Welsh junior rider Manon Carpenter will be sharing her World Cup experiences with us again this year. First up, World Cup #1 at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Manon Chronicles – Pietermaritzburg
I’m going to apologise in advance – I was told I didn’t have to write loads as school is a bit crazy at the moment, but it’s so hard to keep the chronicles brief as there’s so much to say! As much as these chronicles are to entertain and share our stories with everyone, it’s also cool just to remember everything that happened on each trip.
Before going to South Africa I had heard so many horror stories, from great whites eating people whole to people car-jacking you at gun point at red lights at night to heads being found in the back of a guys car boot (true)… so it’s fair to say I was slightly nervous! However Pietermaritzburg turned out to be a really cool place with friendly people, and we had a great time in SA.
The South Africa story starts at home in Wales. The day we were flying out from Gatwick I had a Chemistry practical in school so as usual everything was pretty hectic. We had packed everything the night before and I was ready to go straight from school. My chemistry practical was going well until the end when I worked out all the calculations and my results nowhere near where they should have been and I also managed to spill concentrated sulphuric and nitric acid on my hand – which turned my skin yellow!
Chaos packing in the front room!
We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare where we met Harry Molloy, Madison Saracen team rider, and Nathan Vials, SPS team rider, who were staying with us. Harry had been really unlucky and broken his wrist just over a week before at a Madison photoshoot, so he was coming along to help out, check out the track and have a holiday! We escaped without any extra baggage fees at check in (amazingly) and got on the plane dreading the 20 hour journey ahead of us.
Somehow we managed to get all the way to South Africa without watching a single film on the plane – mainly because most of the time was spent playing seriously old school games on the plane, Tetris being the favourite. After lots and lots and lots of games and 8 square eyes, I think it was decided Jason was the Tetris champ. He pointed out that he was playing Tetris before either of us was born.
Tetris on the plane
We arrived on the Tuesday afternoon and everything went smoothly in the airport, apart from Jase messing around with the airport pa system calling Ben Cathro to go to the Airport Security Desk. The baggage guy told him off, said he was a bit old to be playing pranks… We also found a massive Easter bunny in the airport.
Easter Bunny in the airport
On Wednesday we signed on and went to check the track out. The Madison Saracen team is registered as a UCI trade team so we all had our own special team passes which were really cool, plus our own team pit with a tent for chilling out in! My mum didn’t have a proper pass so we blagged a mechanic pass for her, which she proudly wore all weekend. Luckily she didn’t have to prove she was a mechanic! I had lots of comments on my pastiness whilst walking the track, being Welsh I obviously never get to see the sun and look as if I’d burn to a crisp immediately.
Madison Saracen pit area.
The track actually looked really fun although there was nothing hard or technical on the track – just lots of jumps and pedalling. The jumps looked really good and I couldn’t wait to ride the track the next day, Nathan was just as excited and although Harry was pretty gutted not to be able to ride he’s not the grumpy kind of person so he wasn’t too bad, and anyway Nathan was about to join him on the injured bench!
First run down on Thursday Nathan set off in front of me and I cruised down the track having a look and pushing back up to do some jumps. I got about 30 maybe 40 seconds into the track when I saw some yellow flags. I rode past slowly, and recognised the bike on the floor so I stopped to see who it was, hoping they were okay. I was gutted to see it was Nathan on the side of the track in a lot of pain having broken his collar bone. He had come into a dusty section where you skirt around a bank on a ledge and his front wheel had washed out, smashing into some rocks and the catch netting. It was a really unlucky crash, especially as he had missed last year’s WC season having broken his other collar bone! So now Harry and Nathan were broken, and there was only me left!
