It's been a busy time since the last EWS in Whistler. I've been back trackside working for Trek World Racing’s DH program in Méribel France at the WC finals and at the World Championships in Hafjell, Norway. It was a great finish for our guys with a medal and two top five places and I was proud to be there helping them achieve their goals.
Then after two months away I also got to fly back to New Zealand to see Luca and Tory for two weeks.
Coming into the race in Finale I was sitting third in the points for the series and my goal was to hold on with the hope of taking my first EWS overall weekend victory. The main changes I made coming into this race were a bike and wheel size switch, swapping my usual 29er Remedy for the new Carbon Slash 650b. It would be the first time racing this bike and I chose it because of the terrain that Finale has to offer; tight technical corners are common in a lot of the stages.
There were a lot of changes to get used to before the race, the biggest being the feeling of the wheel size and the travel difference between the two bikes. Coming from 150mm of travel up front on my Remedy and 140mm of rear travel it was a fair jump in travel to the Slash’s 170mm up front and 160mm rear.
I arrived at Finale ten days early this year for a chance to really make sure I was over the jetlag from travelling back from New Zealand. It was also an opportunity to get to know the area better as this is going to be my base for the 2015 race season with Tory and Luca. I can no longer handle the time away from them, with travel back to New Zealand too much with such a busy schedule; this should be a better outcome. It’s a great location to train.
With two days for practice and all stages accessible by car we had to do a lot of shuttling in the team van to get in some practice on the different stages. I have to admit I really dislike shuttling by vehicle these days and try to avoid it. I prefer to ride up and typically wouldn't shuttle at home at all, unless I go to a ski resort that has lift access. Still, to be competitive here you need to practise at least a few runs on each stage so shuttling was a must.
I felt really strong leading up to the race and my feeling on the bike was really good too, so excitement levels were high. After some big days on the hill for Thursday and Friday I was well practised for Saturday’s racing but also noticed my legs felt a little tired from so much descending.
We woke on Saturday morning to a beautiful day with temperatures set to be more like a summer's day than autumn conditions. Setting off for the first stage of the day I was feeling good and warmed up well. Dropping in for my run I was a bit too eager to race and was finding myself a little too fast into the first sections. Trying to keep myself aggressive, I was making small mistakes but thought I had put down a good run.
Stage 2 had felt good straight away in practice. A couple of short climbs and some technical rocky sections suited me, though one in particular was hard to get through cleanly. Setting off for this stage I felt a little off guard and was riding tight. Annoyed, I started to pick up the pace again only to have a really big moment, nearly crashing through a rocky line and hitting my forks on the side of one of the bigger rocks. I was surprised to stay on my bike and lucky at the same time. Crossing the line I was frustrated and decided to really go for it on Stage 3.
The temperature was now getting close to the 30s so keeping enough fluid going into the body was the challenge. Thank god I was wearing such a ventilated helmet!
Stage 3 had some flatter sections to it and a really slow technical climb so I thought it was a stage I could make up some time on. The problem I had was that by being overly aggressive I was making mistakes and riding sloppily. After crossing the line on Stage 3 the heat was nearing the peak of the day and with the last liaison climb of the day I started to get cramp coming in my legs.
With a good amount of climbing still until the feed station and with my water levels low I knew it was not a good place to be. Walking sections of the climb I managed to find a rhythm enough to get me to the feed station where I loaded up as much as I could with electrolytes before carrying on to the last stage of the day. I knew I needed a fast stage but with the cramp on the climb I was uncertain if I would be able to actually race once I put the power down.
Dropping in to Stage 4 I tested the legs and was safe from the cramp. Pushing on I put together a clean run with only some small mistakes, but I was still lacking the pace I knew I had and disappointed to be riding so badly after feeling so good all week.
The ride back to the finish was a flat spin of roughly 6 km and thinking the cramp was gone, I was wrong big time; I had cramp in both legs and so bad I couldn't spin through it. It felt like someone was jumping up and down on my legs. After a few minutes of this it occurred to me that my day could be coming to an end if I couldn't get back for the finish time check. I started to panic a bit and that only made it worse. Luckily Jared Graves was beside me and able to grab me before I fell over on the road. I relaxed and soon was able to get into a slow spin and back to time check for some hydration and rest.
Recovery was the only thing on my mind. I booked in for a massage and started loading up again on the fluids. I managed to get back under control by dinner time and with an early night I hoped to feel better for Sunday. Sitting 14th after day one was not where I wanted to be and I was extremely gutted.
After ten and a half hours of sleep I woke feeling a lot better. My legs were still tender but with no signs of the cramp, and with a climb of 20 km to come I was glad about that. Just to be sure I was diligent about drinking regularly and as we progressed up the climb I felt better and better.
Stage 5 was a much better feeling than any of my stages the day before. I made a real effort to be patient and carry smooth speed around the turns. I was really glad to finish the run and find out I had ridden the second fastest stage time. That's more like it!
Going into the final stage of the weekend, one of the longest and most demanding, I was excited; I'd found my speed again and hoped to back up another solid run to pull back some time. Riding up to the start and talking with Jared he described the stage as " the last day of school " and it really did feel like it.
Dropping in I set myself a good pace and kept it up throughout my run. Limiting my mistakes and riding well I also found I had better legs today; I had recovered well from yesterday. Finishing the stage in third I was really happy to end the year with a good stage. After time check I was hoping to have moved up from 14th and was surprised to have jumped to seventh overall for the weekend. It meant I stayed in third place overall for the series.
I finished with a huge smile and it was an amazing feeling to stand on the podium with Jared and Damien. It's been a really crazy year for me with so many ups and downs, near misses and could-have-beens, but I’ve no regrets. Racing is racing.
Trek Factory was again the top team for the series and I was super happy for my teammate Tracy to finish as World Champion once again! A big shoutout to all my team, sponsors, supporters and followers. Without all this support I just couldn't do it!
Trek Factory Racing, Fox Racing Shox, Shimano, Bontrager, MET, Bluegrass, Adidas eyewear, Stages power meters, CNP.
Not to mention my family and friends who are always there! I'm already looking forward to next season and I'm sure another crazy year of racing!
It's time to board the plane again, and some quality time to spend with Luca and Tory! See you all next year!