Top Gun DH
Top Gun DH

Last month we began taking a look into what it takes to break into the ever–elusive World Cup winner’s circle. We saw how Steve Smith went through a self discovery and maturing process that culminated with him taking his maiden win at the final World Cup of 2012. Now we look into the life and mind of the only other virgin winner of 2012… Brook Macdonald.

DIRT ISSUE 133 - MARCH 2013

Words by Sven Martin. Photos by Sven Martin

Brook Macdonald is rarity in top–level DH racing, with its current blanket of homogenous professionalism. He still has a professional approach to training and racing, has the fire and dedication, but equally so he is not afraid to get loose ‘Kiwi style’ and have some fun between the races. Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale and Brook are often the life of the party come Sunday night and early Monday morning. Brook is one of the most liked riders on the circuit by fans and other riders alike. You will just as soon see him taking runs with Peaty, Gwin or Hill as you will with his usual training partner and fellow Kiwi, Sam Blenkinsop. He does not care about the current wave of political correctness, rather what you see is what you get, which is refreshing in this new digital age where it seems that every action is under the managers or media’s microscope.

Coming from the deep south of New Zealand, he has been the underdog from beginning and it was as a semi supported rider on the Italian Ancillotti team that he beat the then favourite Danny Hart for the Junior Worlds Title in 2009 in Canberra, Australia. His bulldog like determination and strength has taken him far. Two top tens, with a sixth at Champery in his rookie pro year on his new MS Racing supported ride, followed up with his solid 2011 and 2012 seasons has made him one of the most sought after riders – as seen in his recent signing with Trek World Racing. It has not all been smooth sailing for Brook though; he’s had his ups and downs, as his 2012 season showed us.

Dirt: Your first year in Elite and you placed 6th at Champery in 2010 on arguably one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. Is that when you decided you could do this as a career?

Brook Macdonald: Yeah, after I won World Champs in 2009 I thought that if I work hard I can make a living out of this for a bit, so I went in to 2010 with, now looking back, not the best training, but back then I thought it was a lot. But I was on a small team with not a lot of support, but the 6th at Champery helped motivate me some more for sure.

Do you think it was harder being from NZ?

Yeah, basically my mum and Gran helped me out through the first year and they were willing to help me again. Now I appreciate things a lot more and I can pay them back and help them out. You don’t take things for granted when you live here, you have to work harder for sure. It’s definitely easier if you come from the USA, Europe or Britain, it’s cheaper with a lot less travel and the sponsors are nearer to you or speak the same language at least. Kiwi’s have to try harder. Sam Blenkinsop, Cam Cole and me all appreciate it more. We don’t take it for granted.

You had a win this year Brook, but on paper your season did not look too good. Why is that?

Yeah definitely had a better season in 2011. I had three podiums and finished sixth overall, which I was pretty happy with. But 2012 started tough, suspension testing was tough and it felt late. I didn’t really get my head around it and it wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I had a few troubles through the start of the season with that sort of stuff.>>

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[part title="BROOK MACDONALD INTERVIEW | BULLDOG SPIRIT PART TWO..."]

UCI MTB World Cup
UCI MTB World Cup

Was it a bike or a suspension thing?

I think it was a suspension thing. I didn’t have the right people behind me until the middle of the season.

What about Mondraker geometry changes and the zero stem you were riding early on?

After I raced in North America. I watched a few videos from Ft William, Val di Sole, MSA and Windham and looked at how I was cornering with the zero stem. I was noticing a lot of front wheel wash out. So I did a few weeks back on the 45mm stem. That combined with getting the suspension sorted out helped at Val d’Isere.

Does having a brand new track like Val d’Isere help by levelling the playing field so that veterans like and Greg Minnaar and Gee Atherton, etc., wont have as much of an advantage as before?

Well when I walked the track, I didn’t think much of it, it didn’t look like it would have flow and ride well, but after riding it even after the first run I got into it and started really riding it and having so much fun. I think it’s good to have new and different tracks, it makes it exciting for riders and the fans. This suited me. No pedalling and that sort of stuff.

You don’t like the pedalling tracks. But today it seems without tracks like Champery, Maribor and Schladming you have no choice?

Well from the 2011 season I’ve had a lot of support with Red Bull and my coach Todd (same coach as Steve Smith, Justin, Sam Blenkinsop, George Brannigan, Jill Kintner and Bryn Atkinson among others), so I’ve been training a lot harder and smarter especially on my weak points. He does the strength, the cardio and the mental, for me, I kind of feel like I need to focus more on my cardio and fitness. I’m not that worried about my mental aspects, after reviewing a few things with him I’ve planned out my preparations for my race day so that is good, but I don’t really worry about more than that. I can handle the pressure on the day or go onto the next race after crashing still feeling good and positive. It’s all good.

After qualifying at Val d’Isere did you think you could win?

I knew I had more in the tank but I was unsure if I could take the win, but my run was pretty much a run I had always dreamed of putting together. With that track I basically put together a fast smooth run with no mistakes. Being such a short track if you made a mistake that’s time lost there and it’s hard to make it back up.