Practise went a bit better for me, the track was easy to learn and there weren’t many lines or difficult sections – just a lot of jumps, pedalling and sweat! It was hard work going fast on the track because to get anywhere fast you had to pedal; you couldn’t just cruise down the hill to conserve energy for race day. I had a go at a full run in timed practise, and every though I cruised the majority of the pedally sections – it was still bloody hard! The uplift was the longest I’d ever been on, taking nearly an hour to get from the bottom to the top I fell asleep 4 times on one uplift and still wasn’t there when I woke up, I only managed 4 runs all day.
After practise we went to the hospital to see Nathan who was looking pretty sore and was going to have an op that night. His x-ray was gnarly; he’d smashed his collar bone into 3 sections and needed plating back together. Jess Stone was also at the hospital having separated her AC joint and torn some ligaments (I think) crashing on a double I’d also chain ringed earlier that day!
Nathan Vials in hospital
Nathan’s collar bone in bits.
Qualification was a bit of a disaster on Friday! I’d got there early in the morning to make sure I got 2 runs in before Qualification and Jase had gone back to the hospital to collect a very drugged up Nathan after his operation. After my first run I realised I didn’t have my contacts in, so I couldn’t see that well and my contacts were in my rucksack that was in the van at the hospital with Jason! I went up for my second run hoping that Jason would be back by the time I was down, but he wasn’t. We were waiting and waiting in the pits but he still didn’t turn up, and just before giving my bike a last check over we realised he also had my race shorts and, more importantly, my UCI back number board in the van as well as my contacts. So we had a bit of a panic and Harry went to beg for a new back plate (he reckoned a bit of flirting was involved so we got one for free)! I rushed over to the uplift all the other girls had already gone up and didn’t think of much else other than my qualification run…
About 20 seconds into my run something didn’t sound right and my gears weren’t working properly, I was just about to take off a small road gap when something sounded very wrong. I had to stop and check at my back wheel. It took me a while to realise that my back wheel was actually loose and the rear axle had come loose! Luckily there were only about 18 girls racing so I was guaranteed to qualify, but I wasn’t sure if you had to finish or not to qualify, so I screwed it back in and carried on – stopping very often to tighten it up! Needless to say I didn’t do any of the jumps on that run… On one hand it was bad because I missed out on potential qualifying points; however on the flip side at least I could conserve my energy for the final!
Jase would like to say he got back in time to watch my run and was horrified about the axle thing and felt very guilty for not being there for the usual bolt check, but luckily all was well and I’d still qualified. The hospital had told him to pick Nathan up at ten but as usual they kept them waiting till eleven then he had to drop Nathan back at the B&B.
After qualifying we went to walk the track, I saw a couple of new lines but not many as the track was pretty much one line all the way down. We watched the 4X racing that took place more or less on the finish of the DH track. After watching 4X practise we all thought Katy Curd had a chance at doing really well. Unfortunately in the semi final Katy was in second and the girl in front washed out crashing in front of her and blocking her off. Ffion went past going into first I think making the A final but Katy ended up in the B final. It was a wicked result for Ffion getting 2nd but a shame for Katy who had looked so good in practise. In the B final Katy actually jumped over one of the other girls to take second.
On Saturday morning we had a bit of practise, just enough time to check out the track once more and get the jumps sorted. I still hadn’t done one of the step downs on the track called Dr Evil but I’d seen loads of people do it and knew that I could too. Thanks to Rich Thomas who led me down the few corners before and over it, I pulled a nice pencil for Jase who was watching and did it easy enough. After practice we went back to the B&B and chilled out by the pool with their two Labradors, Narla and Beckham who turned out to be Harry’s new BFF.
Harry and his new best friend.
In the evening we went out for dinner and had the perfect pre-race food… chocolate!
Brendan was also out hobbling around with his leg strapped up after crashing on a mahoossive huck in his qualifying run, counting him out of the race on Sunday. Asking him about his crash he said his foot had blown off the pedal as he landed the huck in a rock garden that I was struggling to ride through in a straight line normally, and he had to ‘look for a safe place to crash’. I’m pretty sure when I’m crashing I don’t have time to do anything let alone look for a place to crash!
