Words by Justin Leov. Photos by Jérémie Reuiller.
I’ve had hard weekends before, weekends when you just will yourself on to get through, but this was the toughest week by far in my Enduro career. Rewinding back to Colorado, after the race we spent two days testing with Fox and Trek and had some great results from suspension tuning. I was then en-route to Quebec to be at the Downhill World Cup to help Trek World Racing in my coaching role. It was, as always, a busy week and in hindsight I didn’t get the rest I really needed after having such a demanding race in Colorado.
Landing in Vancouver Sunday night I caught an early shuttle up to Whistler Monday morning and checked into our condo. I was still getting some knee trouble so I booked in for some sessions with the Physiotherapist at Back in Action and arranged a sports massage as well. Through the week things were going great; finally my knee was starting to get back to normal with the help of acupuncture and taping. I was getting great power in my training sessions and my bike was fast as a result of the tuning.
Thursday morning I got up to do a few short sprints to get my legs into race mode and on my warm down ride back to the condo I suddenly started to feel low on energy and sick for the first time. By time I got back to the condo and had a shower I was trashed and rolled myself into bed for the rest of the day with a fever. I figured it was possibly a result of the Physiotherapy and massage sessions releasing toxins into my system. With some heavy days about to approach, rest was my only option.
Friday morning I woke with a really sore throat, my fever had reduced so I made the decision to try and practise a little bit on Stage 1 and 2. I’ve learnt that when I’m sick it’s so important to rest as much as possible, but with limited practice I needed to be on the hill. I rode both stages 1 and 2 twice then a slow run down stage 5, keeping my heart rate on or below 120BPM in an attempt to look after my body as much as possible. Even with taking it easy I still found it a challenge and after five hours of riding my body was telling me it was more than it wanted to do.
When I got back to the condo that afternoon I noticed my throat was getting worse, I was getting tingling in my fingers and toes and a rash was starting to come out on my face. I had an early night and woke the next morning to all the cuts on my body looking inflamed and sore. Despite this I got my kit on and headed over to stage 3 to practise it twice for the morning. With the climb taking just over 40 minutes, I did the same as the previous day with keeping my heart rate around 120BPM or lower. Not an easy task on a steep climb!
I had one more stage to practise and I could access this one from the top of stage 5 for one run and then ride back up from the bottom for the second run. After completing my second run I headed home and felt pretty hammered. The tingling now was a lot worse in my hands and feet and getting my gloves off was a now a bit of a challenge.
I rested up for the afternoon, but come the evening I went to the bathroom to check my throat and when I opened my mouth was horrified to see blisters all over it. By this time it was 10pm and I knew I needed to get seen at the hospital. Ray my team manager took me down to Whistler Medical but being after hours and with limited staff around we weren’t able to get any treatment; a blood test with results that wouldn’t come in until after the race would mean I was on my own. I was told by the doctor that it would be unwise to race. This wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last that I’ve heard this in my career. I got out of the hospital around 1am, headed home and went straight to bed.
Race day- I woke up and was actually pretty nervous. Not because of the courses or how I would be for the races, but the thought of what if something did happen to me as a result of the big effort I was about to put my body through. I shut that off in my head and got organised for the day. My plan was to listen to my body on the stages and not take risks where I could risk crashes. I didn’t need any other hindrances this weekend. Just survive!
Stage 1: We had about a one-hour a climb to reach the start. I managed to ride feeling okay and had a decent warm-up on the steep terrain. Stage 1 and 2 would be similar terrain: loose, fresh and hard to carry speed. Dropping in for stage 1 I was surprised how blown out the course was. Being freshly cut and with the high volume of riders, every corner had huge holes. It was easy to get caught up and the feeling of going over the bars at any moment was there. I took it very easy and finished out the stage with the taste of blood in the back of my mouth.
We had a 40 minute climb back up for stage 2 so keeping the water and nutrition on the climbs was really important. Around 30 degree heat always meant staying cool was difficult so searching for the shadows and staying out of the sun was also something I was mindful of.
Stage 2: It felt very similar to stage 1: awkward and blown out with some tight and technical rocky lines. I felt a little better in the run but was still on safe and steady mode.
The transition to stage three was a longer one. We had to cross the valley and climb up a reasonably steep four-wheel drive track. Luckily most of this climb was in the woods so it was cooler; at this point in the day the heat was over 30.
Stage 3: This was a better suited track for me, it was a little more open and not as freshly cut. Dropping in once again I was really surprised how blown out and wrecked the trails were. I had a much better run and had an opportunity to put in a good time. I had also just found some confidence in the fact that my body was holding up. I kept thinking just get through the next stage then we would have a gondola and chairlift for the final stage.
The transition to stage 4 was across the other side of the valley so it meant a good hour of climbing in the roasting sun. I drank over two litres of water on the climb and was nearly out by time I got to the top. I have to admit I was starting to hang, the heat was getting to me a little bit and my hands and feet really starting to hurt where I had the rash.
Stage 4: This was the most technical of the weekend in my opinion. Really dangerous terrain if you got it wrong and a lot of bike-wrecking sections. My plan was to ride smooth and look after my bike. With the last stage being so long (over 20 minutes) it was important to have a good bike for it. Dropping in, my run felt good, I slowed myself down in a lot of the sections I would normally have attacked and I kept it a clean safe run. My throat was on fire when I crossed the line and I was glad there was icy water at the finish line to cool me back down.
We had a 30 minute transition to get back to the pits and then a little bit of time before we had to be up for the final stage (top of the world). Having the condo so close to the pits allowed me to come back and make some quick food, shower up and get my bike checked over. Pulling off my socks was now difficult and the blisters had come up all over my feet and between my toes. All I could think was, just one more stage!
On the gondola and up the hill for a final time, it was a better feeling being able to watch as we climbed up the mountain from the gondola instead of sweating our way up. For the last stage I had one plan: flat out from start to finish and give everything I had. This stage would suit my Remedy 29er; it wasn’t as tight as the other stages and, being longer, I knew if I could hold on I would improve some positions.
Stage 5: From the start of the stage I seemed to straight away find a good speed. My hands hurt before the start but when I was in my run I didn’t feel them anymore. I worked on being as smooth as possible and let the bike carry speed out of the corners. Everything seemed to play out to plan. Coming into the finish line I felt like I had put in a solid effort and was super surprised I had made up enough time to sit me in 6th overall for the weekend.
I couldn’t believe I had been able to pull off a day like that, let alone finish inside the top 10. My next stop after the race was straight back to hospital. They had my results and were able to diagnose me with Hand, Foot and Mouth and prescribed the next week to be in bed recovering. After that massive effort I was happy to oblige!
I learnt how tough the mind and body can be this weekend; you can push yourself a lot further than you think. I also learnt how important it is to hang in there. Points are points and you need to fight for every single last one of them to stay in the chase! I’ve had a few rounds now where things just haven’t worked out, but that’s racing and I know it’s just a matter of time before one will go my way.
Next and final round will take place in Italy in October. In the meantime I’ll be visiting home – New Zealand – and I’ll be back in Europe for the Bluegrass Enduro Tour of Castelbuono in Sicily end of September. See you there maybe!
– Justin –