Was there point in your run where you knew it was going well and that you knew you could win?

I think after the little uphill left hand turn is where I knew I had to put a good run together and from there I basically nailed a run I always wished for with no mistakes.

Were you aware that you were up at the splits? Could you see the ‘green light’ on the last straight?

All I was thinking about was coming around that right hander with all my Kiwi mates there cheering, was to come off that jump and see the green light and when I crossed the line and looked back it was still green.

Do you think being fitter stronger and more conditioned will allow you to ride more in control and thus more consistently. Do you think you train as hard as the top guys like Gwin, Gee, Minnaar and Smith for that edge. Is there room to still have fun?

I think being fitter and in top condition will help a lot with racing these days, I’m getting there and learning lots as I get older and seeing how hard they are training. They have had the years and trainers helping them out, but now having a top performance coach I think it’s going to help me narrow the gap. Standing at the top of that podium it’s the best feeling ever, I can’t explain the feeling, but I want to do that more often and whatever it takes to get me there again I will do. That’s my motivation. I’ve been at the top now and I still have fun, but at the same time I do take it seriously, I think at the end of the day it’s all about having fun and enjoying your job you love.

You seem to rely more on your skills or track type for your best results, similar to riders like Hill, Fairclough or Blenkinsop.

Maybe sometimes, but I don’t like to rely on my skill only as it doesn’t come into play on every track these days which is a shame. I think more tech track types suit me better and I definitely can get the best results there.

What about in practice, how do you tackle it?

I normally do runs with Blenki, He’s the guy I like to ride with, always have, he was the guy with the sickest style that I looked up to when I was still a junior. I’m not the kind of guy who likes to ride alone. I like to ride with other people and get tips off them. It also keeps it fun.

You have grown up racing Danny Hart since being a junior. Did it motivate you when he won World Champs to also step it up in the Elites?

Yeah Danny is someone I really like to beat and don’t like getting beaten by him. Seeing him win Worlds gave me motivation to train harder and ride better. We’ve been at it ever since 2008 at my first Worlds in Val di Sole when I beat him, then again the next year in Canberra when I won. So yeah I don’t really like him beating me. I was always the underdog then.>>

[part title="BROOK MACDONALD INTERVIEW | BULLDOG SPIRIT PAGE THREE..."]

During MS Mondraker Racing training and testing at Queenstown, New Zealand.
,during MS Mondraker Racing training and testing at Queenstown, New Zealand.

 

It seems like gone are the days when you can ride at 80 or 90% and still get a win. This obviously suits your aggressive attacking style of riding and racing that rewards risk?

Well that’s difficult because nowadays you still have to put together a picture perfect run and make no mistakes. Watching videos from three or four years ago, you could crash in qualifying but still be in the top ten, but nowadays you are not even in the top eighty let alone the top 100. Basically you have to put together the perfect run. Now I can handle that pressure. It’s all about thinking to yourself what you are there for. And it’s just riding and having fun. I like technical stuff, but I think I’m better at fast wide-open tracks with speed and jumps. But I like tracks like MSA and Champery so I can ride a good mix. I like being able to attack and go fast. I wish I could go back to Schladming now that I’m a little stronger and with more support with a team.

So are you going full out 100% or are you holding back?

I think about being consistent. I think about getting a podium, but mainly I just want to do the best I can and still have fun. I want to have my run dialled and be consistent and hopefully still be fast.

Why is it so hard for new riders to get their first win?

Josh Bryceland and Troy Brosnan are the next new guys who I think will get the next win, I think it’s about getting your headspace right and having fun. Josh for example switches out between clips and flats between practice and race. So maybe he is not quite sold in his head and he still has a bit of uncertainty. To win you have to be 100% calm and confident for it and then it will happen.

What made it so hard for you to brake into that elite club of winners?

I think it’s all about experience, especially with guys like Gee and Greg, then Aaron coming from moto and having a good trainer. They all have good teams and are training well so that all helps. They have found that point and can keep pushing it, which allows you to train even harder. So it just makes it harder in turn for everyone else. The current level is exciting, it makes everyone get a little loose and have to hang it out a little bit more.

What would you trade. Three podiums and 2011’s consistency with 6th overall, or 2012 with a win and a seventh overall?

Ahh that’s a hard one. I think a World Cup win is possibly better than those podiums. Being on that top step is the best feeling. You can’t beat it. Being on the podium feels good, but the top step is a whole different feeling. Last year (2012) was a rough start to my season, but I still think I did pretty good to end up seventh. This coming season I will be on a new bike. There are a few things I will be familiar with, but I will have five to six months to get it all sorted out.

Does what we have learnt from the newest members of the exclusive ‘World Cup Winners Club’ offer future prospective applicants the secret map to success or is each path to glory unique? A common thread of calm confidence and the absolute belief in ones self is key, but that is easier said than done. Will both Steve and Brook find it easier second time around? Who will be next? Brosnan, Hart, Cole, Brycleand or someone else entirely? I certainly can’t wait to find out. Bring on 2013, the doors are open and the velvet rope beckons.