As usual before a race run I got extremely sleepy so I had lots of bananas and energy bars to keep me going and a quick nap in the bike bag.
Manon snoozing before her race run.
After lots of coke on the way up, and press ups and burpies to warm up I was feeling pretty excited for my race run. It was scary being the first rider down though! My race run went well; I only made a couple of small mistakes but cruised the top section to save my legs for the massive pedal in the middle.
Amazingly I actually improved a position in the pedalling section from 9th to 8th – something I thought would never happen! When I got to the finish I was pretty wrecked and just about made the walk to the hot seat, where the camera men decided to show a close up of me looking as though I’d just been swimming.
Jase was representing by waving the Welsh flag like his life depended on it and was chuffed when my Nan said she’d seen the flag on Freecaster! Fionn came down with an amazing time and the girls kept coming down and she was still the fastest. Even when Tracy came down it was gonna be a tight race, beating Fionn by a fraction of a second, resulting in a British 1,2 which hasn’t happened in a long time!
It was good to see some Brits on the top of the podium for once instead of the French girls all the time!
The mens was just as surprising, with Arron Gwin taking the win from Greg Minnaar. The crowd was going wild for Greg so it was a shame he didn’t win for the home crowd. Congrats to Gwin though, Trek must have been pretty chuffed!
Welsh flag representing!
Sunday evening we went out for food to a restaurant Brendan had recommended but it ended up being a bit of a nightmare ‘cos we were all starving and we had to wait over 2 hours for our main course. Jase did a lot of posturing and almost walked out until he saw his steak. Brendan came over looking mischievous, he was playing a prank on a local boy who was having food with Specialised by pretending to have given this boy a girl’s number from England, but really it was his. We all thought this was a bit mean and wanted to play him at his own game. My mum sent a text from her phone about his lovely leg and saying she wished she’d been there to catch him when he crashed… We don’t know if he was being dull or if he was just pretending not to realise – but he never asked us outright if it was us.
Manon in the pool with the leaders jersey.
On Sunday night there was an after party at a small bar near the venue, which was packed with a lot of drink, a lot of dancing and a lot of general drunkenness. It was cool as most of the racers were there and it was fun to see them having fun off the bike.
As soon as my mum heard we were going to South Africa she was adamant she was coming with us and was really excited so we spent a few days after the race having a holiday which was cool just to chill out and explore a bit. Over the next few days we spent some time doing the usual touristy stuff. On Monday we went to have a look at the Drakensburg Mountains and found some pools to go swimming in…
Dragon Tooth mountain
Swimming in the mountains
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we went on a Safari at Thula Thula game reserve where we ate a lot, slept a lot, saw loads of cool animals, and looked gimpy in ponchos when it rained.
Catching the zzzzzzzs
Chilling by the pool
Before we went to SA Jase was complaining about having to go on a Safari ‘cos he’d be bored but we knew he was going to love it when, on the airport bus, he had is own pre trip safari and spotted a fox on the side of the roadand then some rabbits!
Munching on Sugar cane – pretty addictive stuff.
Jase said I had no choice whether I put this in or not!
Jase getting rinsed by the shorebreak.
On the last day at the beach we all managed to get pretty frazzled in a last minute attempt to get a tan, so the plane ride home was seriously uncomfortable with sun burn!
All in all it was a really good trip, SA was amazing and everone we met was soo friendly, the event was really well organised with armies of staff around to help you with anything and everything – they even cleaned your bike for you. Really looking forward to going back again next year when I’ll be even stronger and possibly even clipped in!
Also can’t wait for the next World Cup at Fort William, it’s gonna be amazing!
Finally big thanks to everyone who helped me out, especially my mum, dad and Harry for looking after me and also to Madison for creating the Madison Saracen Downhill Team. Without them no way would I have made it to South Africa, so I owe a lot to them.
See you at the Bill…