helped keep me upright and on track. I held good pace through the open sections under the gondola before my arms started to feel the burn heading towards the main rock-garden. I backed off a bit through here which I was a bit disappointed about but I wanted to make sure I was in one piece at the bottom. The bottom section was quite clean except for one two wheeled drift down a slick rock face. Clearing the final rock garden I glimpsed the finish, gave it everything and crossed the line in 49th position.
49th place was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand I was a bit disappointed in riding a bit cagey at the start and missing a couple of costly lines which put me on the back side of the 30th-50th place bubble. On the other hand however I know I can find that extra couple of seconds so it’s just a matter of piecing the run together, 49th is another good result, It bumps me up in the World Cup overall, I have qualified at every World Cup I have entered and consistently finished well and to top it all off I am still healthy and in one piece!
From here I’m headed over to Whistler for 3 weeks of riding around the Crankworx festival. I haven’t been to Whistler in 6 years and can’t wait to see how things have changed and get stuck into some jumps!
Rapid fire on the blogs this week! This time I am writing to you from Lenzerheide in Switzerland where we have just finished up round 5 of the World Cup series!
After Spicak last weekend, we spent a few days heading down through Austria to Switzerland via a stop at the KTM factory for a tour of their facilities and to send ourselves off a ski-jump in Leogang! This was an amazing experience and something that definitely needs to be revisited in the future with proper planning!
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
Despite the increase in costs, Switzerland is a gorgeous place, stunning mountains and picturesque lakes make for an amazing place to ride your bike. This coupled with a full on race-track meant that it was going to be a good week!
Track walk revealed a line with minimal changes and given that I enjoyed last years track I was stoked on the similarities and was ready to keep my rise up rankings going.
First practice was a shake-up for me. Going into the day with a few pre-conceived ideas based on how last years track rode was a big mistake and despite enjoying the track/conditions I was struggling to really get up to pace. I took a step back to try and re-evaluate why this was but I couldn’t put my finger on it. This said by the end of the day I had a few good lines down and was confident that with a good nights rest I would be able to step things up for qualifying the next day.
Qualifying day brought with it the lifting of the weather curse that seems to be following us around this year. Finally things stayed dry and after some good practice runs in the morning I was confident that I wouldn’t have any troubles making it into the top 80. The run itself started a bit slowly but I built into things as I went down, crossing the 3rd split in 50th position, I was feeling good before things started to unravel a bit. Over braking into corners and a lapse in concentration meant I dropped back 22 places in 1 minute of riding to make it through to the big show in 72nd position. This shook me up a touch however I was determined not to let it get to me and went home to watch some helmet cams and find those lost seconds!
Race day was another sunny day and boy did it feel good to be putting sun-screen on instead of a raincoat!
Through watching my helmet cams the night before I had identified a few sections to have a look at and after stopping on my first run I headed up for my second run ready to put it all together. The 2nd practice run was a struggle, looking back on it now I think I was trying to do too much in one run and this caused my issues but after having a tough weekend I wanted to try and get everything sorted for my race! Despite this I actually felt quite confident before my run, after all, it was just another race run. I knew where I was going to be able to push and where I would do better to focus on riding smooth over maximum pace.
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
Into the gate and the familiar beeps sent me on my way. I felt a little tight in the first corners but calmed down and felt like I rode the next section quite cleanly. A big mistake just before split 1 put me back off the pace I struggled to recover, the confidence just wasn’t there and I tightened up. I tried to force myself to loosen off a bit but this was hard to do mid-run and I couldn’t shake it. Crossing the line with a time that is slower than your qualifying time is never a good start and I was bitterly disappointed with the final result of 70th.
With 6 races in 6 weekends I do feel like I have been battling a bit of fatigue both physically and mentally and it will be nice to have the next 10 days to rest up and prepare for the 5th European Cup in Les Deux Alpes, France!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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…
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.
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!
