All season long Trek mechanic Ben Arnott has been giving us a different viewpoint of life on the UCI World Cup circuit, and this latest instalment of the series focuses on the Mont Sainte Anne and Windham rounds. If you’ve missed out on the previous stories then you can catch up below first if you want, but otherwise just read on to see what life is really like behind the scenes on the UCI World Cup road…
UCI World Cup Season 2014 – A Mechanic’s Point of View Part 5
It’s been a hectic few weeks of racing and travelling and hence I’m just getting this article up now. Three weeks ago I headed off to Vancouver for a week of riding and catching up with friends and my Brother who lives out there. After some pretty amazing rides in the Vancouver/Whistler area and checking out the Coastal Crew’s Coast Gravity Park I jumped on a plane and did the five-hour flight over to Quebec City for the Mont St Anne UCI World Cup.
I’ve been going to British Columbia (on Canada’s west coast) for the best part of ten years, but have never made it out of that Province, and so I was pretty interested to see what the other side of the country was like. Sitting on the plane for five hours gave me some perspective as to how big the country is, as for comparison I flew to Morocco from Edinburgh a few years ago and it was three and a half hours. A lot goes on between Scotland and Africa so I was guessing the French part of Canada was going to be pretty different than the West.
After touching down and meeting Sander and Paul from the team we set off on the road to Mont St Anne and one of the first things I noticed was that the ‘Stop’ signs at the side of the road in fact said ‘Arrête’, the French word for stop. However even in France, the stop signs say stop. That was the first indicator that Quebecians are pretty passionately French. The drive to the venue is a pretty dull one, like being in one of the less-visited States in the USA, but with everything written in French…bizarre.
The race itself at MSA is pretty much a textbook UCI World Cup. It’s been running for so many years that they have it nailed, and the more experienced staffers on the team know the place inside out. We were staying in a brand new ski chalet that was pimp and included a balcony with a BBQ and four lazy boy chairs that sat behind a huge panoramic window view of the mountains. Perfect for an end of day beer with the team. MSA and Windham were both triple events, meaning that as well as Downhill there is Cross Country and Eliminator the same weekend. This meant our pals at Trek Factory Racing (TFR) were there, and were set up just behind us. It was good to catch up with them and it’s always interesting to see how their weekend comes together. The discipline is obviously totally different but the Mechanics job is similar, and we all have the same gripes! TFR had a couple of bikes with the new XTR and XTR Di2 which was pretty cool to play with and it was good to chat bikes and check out any new tools that they have. Sad I know.
The race at MSA was definitely an interesting one. Laurie was flying all week and finished up in 8th. He is learning loads every race and although not on the podium at each race, he’s learning what it takes to be up there, and as I’ve discussed before, it’s such a mental game. A couple of weeks before MSA we were in Innerleithen at National Champs and Laurie won, which was an awesome result for a first year junior, and one that has boosted his confidence. Unfortunately Greg crashed in his final practice run and damaged his hip. When he got back to the pits he was limping around and generally not looking like he was able to go and race a World Cup. Ultimately he decided not to race, as it would be more valuable to have two good races at the next two rounds, than three bad races if he damaged it further.
After we packed up at MSA Ely and I took a couple of days to drive south, into the USA and to Windham. We decided to drive through Vermont rather than New York, as is the normal route, so we could hit some trails in the middle to break up the drive. A few people had told us about ‘Kingdom Trails’ in a place called East Burke, Vermont. We googled it and it seemed that the place was pretty decent so we trucked on to there. We got to the USA border about midnight and there was no one there so we anticipated a quick entry. The guy was a bit suspicious as to why there was a UK national in an American commercial looking truck, but after some false assurances that I would be merely observing at the race we were trucking on once again. The next day we headed out on the trails, after going to the visitor centre for the trails, in a town that was totally bike mad. Bikes everywhere and loads of friendly people asking us what we were up to and where were from. The trails started up at a classic New England looking farm, and it reminded me of the film ‘Twister’ which was a terrible film about tornado chasers that no one else but me seems to have seen. The trails were cruisey, no need for an all mountain bike, but a good way to break up the journey.
Windham is another classic venue and it’s always an interesting race considering the times are so tight. It’s also really easy on bikes and the first day of practice was pretty straightforward. The only parts that needed replacing were due to crashes, which were usually at high speed. Our guys were all riding well and we were expecting trouble free qualifiers for the unprotected guys, but when Laurie was on course and didn’t come through one of the splits when expected, I knew he had a problem. Eventually Martin came through on the radio to say that Laurie had punctured. I got that sinking feeling, and just wanted to see his bike straight away to see how on earth it had happened. We have a very good (touch wood) record for punctures in TWR and for Laurie who is a light guy to get one in a precious quali run is really heartbreaking. Once I got the wheel off I inspected it and found a huge dent in the rim, that had bent the sidewalls out the way, and created a gap between the bead of the tyre and the rim, meaning the air could just escape. It’s gutting because the rims we use are incredibly strong and we’ve never seen one dent in this way. Usually they dent inwards and the dent just holds the bead on tighter. Reasoning aside, it unfortunately meant Laurie didn’t qualify as only the top 30 juniors qualify. This was a bitter pill to swallow for both of us but pragmatically we just have to add it to the experience bank! Greg had a good quali in 16th place, and in the race managed 22nd place.
Ely and I got some good rides in in the evenings, again warned by locals that the trails were full of rock gardens, berms and jumps but they were more like single track walking paths. Still a lot of fun though and it’s always good to be able to ride whilst away working. Now we are heading in to the last UCI World Cup of the year in Meribel, which makes me wonder where the season has gone. I’m heading to Belgium to meet up with Sander and drive down in the Scania truck, which will give me some good driving experience. I’ll update you after next week from real France…