Chris Kovarik 5
Chris Kovarik

Charismatic, menacing… Chris Kovarik still commands a major place in downhill history through both his past results and drama. He shook the world at Fort William in 2002 with one of the most heart stopping runs downhill has ever seen. Having spent the majority of his career on Intense, he’s won more World Cups than most, with his unique aggressive, all–action style winning fans worldwide. Chris now spends his time coaching with wife Claire splitting their time between Australia and Canada.

DIRT ISSUE 143 - JANUARY 2014

Words by Steve Jones. Photo by Roo Fowler & Malcolm Fearon

Chris, what’s that now… 14 years now racing for Intense? You and Jeff (Steber, Intense’s main man) must get on pretty well?

That’s right, 14 years. It’s been great to see Intense evolve in the industry as one of the original core bike brands. From the very beginning in 2000 Jeff took myself and Michael Ronning under his wing and accommodated us in his own house for the season. We did this for years, so we really got to know each other well. Jeff and his wife Jenn are like family basically!

You’ve had a crazy busy year of racing in 2013, nearly double the amount of races than most pro riders race? That’s a strong mind–set to go against the clock, do you still feel the same in the start gate than say a decade ago?

Yeah it was actually hectic at times but I can't complain, racing the full Aussie national season, I was coaching every day in Whistler, racing the Whistler local ‘Phat Wednesday’ races and then the next day travelling to races across eastern Canada, and now I'm about to start the Aussie national season again.

It does help a lot being on the bike and racing every chance you can, nerves at the start gate these days are very minimal, when you do something so repetitively it becomes second nature and I've been at that stage for years. I'm a lot more mature now on the bike when taking chances and knowing my limit.

Let’s go back ten years, your 14.02 seconds win at Fort William. Much talked about, still one of the greatest runs and winning margins, what can you pass on to future racers in terms of the forces that went into that run?

I had won the last race of the year in Mt St Anne (MSA) before that race so I was still in the same mind–set after winning the Australian National Championships and then heading to Fort William for the first race of the year. At that time there was only really a handful of guys that could win or podium, so my chances were good. The track was new so no one had an advantage, but it started to blow out, big holes, mud and ruts. I rode on the edge, but smart, in my final. Although I was on it, I don't think it was forced, I just picked different micro lines in the final from my qualifier and they worked!>>

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[part title="CHRIS KOVARIK | NOW AND THEN PAGE TWO..."]

Chris Kovarik 2
Chris Kovarik

After that you only managed one more win MSA, but still that puts you in top ten winningest racers ever, but continuing to win at world level is a tough business, do you feel like you could have got more or were you close to the edge?

It is tough these days, qualifying is basically a race in itself! I do feel I could have gotten more from the sport back then. Team dynamics play a big part in making a pro rider and I wasn't feeling it then. It wasn't a tight knit feel, there wasn’t enough focus on the rider at times. Given the opportunity I would take the bull by the horns and do it again.

What are your thoughts on Aaron Gwin (2011 and 2012 World Cup overall winner) going from being so dominant to struggling so badly?

I think the sport has seen what Gwin did in such a short time and put the hammer down and stepped up another level, a lot more guys are getting personal trainers and spending serious time in the gym and on their training programs.

Not only are you flat–out racing but you now have the coaching and clinics. You and Claire are busy people.

Yes we started Kovarik Racing as something we could fall back on after we stopped racing full time and it’s going really well. We both have our Level 2 coaching certificates and are about to get the level 3. I'm back in OZ now spreading the word and building the coaching thing so that people get in here!

Kovarik Racing “a progression of your riding careers"… still it must be thirsty work?!

It is and I don't think there are many riders out there that still race at a top level that do this. Our riders can be coached/mentored by a top racer, so our clients are getting it straight from the horse’s mouth basically. Whistler is our base for half the season and it’s great there for coaching with so many different levels of tracks to suit every rider. It’s busy for us but we love sharing our knowledge with other riders.

A life on several hemispheres must be much easier with your wife than with a bunch of blokes like back a decade ago?

Ha ha, yeah it is. Claire is pretty much the backbone of our racing/business although I don't sit on my arse, she has the mind–set for organising and spending the time making sure we are on track with things. It does help that she rides well, so we make a good team in that respect.

You’re in Australia now for how long? Open for coaching right?

Yes back in OZ for the summer (Southern Hemisphere) until May next year. I will be racing select Aussie national races, local stuff and the World Cup in Cairns, which I'm looking forward to. I’m open for coaching all year round!

Hey great to catch up with you, hopefully next time it will be less hectic…

Hectic is OK, it makes you feel alive!