Wednesday – Travel day
We had 36 hours in Morzine, France with just enough time to squeeze in some laundry, grab some much needed sleep, and get in a quick spin on the road bike to bring the legs back to life. To say I was feeling fatigued after last weekend would be an understatement; flat as a tack would describe it best. We left Morzine set for Les Deux Alpes around lunch time, arrived late afternoon, got settled into our place, went for a quick ride to scope out the area, and just took it easy.
The day proved to be a good opportunity for Polar Bear Hughes and I to check out the bike park and get some riding in. The bike park is full of endless berm and jump trails…basic stuff, but still really fun. After last weekend, I still wasn’t feeling 100%, so we only did a few runs and decided to spend the afternoon with the feet up and get to bed early.
The trail crew was out and beginning to mark the courses and racers had the opportunity to walk some of the stages. I opted out, after feeling like it was more of a blowout than it was worth. Instead, I got out on the road bike for a couple of hours to spin out the legs, have a look around, and keep the body awake. Finally started feeling recovered from the previous weekend’s efforts, which relieved me and made me feel a lot better about the racing that was around the corner.
Saturday – Practice Day
The format for this weekend’s race was a bit different than previous EWS events, with practice on Saturday and all racing on Sunday. Practice started at 9:30AM and everyone was keen to get up on course. All the tracks were freshly cut and new, and the morning practice session was almost a waste of time. The tracks featured a lot of fresh mowed grassy stuff that needed burning in and were changing quickly and were totally different by the end of the day. They’d become very fast and dusty and were getting rougher with each rider. I got in two to three runs on each of the stages, and was feeling pretty confident with my preparation.
Sunday – Race day
As the leader of the series, I was the last to start and didn’t roll out down the ramp until 1:00PM. Stage 1 had a little bit of everything. The first half was long, flat and basic. But, the second half was a whole different story; a solid climb that felt like it would never end, followed by 3 minutes of brake dragging steep descending…a big mix of terrain. The top half of my run went well, and I was feeling good. The climb was tough and I was trying to push the 40t chainring up a climb that would’ve been more manageable with a 36t or 34t. It was almost impossible to concentrate once over the top of the climb and I started the descent …I was totally in the red from the climb and then dropped straight into some seriously steep and techy turns.
It was all going well, when I saw my whole stage go down the drain. The course tape had been completely broken at the end of a long fast, steep straight (after just two runs it’s impossible to memorize an entire 15 minute run, so you sort of rely on the course tape to give you an indication of where to go) and missed the turn and kept going straight down the hill at about 50km/h. Pretty quickly, I realized that I had missed a corner. I stopped and had no idea where I was and began to panic knowing that I was losing a bulk of time. In the “spirit of enduro” I didn’t want to be that guy to gain time by taking a shortcut or risk getting disqualified by taking a shortcut. So, I tossed my bike over my shoulder and hiked back up the hill (50m worth up a very steep slope). I knew I had lost probably a minute or more, and I was fuming!
In the end, I had lost almost 1min30sec to stage winner Jerome Clements. Jerome annihilated the stage with an impressive display of skills, fitness and strength. He essentially set himself up for the rest of the day and it became his race to lose. With Stage 1 behind me, my focus for the day changed. I needed to have a solid rest of the day, and get back in the Top-10 in order to salvage as many points as possible.
It was a very tight time transition for Stage 2 and I got to the top of the hill with only 8 minutes until my start. Stage 2 started with a very technical rocky section before transitioning to a fun, fast and flowy with some fast rough stuff. I had a decent crash in the rock section during practice on Saturday, so my plan was to just get through the section in one piece. That actually became my plan for the rest of the day; ride smooth and safe as to not have any major crashes or mechanicals that would completely have me out the back on points. It’s a little frustrating to have to ride conservatively, but it was easy to push it and risk crashing and doing damage to my bike and self. So, I played it safe. My run was solid, and to my surprise, I was 2nd fastest and on the same second as Nico Vouilloz. I was feeling confident going into the short lunch break and Stages 3 and 4.
After lunch, I decided not to look at how the overall positions were playing out. I’d just focus on doing the cleanest run I could for each stage and remain hopeful that the overall position should look after itself. Stage 3 was like a steep sketchy DH track; very tight and awkward with no real pedaling. Just trying to stay upright was the key to success on the stage. I honestly thought I was losing time throughout my run; I just felt really slow. I hadn’t missed any lines or crashed, but I stalled out in one tight turn. I really thought I was going to be out the back and was completely surprised when I crossed the line with the 3rd fastest time…2 seconds back behind stage winner and Junior DH World Champ, Loic Bruni. My confidence was growing, but I couldn’t help but think about what could have been with a good stage 1 run.
It looked like rain was going to hit us for Stage 4, but it passed just as quick as it came. Much like Stage 3, Stage 4 was like a DH track; very fast and rough, with some tight turns that all looked the same and required a delicate touch. My plan was to not do anything silly and put together a solid run to improve a few more places in the overall for the day. I still hadn’t looked at the overall standings and remained focused on riding my own race. My run was solid with no major mistakes. I definitely over-braked a good amount of sections that I could have pinned a lot more. But, I played it safe and ended up with the 3rd fastest time behind Sam Blenkinsop. My result had me feeling good about my chances of getting back inside the Top-10. Results were posted and I was pleasantly surprised with 6th for the day and fastest overall for the last 3 stages.
Overall, it was very up and down day with frustrating Stage 1 followed by three solid stages. I was happy with my riding and to salvage 6th place and some good points. Jerome Clementz kept it solid all afternoon and took the well deserved win. Jerome’s the guy to beat right now, and my main competitor for the overall title. I was very happy to see him get the win, he’s a top guy and really great for the sport! With his win this weekend, he’s taken over the series lead, with me 2nd overall and Nico Vouilloz in 3rd. After three rounds (of seven), the points are really close and the title is still completely up for grabs.
I’m excited to be heading to Denver, Colorado on Tuesday morning to get in some high quality riding, and even higher quality burritos! So damn excited to get a burrito in my belly! My extra special wife, Jessie Graves will be coming to join me in a couple weeks, too. I haven’t seen her since before Punta Ala event nearly 2 months ago. So, there’s a lot to be excited about, and all in all, things are just peachy right now. A huge thanks goes out to Shaunybear Hughes, the best mechanic ever. My bike was 100% dialed all week; it never misses a beat!
Frame – Yeti sb66c Medium
Fork – Fox 34 R.A.D
Rear Suspension – Fox Float X
Seatpole – Fox DOSS
Wheels – DT swiss 240 hubs, 500 rims, and Aerolite spokes, alloy nipples
Tires – Maxxis Minion 2.5 EXO, ghetto/split tube tubeless. 27psi F, 30psi R
Brakes – Shimano XTR race lever, Saint calipers, 180mm Ice-Tech Rotors
Derailleur – Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Cranks – Shimano XTR 170mm with Stages Power Meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 40t
Casette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Chainguide – E13 LG1
Bars and Stem – Renthal 740mm Fatbar lite, 20mm rise, and 50mm duo Stem
Headset – Chris King
Grips – ODI ruffian MX