Photos and video: Kat Georgudis
Additional footage: Callum Philpott
Final year juniors is a tough test for a young racer. While the Red Bull cameras may not be focussed on you, the team managers from Factory set-ups certainly are. The teenagers generally aren’t paid and compete simply to prove themselves as the ‘ones to watch’ in future years but they have only seven races to do it.
With 20 guys qualifying for finals, and none of them protected, punctures, crashes and injuries all add to the pressure - a lot of weight on an 18 year old’s shoulder.
Those that overcome all the pressure generally go on to be special racers. In recent years, Brosnan, Greenland and Vergier have all dominated the young guns and now hunt down podiums regularly on big teams. A lot though are left forgotten, chancers left by the wayside to taste the dream as a privateer or look elsewhere for glory.
In a stacked field of juniors last year, Joe Breeden will no doubt have left an impression. Second in the World Champs, second in the BDS overall and three podiums left this former Everton youth football player as one of the hottest properties in British downhill.
With a senior ride secured for 2018, he was ready for an assault on the elite rankings but disaster struck. On a team training day he attempted to manual to nose bonk a notoriously ugly jump (it's broken both of Ieuan's legs in the past too). His foot came off in mid-air and the shockwave transferred up his leg broke his ankle and split his kneecap. The footage (above) is galling and the injury was further complicated by a two week stint following an infection in hospital.
But you can’t wrap a young racer in cotton wool, and injuries are simply part of the sport. The true mark of a racer is not how many times they get hurt but how they come back stronger - Sam Hill’s winning streak at the end of 2014 is a prime example.
This is Joe’s first long stint off the bike but he’s handling it with maturity beyond his years:
At least it’s the off season.
At least it’s happened now I’m no longer a final year junior.
Most importantly, Joe decided to get some help. He wasn't just going to lie around on a couch for a month, do a few spins on the turbo then tentatively head out on the trail bike for some nervy laps. Cue a phone call to MXFitness and Alan Milway.
In Alan Milway, he has one of the best guys going to get him through. As the man behind multiple World Champions, Al has unique access to Birmingham University’s Sports’ Centre with blood testing analysis, top notch equipment and specialist physiotherapy for training and recovery. Yes, every racer will get injured Joe is giving himself the best chance to come back stronger with Al.
Alan also brings along Brendan Fairclough to keep Joe motivated. Brendan has been through these kind of injuries before and is coming into 2018 fitter than ever. For Brendan, this is just another work out but for Joe to train with one of his idols is a massive inspiration.
Alan starts the session in a lab. Joe has only been able to fit in his clipless shoes for less than a week but he’s already gone from a steady 80 watts to over 100 - although one leg is still considerably skinnier than the other. From then he moves onto a gruelling stretching routine, trying to resurrect the motion that he’s been unable to muster for months.
From there to the gym. Joe is unable to complete a full routine due to his injury but seated rows, bench presses and other dynamic exercises keep his body strong while he heals. On the bench press opposite Joe, Brendan is setting new personal records, there’s no doubting the spur this gives to young Breeden to get through his sets.
Joe attacks the gym full of aggression, trying to hurl a medicine ball through the wall, but it’s a session that’s kept fun with an impromptu high jump comp (won by Alan) and plenty of pits gossip exchanged.
Final session of the day is at the physio where new movements are tried and old pains revisited. Joe and Becky have a close relationship, Becky joking about his photographer/videographer entourage and Joe comfortable enough to open up about the struggles of his recovery.
There is still a lot of hard work ahead of Joe and couple of months before he's even back on the downhill bike but he’s hoping he’ll be on an EasyJet flight to Croatia for the end of April with a downhill rite of passage behind him.