While that title could be the headline of the next James Bond movie, I feel lucky enough to be able to say that I haven’t been running from any super-villains or assassins. Instead, I’ve been having an epic start to my 2016 international racing season. For those who haven’t been keeping up to date, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the goings on so far.
After a fairly average 2015 international season, I raced a few rounds of the New Zealand National series to have some fun and get back to having fun on the bike with my mates. As the races went by I started really enjoying myself again and my riding improved greatly. I raced the Oceania champs in Queenstown at the end of March and had a great weekend winning the race and the title of Oceania Champion. Good times!
Carins World Cup:
After the success of the Oceania champs, I found myself on an unplanned adventure to Cairns all of a sudden to race the second round of the 2016 UCI World Cup.
Having never been to the tropics before, it’s fair to say it was a new experience trying to function in 32 degree heat with 90% humidity and racing wasn’t exactly any easier. Despite this I made the best of the conditions and had a great weekend, qualifying and finishing 50th on the day.
Between the Win at the Oceania’s and the strong finish in Cairns, I was feeling really good heading into the overseas adventures and with some good travel buddies lined up in Louis Hamilton/Connor Sandri and an itinerary sorted, I couldn’t wait to get into it!
Arriving in the Uk:
After a HECTIC final month before I left getting everything organised before I headed off, it was quite nice to finally get on the plane and just relax knowing that all I have to focus on for the next 3 ½ months is riding my bike!
However the rest was short lived, after we arrived in the UK we spent the first 5 days with Louis’ family in Bradford, and his uncle happens to own a Ferrari 458 spyder, one of the best super-cars out there, this thing is incredible to look at and indescribable to go for a ride in and Ali (Louis’ uncle) isn’t afraid to give it the beans which is the most amazing feeling…I think I’m addicted…bugger
Tires in the dirt!
After a few days of falling asleep on the floor at random times and waking up at 5.30 am , we decided it was time to go and actually do some riding. Luckily Louis and Connor had a friend who lived nearby called Andy who was looking for some people to ride with. We went to a place called hamsterly Forsest, not a big hill but it was a great day out and just nice to get some tires in the ground finally!
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
Ralph’s in Scotland!
Luckily, one of Louis’s other uncles (they’re a big family) owns a van rental company (Ex-fleet vans 😉 ) and so we packed up Ralph the rental Renault and headed on our first adventure up to Fort William for the 3rd round of the UCI World Cup in Fort William!
Guns and big hills:
We had a bit of time before the race kicked off and so we went and spent a few days with my friend Fraser Coates out in Mallaig, it’s always a great time staying with Fraser, greeted with Buckfast (tonic wine made by monks), Bramble juice (basically Scottish moonshine) and Guns it was a good few days! Fraser also lives at the bottom of some pretty impressive hills, so we went for a wander and swam in a loch which surprisingly wasn’t that cold!
For a final hit out before the World Cup, we went to a local hill just outside of Fort William called Glencoe. The track there was rough and steep like the Ft Will track and the loose gravel surface was a great mirror to the conditions of the race-track, we had a great day smashing it down the hill there and it was a great last ride before things kicked off properly!
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
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.
A post shared by Bryn Dickerson (@bryn_dickerson) on
For finals I just wanted to lay down a good run, stay off the brakes and pedal like a mad man. I’ve never been a particularly fast starter and so I got into my groove early on and let it rip once I got to the rocks.
Everything went well until the woods where I got off line and had a small crash just at the end of the roots. Losing 4 seconds while I got myself back on the track, I had a great bottom section clawing back 14 places to finish in 51st, with the 7th fastest speed-trap and 16th fastest final sector. This was particularly satisfying at the end of a 4 ½ minute run as it shows that my training is paying off and with more time on the bike I am confident I will continue to improve from here!
Heading forward to Leogang this weekend I have gained 9 places to sit 60th overall in the World Cup standings and am looking for another strong result, hopefully this time inside the top 45!
Stay tuned for the next installement on #racingformydinner !
For the final World Cup race of the season we headed back to Val Di Sole, Italy to take on the roughest and toughest track we will ride this year. Having raced on the new track here last year for the IXS cup, I had a fair idea where the track was going was hoping that this previous experience would help me get up to World Cup pace easier.
