For a man who has spent the best part of a decade heading a four–man whip down sub one–minute tracks, his endeavours in last season’s inaugural Enduro World Series (EWS) have been singularly on the lash… big style. It’s the stuff of legend.

DIRT ISSUE 145 - MARCH 2014

Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones, Sebastian Schieck, Victor Lucas, Sven Martin

Jared Graves is definitely not a man to piss around. Robust application of brain and brawn, carried out quietly without fuss. A couple of moments stand out from last season. Coming from behind in the final stage of the Whistler round of the EWS to overhaul his rival’s seemingly unassailable thirty second leading margin was plain madness, whilst his bronze on his one–fifty–mil, 26 inch, Yeti SB66 hinted that his part–time roller coaster downhill career might just kick off with his adjusted physicality.

All season there was talk that the winner of the first ever EWS would be crowned as ‘the greatest all round rider on the planet’ come the conclusion in Finale. It could be argued that Jared Graves was already that person with success in 4X, BMX (Olympic finalist) and downhill at the highest level.

The following conversation took place over a bottle of whisky on a beach in Finale Ligure (Italy) just after the season had finished.

Dirt: 2013, quite an interesting year for you then. A big change in your life everything, World Cup 4X has gone and now you’re the Enduro man. What’s the feeling after this year?

Graves: It’s been really good. Looking back, six months ago I really didn’t have any idea where I was going to be at. I knew I’d trained hard and prepared the best I thought I could, but you don’t really know what to do with training for something new, because you haven’t done it before. So there was a bit of guesswork involved.

Must have been quite a buzz when you won a stage at Punta Ala (the first ever round of the EWS back in May ‘13). Your confidence must have just sky rocketed from that.

It did, yes. Punta Ala was huge for me. Just to be at the pointy end and know I’m there. Knowing what I’d done had worked, and then to build on that and learn from it… I really expected this year to be pretty tough, because it was new.

It’s all tough isn’t it, at the highest level. You know that. You’ve raced Olympic BMX. You’ve raced World Cup Downhill. You’re the greatest 4X racer ever. You knew it was going to be hard…

Absolutely. Especially with all the guys that have done it for years. I knew it was going to be tough. That’s what I love too, the challenge of just throwing yourself in the deep end and seeing how it goes. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I did everything I felt I could.

You like throwing yourself in at the deep end?

Oh for sure. I love the deep end. It’s good.

Looking back now and thinking about when you were a 4X racer, how far away is that now for you?

Oh man. Honestly it’s not even on the same page. It’s so different. The training, the skills, the riding, everything. I’ve always thought of myself first and foremost as a mountain biker. That’s a big part of the reason that I stopped 4X, to me it wasn’t mountain biking. I tried to give my ideas to the UCI. I said, ‘This is what we need to do.’ They didn’t listen. It got boring and I wasn’t enjoying it any more. That’s why I stepped away, because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Even downhill last year, that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but at the same time I was lazy with it too. My head wasn’t switched on.

You mentioned your involvement with the UCI, what are your feelings on the organisers of Enduro? There’s a bit of a niggle isn’t there?

Oh yes. But that’s part of the learning curve.

Do you think they were maybe a bit heavy handed on occasions? Could they have just given warnings (there were a few controversies in the EWS last year between the riders and the organisers relating to penalties)?

I think you need to be firm with rules if you want people to take notice. This weekend, again, with Nico Lau (penalised by one minute for a missed time control, resulting in Graves leading overall), unfortunate for him, as he was on it, but at the same time everyone knows the rules. If you don’t stick within that then you should be penalised.

He wasn’t concentrating, was he?

No. You need to know what you have to do. You need to make sure you do it. You’re a professional athlete. You can’t be lazy.

He’ll take the hit and move on, won’t he?

He’s a very good guy. I talked to him today. Of course he’s bummed, but he knows this was his race. He took it on the chin like a champ.

So you’re Australian and you come from the Chris Kovarik, Nathan Rennie, era. Let’s talk about that.

I guess, yes, a little bit. I feel like I’m a little younger than them. They were a bit before my time. But now when I come to think about it I’ve had an 11 year career now, yes I am their timeframe I guess.>>

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[part title="Jared Graves Interview | On the Lash Page Two..."]

How old were you when you started doing World Cup downhill?

Nineteen. I was a little late.

You stuck through it though, didn’t you?

Well I don’t know. I’m not good at anything else, so why not? Just keep riding my bike.

You’re not good at anything else?!

I’m sure there’s something out there. I’m pretty lazy. I like to do what I like to do.

Hardly lazy though Graves!

In some areas of life, just ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m king procrastinator! If there’s something that doesn’t absolutely need to be done, I’m the last person to do it.

So Jerome (Clementz) has won the series. He is the greatest all round mountain biker for Enduro. But I think a lot of people are talking about the fact that you’ve succeeded at BMX, downhill, 4X, you’ve been 0.2 of a second off winning a World Cup and of course there is the certain podium matter at the Pietermaritzburg Worlds!

I guess that’s something...

World Cup Downhill I mean.

