Al Stock Interview | Kona's British Enduro Challenger
Dirt takes a look at a 26 year old downhill racer Al Stock who has made the transformations necessary to become a top level enduro'ist...
“More fun than XC and more accessible than DH". For many riders enduro is very much the way in to competitive mountainbiking, offering a mix of technical riding, big days out and a ticking clock...
From Dirt Issue 121 - March 2012
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones.
The French, and latterly the Italians, have led the way, but over the past few seasons a British bloke, labouring and based in Morzine, has taken them on at their own game mixing it with the likes of Nico Vouilloz and Jerome Clementz.
From holeshoting the Mountain of Hell, to hard–slamming grappa, Dirt takes a look at a 26 year old downhill racer who has made the switch, making the transformations necessary to become a top level enduro’ist. From heads–up riding and improved all–round fitness, to reading the terrain and fine tuned technical skills, Al Stock is mastering the balance of tempo during quite varied events and is leading the British charge. With Dan Atherton also having ‘gone through the change’ and with the sport growing by the second we are seeing a new type of mountain bike athlete. I sat down with him over a full–English after a belly full of piss to go through some detail. >>
[part title="Al Stock Interview - Page 2..."]
Al: Yeah it's pretty buzzing racing for such a long time, you can get really zoned in to it and nothing else matters. You can end up riding some pretty wild terrain near enough blind and some of the stuff you wouldn't normally ride. In the short stages it's like DH but with less practice and less suspension, so it can get pretty loose. There are so many aspects to it and it can get pretty intense trying to balance everything throughout a race weekend, there's not much waiting around.
It could be the discipline that becomes an Olympic sport because of its accessibility?
I hope so, it'd be rad for future generations to be able to take a sport like this so far and would get a lot more support from British Cycling and sponsors. With the backing it would receive as an Olympic sport and the content of the terrain and competition involved it could be a great spectacle for TV and be really big.
OK Al, a good but not brilliant downhill career? Never really fired results wise…why?
Never really took it seriously when I was younger, I just loved riding my bike and having a really good time being at the races with great people. I just wanted to see how fast I could go and I was happy with that, if it was a pedally track I wasn't interested. I always had good support from my parents and everyone else’s!
I also had a few injuries along the way and I lost out on moving to Elite by one point two seasons in a row. My brother is in Elite now so at least one of us made it to the premier class. My best result was 41st at the Schladming World Cup in 2006, after that I raced the full New Zealand national series got fourth at the first round and had the time of my life over there. Started to do alright with more consistency but got fed up of being on the back foot with bikes breaking and so raced MX and MX Enduro in 2008.
And so far in enduro you have the results but a pretty low–key profile.
Yeah I'm working on that. My profile’s big in Italy and France, I just never raced Enduro in Britain yet. When there weren't many Brits racing on the continent there was little British coverage, but that seems to be changing. I'm big on documenting my whole life through tweets and pictures right now and started telling fairytales on my blog (alexstock.wordpress.com) too so that should get some shout outs. Not to mention this interview in a mag. I've been reading for over 10 years! I've started riding a lot faster recently so that should help as well.
I was living in Morzine with some friends and working 30 minutes drive away renovating a Chalet in Samoens. I crashed my car so I rode my road bike 60km a day to work and back over a mountain. It was an interesting time in my life. Once I worked two weeks solid, eating seven meals a day and food shopping in full lycra only having enough spare time each day to watch Rocky films. I had no time or money to ride DH and only had an XC bike. After two weeks on my new training regime an article on the Maxiavalanche in Dirt started to play on my mind, I wasn't about to waste the fitness I'd always needed. It was in Are, Sweden, and looked really wild and Dirt writer Richard Cunynghame's description of the race sealed the deal. I didn't know anyone that wanted to race Enduro but I entered the full Maxiavalanche series and the Mega. The first race was in Samoens where I'd been building for the last year and it was super muddy on spikes. I met some great people there and had some local support. It turned out I caused a bit of a stir coming third but it was just like racing UK mud. I got bad starts but really enjoyed overtaking and racing for 20 minutes over such contrasting terrain.
Your brother James said it was because getting sponsored is easier…possible even easier, compared to DH!
He's proved it's possible! He gets free handlebars and grips now. It was probably two years ago but it's the new bandwagon now isn't it. In a few years it'll be easier to get a DH sponsor when everyone's gone into Enduro!
You have had some great results…
Well my first Maxiavalanche was good because I had no expectations, got bad starts and battled through to third in both races. End of my first season the Finale Superenduro was pretty special. I was seeded 78th and had to overtake on every stage including four people on a three–minute stage, not to mention the longer stages. I still put in good times, eventually finishing 30 seconds off the winner (my future team mate at the time, Karim Amour) and thinking “what if!"
Last year I finished 13th in the Mega, which is good on paper but it was the worst race of my life. I got taken out on the start and my seatpost broke so it was stuck up but when you sat down it went down. I remember apologising to Joe Barnes for bouncing off him on the glacier at about 30, it was nuts. I wasn't really enjoying it with a seat up my ass but I'd had a lot of practice after my first season where I never had a dropper post and used to raise it on the go (mostly in the wrong place before a big downhill). Then I had broken my thumb the weekend before and the splint started rattling loose which hurt loads. When it fell off with my wild imagination I had to look to see if my thumb was still there!! Then I got stuck in eighth gear and lost out to Jordan Regnier on the final sprint. That's the Mega, what a race. Maybe this year I'll have a good one.