Fortunately track walk showed a pretty similar line to what I was expecting with fast and rough being the main characteristics. Val Di Sole is well-known for having copious amounts of line choice which can mess with your focus and makes it all the more important to keep your head together and not get too distracted by what other people are doing and concentrate on your own riding. Unfortunately the Valley of the sun didn’t really live up to its nickname and just as we finished track walk the heavens opened and a good drenching of rain followed. After this the mood in the pits was a lot more apprehensive as this track is difficult enough to ride in the dry let alone after a mountain downpour.
Fortunately after this initial soaking the weather forecast was wrong and we woke to blue skies and calm weather for practice day, this left a lot of relieved faces around the pits, mine included. first impressions during practice were that the track was even rougher and faster than I expected and between this and the rain we had had added that little bit extra to keep you on your toes , all in all it was great fun and I couldn’t get enough! However just as I started getting into the swing of things I had a serious setback when I had a big crash in which I landed straight on my hip that I had hurt the weekend before in Spicak. This was a major blow both physically and mentally, having nursed my hip all week it was just starting to feel normal again and then to land on it once more and be left feeling crippled was just so frustrating. That crash was the only one of the day and to land straight onto my hip was not even a surprise. I really felt like this moment summed my season up perfectly, so close yet so far and with nothing I could do about it except keep trying.
After this I kept riding but I could instantly tell l that I was riding really stiff and all the flow I had found on the first couple of runs was long gone. That said I tried to make the best of things and by the end of practice I felt like I still had enough pace to sneak into the top 80 the next day and so headed home to get a good night’s rest and have a good go at it the next day.
Waking up on qualifying morning was a sore affair however popping some strong painkillers made a world of difference and I headed up the track to check out the situation. Things weren’t much different from the day before; the track builders had done a good job of moving some of the more dangerous rocks and tree stumps and the lines were more established after the group B riders had gone down again. I did 3 runs and with the painkillers onboard I felt reasonable but still very stiff and knew that it was going to be tough to make it into the finals. I did 3 runs and then headed down to get some lunch before things kicked off at 2.48pm.
Val Di Sole is such a rough track that holding on for an entire run is an effort in itself, let alone trying to do it at race pace. I pedaled out of the gate determined to do my best to make it to finals the next day. However it was not to be as unbelievably, a minute or so into my run, my kneepad decided that it didn’t want to be attached to my knee anymore and slipped down and ended up by my shoe. Now this normally wouldn’t too bad, except that it was my rear foot and so it was right by my rear wheel, this meant that as I was riding down I could hear it bouncing in and out of my wheel. Not really wanting to have my wheel jam up because of this I rode a bit more cautiously and between this and my hip still giving me grief I ended up riding way off the pace I should have been going.
Unfortunately this meant that I missed qualifying by some margin which is so ridiculously frustrating given how my season has panned out so far. For yet another thing to happen that was outside my control (these pads are awesome and they have NEVER fallen down before) it was a serious kick in the teeth. From here I am just looking forward to having two fun/clean races in Germany and Austria before I head home for a much-needed rest.
So stick with me to see what other adventures I can get up to in two weeks at Illmenau, Germany for the final round of the German cup.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
Norway….Who would have thought that I would be able to say that I have ridden my bike in the land of the Vikings, yet as I stood at the top of the Rollercoaster trail in the Hafjell bike park it seems as though this was going to be the case and over the following 4 ½ minutes of manicured bliss I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky to be in such an amazing place riding my bike…..then I hit a tree.
Taking things back a notch or two, I’ll start with the trip up to the frozen north. After the world champs we went back to Thüringen, Germany for 2 days to recuperate with our friends the Herold’s and to do some much needed washing and fixing of the bikes. Once goodbyes were said we began the 2000km trip up north. Normally most people would take the long, overnight ferry from Kiel (Germany) to Oslo (Norway), but because we were on a budget we decided to only take a small ferry and drive the remaining 1800km or so. This route would take us through Finland, Denmark, Sweden and then into Norway. A big job to say the least!
