For the second in our series on riders who have won four or more World Cups we chat with current UCI (the sport’s governing body) rider representative David Vasquez. The Spaniard was a regular on the WC podium during his racing career that spanned from 1996 until 2009.
Taken from Dirt issue 144, February 2014So, the most successful Spanish downhill racer ever and you are still in the top ten of most World Cup wins. A big career!
David Vasquez: Tomas Misser and I were the only two Spanish riders to win a World Cup (WC) race, he had three and I had four. I also had plenty of podiums, but yes it was an awesome time period of my life. There were some years that we had quite a few Spanish riders in the top twenty WC and also some podiums with Pau Misser, Ivan Oulego, Oscar Saiz and Bernat Guardia.What were your favourite moments?
David Vasquez: I really enjoyed it when I was riding at my best and flying, and being mentally strong, that was an incredible feeling. Also travelling all over the world at the beginning of my career when I was 17 years old was like a dream come true… travelling and doing the thing I loved the most, riding DH.Your Cannondale days must have been impressive at a time when downhill was on a massive upward curve?
David Vasquez: Yes it was too impressive for me as a teenager. Huge teams, with a lot of people and sponsors involved, that equalled more pressure and also more money! Specialized ‘99/00 and Giant days ‘01/02 with Myles Rockwell and Rob Warner were also really good, but then the sport started to go down in a really steep descent with regards to teams and money coming into it.A bit of time off and then 2007 you nearly won Vigo (Spain)!
David Vasquez: Yes I had a bad ‘06 WC season and I worked really hard to be at my best level for the ’07 season. Vigo was a big relief for me, proving to myself that I could do it again and be at the top with the big names of the time. I got second behind Marc Beaumont. I would love to have won five World Cups because as you say there are not too many that can say that. If you ask any WC rider they will tell you how extremely hard is to win one of those and even more a World Championships.
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David Vasquez: Yes. After that my last two seasons were absolutely horrible for me, that made me retire from World Cup racing. It was so clear to me to take that decision that now I am glad my last two seasons were so bad. It made it so easy to take the decision to stop racing and it was good for me to retire at age of 31 after 14 World Cup seasons! And move on with life, which of course can be very long after racing.Great WC conclusion to last season in Leogang, interest seems to be growing every year now?
David Vasquez: Yes, now thanks to the internet it is a lot easier to follow the races and riders. If you like it you can follow the whole thing and RedBull.tv is also doing a great job, they absolutely love our sport. Riders are also more professional compared to before (from 2003 to 2007 maybe), and that helps the sport to look more professional and more competitive. I was never a fan of the pre and after party thing, try to look cool with a beer and pretend ‘I never train’, with that mentality sport was never gonna become professional.OK, so tell us what you’re up to at minute?
David Vasquez: I am doing my final examinations in January to become a commercial helicopter pilot, it’s a super tough two to three year process but it is a super interesting world, this is my big passion now. Together with racing, I love racing so much, it still gives me goose bumps to watch it from TV or live, it can make me cry watching either the women’s or men’s racing. Our sport is absolutely amazing.Still with the UCI for this year ahead?
David Vasquez: Yes, another exciting year of World Cup racing but with plenty of responsibilities. It’s some times scary because it can be a very dangerous sport, but that’s my aim, to still keep it spectacular but at the same time it being as safe as possible.We had a big discussion in Val di Sole (Italy), you mentioned there was demand from several top racers to introduce more open, faster tracks?
David Vasquez: Not really, the riders that came to me this year, they were especially asking for more technical tracks with good cornering and off–camber stuff, rather than open, wide, full–speed tracks with berms everywhere. For me a good DH course is the one that has a bit of everything, and the more natural it is the better.You thought at the time that Val di Sole was too dangerous… correct?
David Vasquez: Yes, Val di Sole is a huge problem for me. Number one is that if it rains, I put my hand in the fire and say that no one would be able to ride it, NO ONE. It’s so rooty, so steep, massive holes, big rocks, that every year when we practiced and it was wet, absolutely everyone crashed. And then the tendency there was to become straighter and straighter, with no corners or slower technical sections, it was all the same from top to bottom and that is super dangerous for me.
I’ve seen bad injuries there and we don’t need bad injuries for anyone. I was there last October designing a new course that should be ready for next year’s iXS Cup, 80% of the track is new. For me now it looks so much better with a lot more flow and fun, all 100% natural and still super technical, I am sure riders will like it better, at least it will be safer. One thing I want to say is that some riders try to be tough saying that Val di Sole is great and then you see them having such a hard time riding it, that’s not cool.You know how hard it is to win World Cups, were you surprised at Aaron Gwin’s two–season storm of wins?
David Vasquez: Yes, it’s hard to understand how is possible to win so much and with such big margins in some of the races he won, but I guess in pretty much every sport there is someone dominating above everyone else for some period. It was the Vouilloz domination, the Peaty domination, the Hill domination and the Gwin domination. In between some years it was Corrado Herrin dominating in 1997, Greg Minnaar also killed it some years and Gee Atherton also had a period of domination. Now it looks like Steve Smith is gonna kill it over the others for some period, but as I said, that’s what is super hard, to keep that super high performance level for a long time.And his demise? What are your thoughts on that (Gwin, by his standards, had a terrible 2013 season)?
David Vasquez: What I can tell from my experience and background is that he reached an incredible level – the whole package that a rider needs to perform at his best. His confidence on board his bike on race runs was incredible and even scary to watch at the speed he was hitting stuff. I always thought that his bike was gonna break in half ha ha, but yes, he reached his top performance. Then, the really hard thing is to keep that high standard. A small change at that level of racing can cause a lot of different things to go wrong and then your speed is already a lot slower. I am sure that he will be back and win some more races, but I am also sure that he will not dominate like he did in the past. The most consistent one, year after year, staying at the top of his game for a longer time is Greg Minnaar, that is absolutely unreal.Where is World Cup downhill going, what’s on the horizon?
David Vasquez: I hope it keeps growing as much as it has in the last few years, I’ve seen a big change since I retired in 2009 compared to now. There is more professionalism, more media coverage, bigger teams, more competition. But it comes to a point where it’s very critical to decide whether to go super pro or keep a door open for semi professional athletes. There is the example of the finals in a World Cup, shall we make it harder and smaller for a better TV coverage and lose a big group of semi pros or keep it as it is and stop growing in terms of professionalism?Can you see a time in the future when there is a fuller season of racing?
David Vasquez: It always comes down to the same thing, money. It would be great to have a longer classic World Cup season and why not create an urban world series in the winter or whatever to bring our sport to a bigger audience, but it’s extremely hard to find the budget for organisers, for the UCI, teams and riders.A downhill World Cup racer is pretty much a part time occupation?
David Vasquez: If you want to become a good World Cup rider you must dedicate 100% of your time for that, unless you are a ‘wonder one/rider’ like there have been some in the past. Professional riders that could finish their student career at the same time as racing or even work, but that’s pretty rare, people always tend to choose easiest ways. Now, for example, we have Loic Bruni combining his university studies with his amazing World Cup racing career, that really impresses me and is something to look at and try to follow for the young guns coming up.What is your plan for the future?
David Vasquez: My short term plan for a few years is to keep involved in what I love, which is downhill racing and to fly helicopters in the winter season, that would be my perfect plan…