Jack Moir: "I just couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel"
How two years on the sidelines nearly forced Shark Attack Jack out of the game
Palmer, Kovarik, the M1 - Intense have never been afraid of shaking things up.
It's safe to say it's been a tough few years for the boys in red on the World Cup circuit, easily overshadowed by their Californian neighbours, but 2017 is the year when the tide is starting to change.
There's a fresh vibe when you walk into the Intense pits now. Their humongous blacked out truck may be daunting from the outside but lift up the curtain and it's a different world. Chappie, the mechanic by the door pumping away the tunes, Jen Gabrielli, Jeff Steber's wife, always on hand with food and promises of booze and, in the centre of it all, two Aussies, two Americans - Jack Moir, Dean Lucas, Charlie Harrison and Nik Nesteroff.
Moir is the oldest at 23 and is having the season of his life. With his tousled blond hair and laid-back, surfer attitude, he doesn't exactly fit the mould of the modern downhill racer but on the hand built Steber 29er downhill bike he's claimed his first World Cup podium, a Crankworx AirDH win and now has his eyes set on far more.
It's not been an easy road for young Jack though. He lived a charmed life in his teens, largely avoiding any riding injuries. It wasn't until he first signed with Intense that his body started feeling the toll, eighteen months of recovery and rehab later and he was on the verge of quitting the sport for good. But this is a man who's so tough even sharks spit him back out and just a year later he's one of mountain biking's fastest riders.
We caught up with Jack at Crankworx Innsbruck to get the lowdown on his season so far and discuss his rise back to the top.
How are you finding the new bike? Probably along with the Syndicate’s V10 29er it’s been the most successful of the 29inch downhill bikes, why do you think that is?
Jeff, Cesar and the Intense R&D team had been working on prototypes since fall of 2016. We did some side-by-side testing at team camp in January and based on that, Jeff and Chappy built up a couple of race prototypes for me and Dean that we just got right before Fort William. I did like three rides on it and felt pretty comfortable on it.
I think most companies are just trying to make their old bikes into a 29er and bodge up a rear triangle to get it to work but we’re starting from the ground up with a whole new design taking everything into account.
If you just whack in a 29 wheel on a 27 frame with a different swingarm, it just throws all the angles out of whack and you get a higher bottom bracket. Getting all the numbers right is really important.
Do they seem to be suiting the bigger guy?
Yeah, for sure - Deano's running a large, I'm running a large as well but I've got an offset headset in it to make it a bit bigger. I’ve always liked a bigger bike and I've been riding 29 inch enduro bikes for the past couple of seasons and every time I ride them I think: "we just need to make this a downhill bike".
There's a few guys going back to 27 already. I think people are going to be a bit surprised when they see the next World Cup. For the smaller riders I suppose it's just a lot more bike to throw around. When you get off the back you're probably hitting the wheel, I've got really long legs so I don't find that at all. They're definitely doing it for a reason and they're probably going faster on their 27.
Historically, how has Fort William been for you as a track?
Pretty good, I've always liked it there. I haven't had any crazy results there but I've always had a heap of fun.
I knew I could go good there because I always seem to go better on longer tracks, it always takes me a while to get into it and I knew I was riding good this year. I'm probably the fittest and strongest I've been coming into the season so I knew I could have a good result, it was just whether I could put down a run, especially with the pretty sketchy woods section.
What was your tactic through the woods?
To be honest, there was only once I didn't get through that the whole weekend. I was just coming into it a lot slower than I normally would and making sure I got through it. I tried to attack it a couple of times and just got off line or got real sketchy. You're not going to lose time there on another guy but you can lose the race if you crash so just pin it everywhere, get through the woods and then pin it again.
After Fort William, Dean Lucas posted an Instagram that said a year ago you were “convinced he was done with racing all together". How did you get to that point?