It was only once we arrived in Rostock (Germany) that we realised that the faithful Tomtom GPS unit had taken us on the shortest route, which, while not quite the route we had in mind, turned out perfect as the One hour Forty five minute ferry left us in Gedser (Denmark) with a short and easy drive up and into Sweden where we camped for the night in a McDonalds car park. The following day was spent covering the remaining 900 or so Kilometres with us arriving in Hafjell at about 7pm or so and setting up camp in the parking lot for the Bike park which was amazingly camper friendly with free Toilets, Showers, Wi-Fi, Camping spots and Electricity. Definitely the best set up resort we have been to so far, good job fellas!
Getting to the resort on the Friday week before the race turned out to be a highly awesome idea as it meant we got to sample the other tracks in the bikepark aside from the World Cup track which were all amazingly fun to ride however with the race approaching we did do a few sneaky runs on the world cup track to better our chances. The track was an interesting one, some big jumps right out of the start gate left you with smiles for miles before dropping into the first tree section and the pinball machine began. I think when the trail builders were sorting the track out they must have been playing computer games or something because the speed that you carried into the trees was like something out of Need for Speed. Indeed as the track carried on down the high speed became a recurring feature with big berms and several jumps, all in all it seemed like a nice fun track, and then we hit the “Rock Jungle”. Now I’m not sure who came up with the term, “Rock Jungle” but it was actually quite fitting as at first glance there was seemingly no way through the endless jagged rocks and off camber roots. It took about 20 minutes of solid looking just to even find a semi-usable line through and even then it wasn’t the easiest line with numerous rocks looking to jump out and grab your front wheel/forks and send you over the bars and onto a nasty mattress. The rest of the track was more of the same, fast and open with technical sections that would prove to be the difference for many riders come race time.
We rode the park for 2 days and in that time we realised a couple of things, 1 Norwegians build awesomely sick jumps and 2; It is BLOODY cold in Norway. Sleeping across the front seats of the car in -5 degrees is not something that I would recommend! On our travels around the park we bumped into several friends of ours and one of them, Sven Martin even took some time to take a couple of pics of us that got featured on mountain bike website www.vitalmtb.com . pretty cool to get some images up in the public eye so thanks to Sven for that!
On the last day before the whole event kicked off (Tuesday) we decided to go and check out the nearby town of Lillehammer, as it turns out Lillehammer held the Winter Olympics back in ’94 and one of the coolest things about that is that they held a ski-jumping contest. On our travel’s we have seen many of these massive structures but we had never had the opportunity to get a proper look at one up close and as there was no cost to go and have a look at this one that is exactly what we did. 954 steps later and I was standing at the top of the most imposing take off I have ever seen, how these dudes go off it is ridiculous, like honestly, it is crazy. If you were to jump off one, to make any kind of downside (landing) you have to jump at least 70 meters and to make it nicely you would have to jump 90 meters, but the jumpers must go a lot further than that because the markers don’t stop reading until 150 metres, really making you wonder what happened to them to make them want to jump off these things, I was awestruck and it is something that will stay with me for a long time.
Booking into our accommodation a night early, we set about making ourselves at home. I should mention here that everything is Norway is ridiculously expensive. Like 8 Dollars New Zealand for one can of beer from the supermarket, let alone at the pub! So bacon and eggs was the main diet for the following days…It’s got protein right =P.
Registration was handled the following day with ease and it was off to walk a track that we had already ridden. This was a weird feeling but it was good as it gave us another chance to see lines whilst having an idea of the speed that you would have coming into the section. This is actually very helpful because in some sections it can be hard to tell how much speed you will have and therefore what lines you will (or wont) be able to take come race time so to have this prior knowledge was an advantage that we were keen to exploit.
