National’s race report

Stef sending it at National’s recently.

Stef Garlicki competed at the National Downhill Champs at Hartbeespoort in April. See how things played out for our downhill ace.

There is a gondola in South Africa! Yes, that’s right, a gondola and now open for bikes at Hartbeespoort. This venue played host to the 2018 National Downhill Championships a few weeks ago and was a very important event for me. I feel honoured to have won two titles and wearing the national sleeve when you race is a great feeling. Thus, I placed a lot of focus on the national champs each year. Coming into the event in 2018 I was really looking for some redemption as I had crashed the year before and only just missed out. Here is how things went … I had been over in Europe training beforehand, so I actually got there a week early to check out the track and get used to the altitude.

I was taken aback when I first saw the track, it was quite gnarly and definitely not what I expected for an SA track! I think it was a bit tight in sections but still a great effort for a first-time venue and it was very technical. The track was also long which was unusual for a South African track which brought some fitness into play too. I felt good going into the event and was looking forward to getting my sleeve back! There was also a national event the day before but I decided to rather place my focus on the national champs as doing a race run is quite a special thing and you need  to be willing to put it all on the line. Then to expect yourself to do it more than once in a weekend is a bit unrealistic if you want to be at your best. So I ended up getting third in the national event but I actually snapped my chain in my run so I was very pleased with that heading into Sunday.

The stoke was high during the podium ceremony.

Sunday morning rolled around, and I was ready, I was feeling the nerves as I always do on a big day, but it excites me at the same time. I had some good practice runs and really felt I had everything down, now it was time to just put things together. There was a seeding run first, as usual, and I was aiming to do a good run but just be smooth and save some for the final. I managed to do just that and still seeded first which was a big confidence boost for the final. Going into the final the plan was to do the same but just pedal harder and brake less in a few bits! I was on a killer run and felt it was good enough to be a winning run. I nailed all the technical sections and only had about 40 seconds left which was mostly pedalling and a few jumps. I came round an easy flat high speed corner and my back wheel just lost traction and I actually thought I had a flat tyre. I corrected but then the wheel found grip again and I got pushed towards a tree at the exit. I clipped the tree with my bar and got shot over the bars.

I am still not quite sure what caused it. Before I had even hit the ground, my heart sank as I knew it was over. I got up and went as quick as I could but ended up in fifth place seven seconds off the win. It was for sure one of the most difficult moments of my career as it was the second year in a row that I had crashed in my race run at national champs. I always do my best to eliminate any possible problem but sometimes things happen which are out of your control. I give everything for the sport which makes it tough when it does not work out. However I live to fight another day and these things just make us stronger in the end.

I must give a huge shout out to all my sponsors, trainer (John Wakefield ), friends and family for supporting me over the last six months through the tough times. I will be back stronger than ever very soon! Now it’s time to go and race some World Cups, until next time …

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