I think that’s something I’m really proud of. A lot of people say it’s like diverse talent or whatever, but I think of it more as, I don’t know, I like to do different things. If I do the one thing all the time like 4X or BMX I get bored doing the same thing all the time. I like to push myself in different areas.

You just know how to apply the skills, focus on the task in hand don’t you?

Well that’s it. When I decide something I want to do, and this is a goal I have in mind, then I just like to knuckle down and go about achieving that.

What are your feelings about some of your World Cup Downhill colleagues who have come to some of these races with a half–baked approach and been smoked?

That’s a thing that the general public I feel don’t understand with Enduro. You can take a fit downhiller and think that on paper they’re going to kill it at Enduro.

Many did think they might be able to.

Exactly. That’s a bad attitude straight away, because you can never assume that you’re going to just murder it. But honestly, when you ride natural trails compared to a purpose built, manmade downhill track it’s a totally different skill set. People don’t understand that. They’re different skills. It’s a different mindset when you’ve got a whole day with liaisons, climbs and fitness training. It’s a different way of approaching it. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s something that doesn’t translate between downhill skills and Enduro skills. It’s a different skill set and it suits a different rider. It’s not just that downhillers are going to crush it.

Do you think some of those guys were way off the mark in thinking that?

Well I don’t think they’re off the mark, but I think they were maybe a little ignorant. That was a big thing in my off–season training. I knew I was fit, I knew I was strong, I knew I had the downhill background and all the other different discipline skills. But to think you’re just going to come in and kill it, that’s the worst mistake you can ever make.

You’ve had to ride a lot of roots and rocks in the last six months compared to a 4X or downhill. There are a lot of steps to interpreting and reading and making decisions on that aren’t there?

Oh definitely. That’s part of it too. I’ve really enjoyed that this year. You’re at the point where you’re confident with the trail, but you don’t know exactly what’s coming up. So you’re on–the–fly just looking, you’re having to pay attention. Again that’s part of the different skill set – riding fast, not knowing every rock on the trail.

It’s just getting into those corners and just let it roll through. There’s quite a bit of risk involved isn’t there?

Stage three here, I was rolling the dice so many times. I knew the next 30 seconds of the trail roughly. I knew there was nothing big to catch you out so I just let off and went with it. When you get through a section like that it’s the best thing about this form of racing, it’s so satisfying. It’s just a buzz.

Like I said earlier you came from the Kovarik, Rennie era, but actually now you’re of the Sam Blenkinsop, Troy Brosnan, and George Brannigan era as well.

Yes.

Well you’re all from down that way.

It’s a funny thing, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started getting referred to as the veteran. You still think of yourself as...

Thirty.

I’m 30 now. But when I was 27/28 you still think of yourself as just in the middle of your career somewhere. Then all of a sudden there’s a point where you’re like, ‘Oh, I am on the older side of the scale now’.

A great age to be at for a new Enduro career isn’t it really?

Exactly. Nico (Vouilloz, ten times World Champion) he’s 38. He was the guy who seemed to me like he’d been around forever. He was the man. He was always the man. He was the main guy I looked up to when I was a young junior aspiring downhill guy. Obviously because he’d won so many world titles, you just felt like he’d been around forever. But when I look back on it he was 21/22 at the time and super young.

Were you sad to see the way 4X went, almost the demise of it a little bit? Do you find that sad or not?

Sad, but I was battling with it for so long, to me it was an easy choice to step away. I don’t want to sound like a dick or anything, but since I’ve stepped away I haven’t cared about it one bit because to me it just seemed like a bit of a lost cause. It sounds bad, but it got to the point where I’d been battling with it for so long, and no–one seemed to listen. No–one seemed to step up. No–one seemed to care that I got so over it.

These guys care I think, the Enduro guys. I think they are good hosts. There’s a really good vibe about it isn’t there?

Oh absolutely, yes.

Your downhill career, I’m not being funny, but it was all over the shop.

Yes, I completely agree with you there. It was one of those funny things, I had good races and I had bad races. I really wanted to kill it last year. All racers have good years and bad years, and something last year just didn’t click. I can’t put a finger on it, but I feel like I’m riding a lot better now. I feel like I’d be a lot more towards the pointy end of that now, compared to last year. Again, it’s a different skill set. I don’t think I’d be a top 10 downhill guy.>>

[part title="Jared Graves Interview | On the Lash Page Three"]

Why?

I don’t. When I see what those guys do, again...

…you genuinely think that?

When you get older... I like to be a realist. I think that’s the only way you can improve. You need to recognise your weaknesses. Recognise your strengths and work around that sort of thing. I don’t have Danny Hart or Troy Brosnan’s skills, but I have skills in other areas that can make up for that. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You have to work to your strengths and all that sort of stuff. I feel like I could be this year, the way I was riding, a consistent top 20, top 15, maybe the occasional top 10 guy. It doesn’t play to my strengths like natural trails do, so it’s just a bit different.

I guess the World Championships has been talked about quite a lot hasn’t it? Do you think some of those guys were missing opportunities there? Like maybe Aaron Gwin could have ridden that 29". He could have walked away with the World Championships couldn’t he?