Home for dinner and then off to bed ready for practice the next day. We awoke to another cloudy day and staying warm was going to be the key, with nothing really warm in my possession I put on 4 t-shirts, my race shirt and then off I went. With the practice from the previous day’s I found it was pretty easy to get up to speed quickly and set about solidifying my lines on the quickening track. I had just stopped to check the entry into one of my lines in the bottom rock garden when I made a complete Joe of myself and am still paying for it now. After finishing looking at my line I got back on my bike to keep going and clipped back into my pedals before I had enough speed, this proved to be disastrous as 3 metres later my front wheel went out from under me and, unable to unclip I fell over on my hip straight onto one of the millions of sharp rocks on the side of the track. Straight away I knew that it was sore and the next 20 minutes were spent on the side of the track in more pain than I have been in for a while! I got back up and cruised back down to the pits feeling very sorry for myself but as nothing apart from my pride was dented I headed back up the hill and continued my campaign finishing practice day feeling sore but pretty confident in the speed that I had and looking forward to qualifying the next day.
Overnight rain made the track on qualifying day mighty slippery and on went the intermediate tires. Tire choice is honestly the downhiller’s nightmare with a million different choices being available to riders. Normally with the amount of rain we had had I would put on mud tires but because the tire knobs are so tall on mud tires they tend to roll and fold and so are only good for trails where the dirt is soft and given the hardpack nature of the middle section and the amount of rocks littering the trail I decided to try intermediates because they would still have better grip than dry tires but wouldn’t be susceptible to folding in the faster berms. This was a good choice and these tires would stay on my bike for the rest of the weekend. Morning practice went well and come qualifying time I was ridiculously amped to get up and do my run. I went to the top where our travel companion/Mechanic /Player, Mike “The Hippy” Williamson (Sarah’s replacement) had his bike set up on a wind trainer for us to warm up on. This was incredibly helpful and definitely something that will be repeated in the future leaving me feeling, to be honest, perfect for my run.
Into the start hut and read…I was calm, collected and ready to get it done. Beep, Beep, Beep…and off I went. Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! This was my mind on repeat for all of the first jumps, I’m not sure why but in timed runs things always seem to be going faster and I was feeling mighty fast coming into the first wood section, through and pedalling off into the second woods I was getting into the run and feeling good when all of a sudden disaster struck. I still have no idea how this happened but about 40 seconds into my run my chain just decided that it was like two identical magnetic poles and completely split apart….this was not ideal., completely messing with my game plan I was faced with a choice, play it safe and hope that I had the speed to qualify without pedalling or give it death and hope that will be enough to get me in. Based on my previous world cup experience’s and the fact that I had no idea how fast I was going I decided that I should probably give it death to up the chances of getting in. This, may have been a bad choice because unbeknownst to me I had gone through the first split in 50th place despite not having a chain for half of that. Pinning it into the rock jungle however I was feeling good and that qualifying was well within my grasp when a rouge root caught my front wheel and next thing I know I am on the ground thinking “oh dear” . Back up and on the bike I kept going, having a pretty solid lower section despite not being able to pedal to cross the line in 64th position. Now I had a very nervous wait while another 80 riders came down the hill and attempted to push me out of the top 80 and out of the race. I’m not going to lie I did hope that I would be able to hold on but unfortunately, while it did take a long time to happen, it was a bit of an eventuality as such and I finished up in 88th position, less than a second off qualifying.
This was gutting, I am still gutted about it now, and the whole year my goal was to qualify and to have it firmly within my grasp only to slip away once again was incredibly infuriating. To think that it was only because I had not one but two bits of bad luck is the most annoying aspect. Like if I had crashed but my chain hadn’t broken or if my chain had broken but I hadn’t crashed then I would have qualified, but because they BOTH happened in one run that I didn’t qualify is hard to take but hey that’s the way the cookie crumbles and I will be back next year to finish where I left off!
After the race was run and won the following day we set about getting ready for the long drive back down the continent and towards the end of our trip, luckily for me however, after Richard and Mike left I still had one more race left in Todtnau, Germany and was keen to make the most of it before things shut down for the season, look out for that report soon!