[part title="Al Stock Interview - Page 3..."]
Karim Amour was the face of Kona enduro racing, now a year on you seem to have taken over that mantle, how did that go down?
I didn't know anything about it, that's fine with me though. I've not heard from Karim since Christmas so maybe it hasn't gone down well.
Some injuries last season.
Yeah it was my worst season ever for injuries, it made me stronger though. Once it was really wet and misty and we were practicing this off–camber grassy rock section. At the end of the section people were stopped in the track and I didn't see them until late with the mist. I locked–up on the grass, crashed my forks into a rock and stopped dead. I shattered the end of my right thumb against the brake lever bolt. It was the second race of the season and I couldn't shift gears so we put the shifter upside down on the left side and I came fourth in the race. We were stoked. The Mega was the following weekend, so after the race I moved it underneath the bar and made a bigger paddle for the 'easy' trigger so I could use it with my index finger. I got used to it and it worked pretty good, I ran it for half the season. Then I smashed my face in Sweden; broke my eye socket and cut my sinus, the doctors thought I might need an op so I ended up staying for two weeks. Dream Ride Holidays hooked me up with an old Volvo and a fishing rod and I headed off in search of trout. Then I found 'the lake of dreams'.
But I didn't catch much so I bought a fly rod from an antiques shop and 'borrowed' a boat and would of had the lake to myself had it not of been for otters and herons. I caught lots of wild brown trout and we had fish for tea every other night. It started off badly but it was a great holiday and a much needed rest.
What’s you race schedule for the year ahead and what bikes will you be using for each?
Doing one Irish enduro, the Italian Superenduro Pro and Mountain series, the Mega and Crankworx Enduro. Kona Abracadabra all the way! It feels bottomless, pedals like an XC bike and it's super light.
A great end to last season. Seriously in the battle with Vouilloz, Clementz, Absalon and Dan Atherton.
Thanks, it's my goal to be up there with those lads at every race so it was great to finish in the mix at the last race of the season.
And 4X. Yeah definitely, it's more fun than XC and more accessible than DH for some. I think the Enduro formats have a natural appeal, either racing against people or racing the clock like in car rally.
How do your friends feel about competitive enduro?
They think it looks good but the tracks need to be less pedally and more technical. They think the stage races need a qualifying stage to seed newcomers. They also tell me they would like to see more prize money and that the top 20 should have HOT pit girls with umbrellas.
Not much sign of you at this years UK series?
No mainly because I stay at Riders Refuge, Morzine, for the season and race over there. We have a great country for stage enduro's though, everyone always complains that DH tracks are too short and the uplifts too slow and enduros could be the answer.
The Maxi and Mega were your key aims last season?
And the Superenduro Pro series – think it was a bit too much. The Mega's like World Champs and it's great to have a series to focus on through the year. I was third overall in the Maxiavalanche and think I won Elite in Superenduro because the top dogs are all masters!
All–mountain/enduro racing comes in so many forms. Should it stay that way or do you feel it becoming increasingly standardized?
It's good to mix it up through the season, keeps you on your toes, so I hope it stays like this because it's all good and doesn't get boring.
What are your feelings on pre riding tracks? For example the Italian series.
It gets a bit silly when the tracks are taped two weeks before but it's difficult for the organisers not to tape tracks in advance because of the length of the stages. At the Enduro des Nations they used 25km of tape, it was easily the best taped Enduro race I'd seen and it was fair for everyone. I came fifth with two day's practice despite there being a race on the same tracks two weeks before. It would be cool if it was one practice run on each stage only and more racing instead of practice or completely being blind.
And not able to pre ride tracks like the French series.
I really like the idea but I've never raced one, heard good reports from Rowan Sorrel though. If it's well taped then I think it would be awesome.
Maxiavalanche are frequently two scoops at a fifteen–minute track, Mega over an hour, Superenduro stages sometimes eight minutes. Where does pace planning come into it?
I've been trying to work that one out since day one, there's a lot to learn about that. I suppose the biggest thing is that races aren't won at the start.
Seldom do you see any hanging about off the start?
Probably looks like I'm hanging about off the start but no way man, it's like WRC! You've gotta get out in front before you get held up and people start trying to kill you for 100th place!
Are you sure that you guys ain't just wingin it?
Yeah everyone gets ratted the night before the race and all the top lads are on rum ‘n cokes before the Mega.
Do you think UCI involvement will bring with it a ban on imaginary skin suits wearers?
Hope so, you've gotta hang it out somewhere.
Is it absolutely necessary to be clipped–in to compete at enduro do you think?
I did the whole first season on flats – the French thought that I was crazy to use them! I had some good results but at one flat race I finished 10th, 5th in a five–man train and everyone in front was on clips, so I've been using them a lot since then. Last year in the Enduro des Nations it was real muddy and 4th (Andrea Bruno) and 5th were on flats, but it just depends on the tracks. Andrea Bruno won the Superenduro series completely on flats, so it's not i