That’s a tough one again though. When you talk about Mitch Ropelato – I’ve got huge respect for Mitch because he is one of the few riders that I think of when I look at Blenky… probably Sam Hill and Mitch, and probably Troy Brosnan too, they’re big guys who stand out to me. I’ve seen them do things on bikes that would just leave my jaw on the ground. I’m just like ‘wow that’s amazing’. It was no surprise to me at all when I saw Mitch go so fast on that 29er, because that kid in some areas of riding… he’s just go so much skill and he’s rad.

You’ve had a few cuts and scrapes along the way.

I’m down some internal organs, yes.

You’ve pretty much spent a decade on turquoise bikes (Yeti) now haven’t you? You’ve ridden for Orange and Iron Horse in the past.

Yes. 2002 on Orange. 2003 Iron Horse and right on my 21st birthday, in December in 2003, is when I signed for Yeti? It’ll be 10 years.

So the story from this year is what lessons do you think Enduro has learnt from this season?

I think we need some solid interpretation of the rules. I have some opinions on course layout and whatnot, as far as certain features of courses that lead towards the course.

Misinterpretation?

Yes, a little bit. Like here, as soon as you throw in a couple of left/right tight switchbacks, there’s always going to be shortcut straight line. You need to keep the trail going in the generally the same direction. Make it obvious where the fastest line is and that’s on the trail. I really think the round in Val d’Isere, they did a great job of that course. There was no talk of weird lines or whatever all week.

Do you think it matters if there are different events with different sets of rules?

I was talking to Curtis Keene about this, when we had the epic train of all trains to get down from the top of stage four. We rode this one trail down and it was all just berm after berm and a few little rocky sections. I was like ‘Oh this is rad. We should have used this as a stage’. Curtis was like, ‘No. Some people think that berms aren’t Enduro’. I’m like, ‘The coolest thing about Enduro is that Enduro is whatever people want Enduro to be’. To me if a course designer thinks it should be tight and tech, then it can be tight and tech. If a course designer thinks it should be fast and open and flowy then… because you need to be all–round good at everything. If you’re not then you don’t deserve to be at the pointy end.

I think there’s been good diversity on the trails.

Oh absolutely, yes. This year’s been good. I have nothing bad to say about the diversity of terrain and trails and all that. Even the different formats I think is a great thing too.

I was just wondering if there are lessons to be learned, the fact that Fabien Barel actually drove to the bottom of the stage at Whistler. Then here you can shuttle the tracks. Does it, or does it not, matter?

I think it doesn’t matter as long as the rules of that particular race are well and truly laid out beforehand. Again it’s a little bit of a Nico Lau situation from this weekend. As long as the organisers have laid out what the rules and expectations are for the weekend, as a rider you need to know what you can and can’t do. If you are outside those rules and regulations then you deserve to be penalised. It’s a bit of not paying attention on your part. It’s tough, but that’s it.

It’s been great watching you race in Enduro this year, absolutely amazing.

I said to Jerome when we were riding back after the last stage to the finish, ‘I’m just pumped that I’ve got guys like you to race against, because it just gives me so much motivation to train’. To not sound like a dick again but in 4X I was getting lazy, because I didn’t feel the need to really push myself. That’s why I stepped away. To have guys like him and other guys like Martin Maes, he impresses me a ton. He’s amazing.

Yes. It’s good your arch rival is a gentleman isn’t it?

Exactly. It’s so good for the sport and I just can’t wait for the future.

The middle of February – you’ll be sitting on a beach in Australia. What else are you going to be doing?

In February?

Yes. You will be sitting on the beach in February won’t you?

Getting sunburnt. I’m pretty sure I’ll be at the beach at some point in February, yes. Honestly I’m going to be a boring guy and give a boring answer and say in February I’m going to be training my ring off for the XC National Champs at home. As boring as that sounds, that’s part of my plan for preparation for next year.

The skill of Enduro is closer to cross–country than it is to downhill?

No. No. The skill of Enduro is definitely more downhill centred.

Really?

However I think if you want to be at the absolute pointy end of Enduro then you need to have World Cup Downhill skills, World Cup Cross Country fitness and strength, and a good knowledge of reading terrain.

A good knowledge of reading terrain is something you’re born with isn’t it? You can’t teach someone it can you?

For sure, to a certain extent. But I think for me I don’t have a very big attention span. I think I’m good on that sort of stuff. But at the same time it’s been almost like a choice. If I want to be the best I can be I need to not be lazy and pull my finger out. Say I get one practice run, like in France, really pay attention to what I’m doing. Put everything else aside and focus on what I need to do.

You beat yourself up about being lazy.

Yes I guess I just know what I’m like personally. People who know me really well know me the same way. Outside of riding I’m clumsy, I’m stupid, I’m dumb, I’m lazy, I procrastinate.

I think we’ll leave it there. That’s a great conclusion. You weren’t drinking much of that whisky…

No, I know. I’m sobering out. It’s bad.