The Downhill World Champs Experience

The best week of the year for me is usually World Champs each year as it brings together the cross-country and downhill riders which is a lot of fun. In 2016 it changed a bit due to it being an Olympic year so it was a standalone downhill Worlds but it was still an awesome experience! Other than myself, the team consisted of Greg Minnaar, Johann Potgieter, Jono Philogene, Chris Philogene, Cullen Mcmaster and Coenie Slabbert.

The schedule was tight between races as always so I had just one week to get from Andorra where the last World Cup was held to Val Di Sole, Italy. This is a long way, 16 hours straight driving to be exact which would be the longest solo drive I had ever attempted! I did the drive in convoy with Johann Potgieter and somehow made it to Val Di Sole at 3 am. Then it was a process of trying to wake up the team manager, Sam Bull by throwing pebbles at his window. We eventually managed it and got inside which meant Worlds Week had finally started!

The first couple of days were down days meaning we had some free time to sort out the bikes, do some light training and check out the surroundings. I really enjoy that part as it’s something we don’t get to do very often. However soon it was time for business with it being track walk day on the Wednesday. The whole team was very excited and ready for action but those of us that had been to Val Di Sole before knew it was going to be a tough track with it being steep, loose and filled with roots and rocks. The biggest challenge at VDS is the fact that it’s so rough and you can’t hang on. Anyone who has raced will tell you, if you can’t hold on, you can’t go fast.

At Worlds you have a lot more practice time than at a world cup which was good on the one hand and not so good on the other as it meant the track would get even rougher than normal! I felt good in practice but was struggling to put all the sections together. I had also gone to a bigger frame size and realised it was not the right choice for that track as I was unable to get far enough of the back of the bike in the steep sections. This meant I felt like the bike was controlling me rather than the other way around. I ended up switching back right before race day which was definitely a good move. I felt a lot more confident on the smaller bike.

Top Row: Cullen McMaster, Johan Potgieter, Jonathan Philogene, Coenie Slabbert. Bottom Row: Spook Groenewald, Stefan Garlicki, Chris Philogene, Sam Bull
Top Row: Cullen McMaster, Johan Potgieter, Jonathan Philogene, Coenie Slabbert. Bottom Row: Spook Groenewald, Stefan Garlicki, Chris Philogene, Sam Bull

There is no qualifying at a world cup but you do have an official timed run on the Saturday to give you an idea of where you are at. My run was not great but it felt solid and physically I felt ok which was a good sign so I felt confident going into race day. My best ever result at worlds was 40th so my goal was definitely to better that result. I knew that it would be a bit of a roll of the dice on a track like VDS with it being so loose and unpredictable. I had honestly never ridden anything that wild and loose in my life. I think the biggest factor was the fact that there was so much dust on top of roots and rocks so you had no idea what lay under the dust. You would be bombing along at 40kph and then suddenly hit a rock you couldn’t see which definitely made it a bit crazy!

In any case, I was ready for finals and set off out of the gate. I had a really good top section but in the middle I started to make silly mistakes and this snowballed through the whole middle sector. I was also not feeling good physically. I was not sure why but I just had no power in my arms; it wasn’t arm pump but just a powerless feeling. I pushed on and actually did the bottom sector a bit better although it had its near death moments! Ha-ha!

All set and done I ended 57th which given the track and conditions I was actually pretty pleased with. I was honestly just glad to have a solid result and walk out of there in one piece. Sometimes you need to know when to risk it all and when you are just not feeling it. The team highlight had to be Greg Minnaar getting 7th place.

I can’t really complain though, the season has been amazing and in this sport it’s always going to be up and down. Thanks so much to Cycling SA, all my sponsors and supporters for keeping me out there and living the dream!

Until next time…

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