Yeah, I was getting over it. A week before Lourdes 2015 I had a crash, I got blown in the wind on a jump and fell over and broke my collarbone. I was a bit bummed about that because it was my first year with Intense but it was my first ever riding injury and I thought: “yeah, sweet, collar bone, what's that? eight weeks? I'll be back on for the rest of the season".
So I stayed over there and I got surgery in Spain but it was infected. I had to go back into surgery and clean it out. Two to three weeks after that it still wouldn’t heal, so we went back in and then the plate just popped out of the skin. They then put me in for a third surgery and I went on antibiotics for a couple of weeks.
The wound seemed to heal and I tagged along with the team to Leogang but I didn't race. I did a couple of weeks in Morzine and then it was good to go for Switzerland, Lenzerheide. I just had a little crash in practice, came off, landed on my shoulder and normally you'd just get up and keep going and my collarbone just snapped again.
Then I decided to go home and go to my usual doctor who found out that there was a bone infection. I went in for a fourth surgery and got the plate put back. I was on an an antibiotic line going straight to my heart that I had to carry round for a month - bone infections are pretty gnarly, if you don't get rid of them they can spread to your brain and you're pretty fucked.
I missed the whole of 2015 and three months after that fourth surgery they said: “yeah, we think you're pretty good, there's no way to tell for sure if the bone infection’s fully gone but there's no signs of it."
I started training straight away for the next year because I'd had such a shocker. I won a couple of national rounds then went over for team camp in California ready for the 2016 season.
"I was thinking: 'maybe I just can't race anymore'"
I was shooting with Crankbrothers in Laguna and a rock clipped my pedal and I went over the bars. I don't know how hard I landed on my shoulder but the bone just snapped again. By that time, it was the fifth surgery and a year of coming back, training, breaking it, coming back, training, breaking it.
That’s when I was talking to Dean. The doctor in Laguna said: "Your collar bone’s fucked, you can't break this again, you're probably not going to be able to ride." I just couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel, I didn't know if it was ever going to end.
There's all different types of doctors and you don't listen to them all but when a surgeon said that, I was thinking: "maybe I just can't race anymore".
I flew straight back home, went in for the surgery, got that plate taken out, got a new one put back in and they found out the bone infection was still there. My doctor said: “no, it's fine, when we get rid of this bone infection you should be fine." So we did it again, went on another two month course of antibiotics, got the plate fixed, got back to Cairns, got 40th there and just kept slowly building during that year.
I literally didn't race a World Cup form September 2014 to April 2016 and that was my first year as a professional so I was super bummed but the whole Intense team was real supportive - I just can't thank them enough.
Does it still bother you now?
It clicks in and out and it gives me a bit of trouble every now and then strength wise it all feels pretty good. But you can have a little crash and come off and break a perfectly fine collar bone as you know.
Aussie downhill seems to be back to one of the dominant forces this season. What do you put that down to?
It's hard to understand because we don't have any big tracks compared to the rooty and fast tracks over here in Europe. I think it's probably just drawing inspiration from all the old dogs like Sam [Hill] and Chris [Kovarik] and we all just used to watch them. They just used to dominate.
From a Dirt perspective it’s so cool to see Intense challenging for podiums again like the old days. How’s the vibe in the team at the moment?
Yeah, it's awesome eh? Got some sick new sponsors like Enve and Troy Lee and we've got a massive pit set up, we've got Jen, Jeff's wife, she's our 'team mom'. She cooks for us and all of that, it's just real dialled at the moment.
All the boys get along, two mad mechanics, one of my best mates Dean is on the team and it makes being away from home and travelling a lot easier than it should be.
As an Aussie, how are you feeling about Cairns?
I don't think it suits me as much as other tracks but I had my first real good result there when I got 11th in 2014. In the dry it’s like a super fast and tight - I think if I can have a dialled run and just put everything together then I think it'll be good.
Its pretty special to be racing a World Champs in my own country and its just going to be awesome having all my friends and family there to support me.