Lessons learned on the EWS

This will be my first year on a professional team.  Last year I was a self-funded privateer on an extremely tight budget, living in a converted rusty van. It was a challenging year and definitely character building, but it’s a relief now to have the incredible support of team ‘Lapierre Gravity Republic’.  It’s also very exciting. Our close knit team includes Nico Vouilloz (10x world downhill champion), Adrien Dailly (2015 Junior EWS Champion) and our team manager/ mechanic/ miracle worker Mathieu Gallean. The opportunity to train and race with the best in the world, whilst living in France, can only help me progress and improve as I enter the world of professional racing. 

 Catching the early morning ferry to Corral for track walking. From the left: Adrien Dailly, Rae Morrison, Nico Vouilloz, Mat Gallean

 Catching the early morning ferry to Corral for track walking. From the left: Adrien Dailly, Rae Morrison, Nico Vouilloz, Mat Gallean

The first stop of the EWS was South America, with back-to-back races in Corral, Chile for Round 1 and Cerro Catedral, Argentina a week later for Round 2.

I left New Zealand in a poor state after the unexpected and tragic death of a very good friend, Mark Dunlop, who I had travelled the world with and is a huge reason for where I am today. I also lost my grandmother in the same week, although that was a more peaceful release. I was definitely not in good place. However, I was so fortunate to have the incredible support and encouragement of family and friends. With a much needed shove to get functioning again and my dad booking last minute flights to accompany me, we were on the plane and making our way to South America.

Our first stop was Coral, where I met and stayed with the team in Valdivia, the closest town to Coral. I liked
Valdivia – the people were so friendly and helpful and no one was in a hurry.

Corral near the Race HQ

Corral near the Race HQ

There were also lots of massive sea lions chilling out on barges in the sun very close to the footpaths. It was amazing to see such creatures up close. However, there wasn’t much time to do the touristy stuff. 

Sea lions sunning themselves on the Barges

Sea lions sunning themselves on the Barges

We caught the 8am ferry every day to Coral, which meant very long days for practice and racing, often not getting back to the hotel until the evening. 

Loading up the ferry. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Loading up the ferry. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

The whole event was tough, with long hilly liaisons in very hot weather and only one practice run of each track. Not allowing shuttles during practices meant that in each of the two practice days we spent 5 hours riding 50km and climbing and descending 1,500m in scorching dry, dusty heat. By the time the race came around, we were already fatigued and our legs were aching. However, the stages themselves were amazing. Coral had a huge variety of courses, from freshly cut tracks that had never been ridden, to rock gardens, to washed out off-camber corners, to steep technical sections, and some fast open 4WD.  All this with a stunning coastal backdrop.

Team mate Adrien Dailly railing a corner Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Team mate Adrien Dailly railing a corner Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

The race itself went well for me. I managed the liaisons alright, the stages were super fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed team life.  It was great not having to worry about bike and logistics, having the best equipment available, and being with the amazing people of my team. However, the best part for me was being around friends.  The girls of Enduro are one of my favourite things about the sport. There is no cliqueness and everyone is friendly, welcoming and supportive. It's a great scene to be a part of. 

Lining up at the start for race day 2. Anita Gehrig and Ines Thoma’s commenting how cool it was having my Dad with me. Photo: Andrew Morrison

Lining up at the start for race day 2. Anita Gehrig and Ines Thoma’s commenting how cool it was having my Dad with me. Photo: Andrew Morrison

 Racing down a fast straight. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

 Racing down a fast straight. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

We got through the weekend with minimal drama.  Although I was hoping for a better overall result, I’m happy with 6th place, and Lapierre received the top team after Nico’s 3rd, Adrien’s 1st and my 6th placing.  As a bonus, it was fantastic to overindulgence in food after the race.  It was Easter after all!

Team Lapierre number 1. Photo:  Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Team Lapierre number 1. Photo:  Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

From Chile, we left in a convoy for the 5 hour drive to Argentina. Patagonia has some striking scenery. The road trip over the Andes’ rocky alpine landscapes was beautiful.  We arrived at the lakeside city of Bariloche right on sunset. A lake plus the surrounding mountains, with a sunset on top of it all – breath-taking! Photos will never do it justice.

Travelling through the Andes in ‘no mans land’ between Chile and Argentina. Photo Andrew Morrison

Travelling through the Andes in ‘no mans land’ between Chile and Argentina. Photo Andrew Morrison

 Evening arrival in Bariloche to a beautiful sunset

 Evening arrival in Bariloche to a beautiful sunset

We had one day to travel, one rest day, then it was straight back into track walks and practice. The dry and dusty tracks of Cerro Catedral were unlike anywhere else. It was fast-paced riding, with axle-deep sandy ruts and holes that were forever changing. The tracks were challenging and rewarded the best all round riders, requiring physical strength to hold on, excellent bike handling skills, and the ability to read the ever-changing and deteriorating track. The dust on the tracks was insane. More like skiing than biking! To try and prevent crashing ‘over the bars’, which was a common occurrence with all the hidden sandy holes and dusty off camber corners, we added more pressure in the forks and raised my handlebar up another 10mm to try and unweight the front wheel. It definitely helped. 

Nico kicking up some dust in practice. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Nico kicking up some dust in practice. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Adrien navigating a sandy rut. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Adrien navigating a sandy rut. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

I really enjoyed practice – the feeling of trying to ski rather than ride the bike was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, by the time race day came around, the tracks were so much harder and had changed drastically from all the traffic during practice. It was like riding on the beach with no grip, axle deep ruts, and treacherous holes everywhere. The riding was unrelenting and physically draining and it was very hard to stay on the bike. But the photographers were loving it! The state of the tracks made for unique filming and also exciting with the race having the most crashes ever seen at an EWS event. Luckily, most of the crash victims were falling onto soft sand, which made for a cushioning landing but looked spectacular with the explosion of dust flying everywhere. This one will always be remembered!

Getting a foot out through a loose corner. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Getting a foot out through a loose corner. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

I struggled in the race, as did most.  I felt I wasn't riding well, being a passenger on the bike rather than in control. Despite feeling this, I was in 4th place after the first two stages and close to 3rd.  Everybody was obviously struggling! Unfortunately, I lost it all in stage 3, having two crashes putting me way back in 7th place after the first day of racing. On the second day, however, I found my smile and it was again the awesome crew of people around me that brought it out.  Although tired, just one look at the stunning panoramic views and realising where I was  really helped put things in perspective. After accepting that it was hard, putting a smile on my face, loving my bike, and challenging myself not to crash, I really enjoyed day two. I finished the day with a huge sense of accomplishment. I had made up time to finish another 6th for the race, which put me in 5th overall for the series.  With the race finished, we were straight into a few celebratory beers, high-fives, and then another podium for team Lapierre, which is still the overall leading team of the series.

 Incredible panoramic view at the top of stage street. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

 Incredible panoramic view at the top of stage street. Photo: Lapierre- Jeremie Reuiller

Lessons learned:

1) Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
2) Surround yourself with good positive people.
3) Always keep moving forward.

So now I head to France for 5 weeks before the third round in Wicklow, Ireland. Last year Wicklow was incredible and one of my favourite races. All of the tracks are on one hill, plus the spectators are crazy. Costumes, music, chainsaws, and plenty of shouts all the way down the tracks. I am seriously looking forward to it.

Big thanks to

Lapierre Bikes
Sixsixone protection
Rockshox
Ride100%
Michelin tyres
SRAM
Camelbak
One Industries