Photos: Seb Schiek
For most racers, coming second overall two seasons in a row would be no bad thing. Not for Manon Carpenter
For that reason it's all change in the Camp Carpenter. The headline news is her new team, Radon Factory DH. The German brand swooped in mid-season and scooped her out of Madison Saracen after six years settled in the British set up. Radon is hoping for big things this year and it sounds like a fair bit of money has been put behind its racing endeavours.
Finally Manon's schedule is going to be changing. Her Van Road upbringing has left her keen for more Crankworx style events - pump tracks, dual slalom and the like. This means she won't be racing the full British Downhill Series for the first time in six years.
It's been a long winter for Manon after breaking her collarbone in Val di Sole, but she's now back and ready to fire on all cylinders. To find out more about the changes we gave Manon a bell and got her thoughts on her exciting future:
Coming into last season, what were your goals? what were you hoping for?
Ever since 2014, when I won the World Cups, that’s where I’ve wanted to get back to. I had second overall twice now following that but I haven’t won a World Cup. Basically I want to win World Cups again but I haven't felt like it’s been that achievable in the past two years.
Last year was your sixth year on Madison which is obviously a long time to be on a team. Was it good to have the familiarity or were you thinking, "I need to change this up a bit"?
I am really grateful to Madison Saracen for taking me on as a junior and making it possible for me to be professional. I didn’t think it was possible to do that when I started World Cups as a Junior so I do really appreciate that from them. I’ve learned a lot and having spent six years with them, it has been good.
But I guess I felt like I wanted to change things up a bit. Obviously I won World Champs and the World Cup overall with them and had some really good times but toward the end I think I did feel like I wanted a little bit of a change and maybe take a few decisions back for myself.
Now I get to choose more what races I do and who I train with and stuff like that. Obviously in 2014 everything went really well but I feel like maybe a couple of things changed and different people came and went from the team. That was obviously a really good year but I haven’t really felt the same since.
Were you unhappy with 2016?
It is a funny one. I look back on it at the end of the year and I got second overall but yeah, I am unhappy with the season. You can’t really complain too much but I didn’t get a better result than a third which isn’t what I want.
In 2015 I had a bad start to the year and then I got three second places in a row but it didn’t really feel like it. When you’ve won and you know how it feels to be competing at your very best and getting your very best results it’s always hard to take a step back.
What was the approach when looking for a new team?
I had thought about looking around but Joost [Wichman, Radon team manager] actually approached me. I had a message from him asking what my plans were for this year. He said they were interested in me and they had plans to make a bigger factory World Cup team.
It was cool to have someone really interested I suppose and to have that initial contact. I always feel like to have a really good relationship with the sponsors you have to know that they’re really interested in having you on board.
We met up in Whistler. I went out for Crankworx and Joost was there. We had a meeting and I got a good feeling about the team. I guess as I hadn’t left Madison for six years I wanted to see what the options were that were open to me. By the time it came to deciding I definitely felt it was a good way to go to join Radon.
As a woman how do you think the process of changing teams is different?
I have to say I’m really happy with where I ended up but I do feel like a lot of doors are closed to you being a woman. A lot of brands don’t have their focus on women’s racing, which is a shame. But then, obviously, you do have the brands that do see the value in it which is really nice.
I think you wouldn’t want to join a team where you feel like you weren’t equal with the other riders. I think you’d almost feel like an add on, which is definitely not where you want to be when you want to be confident to race as hard as you can.
I feel like Radon really do believe in having women racing. You can see that from their cross country team and having Raphaela [Richer], the under 21 Enduro World Series champ, it’s really nice to see that and I think it’s a nice environment to be racing in.
Will Raphaela be racing alongside you?
I’m not sure of her main aims. I guess she’s the gravity side but I think she’s mostly enduro. It would be cool, she’d be 19 so she’d be in the elites. I remember Scott had two women a while ago with Emelie [Siegenthaler] and Floriane [Pugin] but it is very rare.
How do you find the new bike?
When I’ve been out on it I’ve had a great time which is a good sign. As I wasn’t riding downhill for a while I wanted to make sure that I felt quite strong again before I rode. I didn’t want to be feeling rubbish on the bike.
When I’ve been out on it at home I’ve felt really happy about it. Obviously it’s very new to me but I feel comfortable on it and I’m looking forward to spending more time on it.
What other races will you be doing?
I'm stepping away a bit from the British national series. I’ve raced the whole series for six years now. I’d like to do some BDS races still, and it sounds like they’ve made some interesting changes with new sponsors this year, but I think sometimes it’s better to pick and choose them and focus on World Cups. Obviously they’re the biggest races that we have so I want to make them my main focus.
I’d like to race some more Crankworx events. I think they’re really cool and I like the different disciplines - hardtails and dual slalom and stuff.
What’s the plan before the season?
I’m quite enjoying being at home at the moment, the weather’s been alright. I think as soon as the weather takes a turn for the worse I’ll be going away and ride the bike somewhere a bit less muddy. I went away last season to New Zealand, which was great, but there’s also a lot of riding on my doorstep so it’s not bad. I’m quite enjoying being at home and there’s loads of stuff to ride in south Wales.
What are your goals for this year? From the sounds of it, it's Win World Cups, win the World Champs, win everything?
Yeah, I think it is that but besides that I’m really excited being back with Alan Milway. I'm enjoying training with him and getting physically as best as I can before the race season.
And having a fun year as well. I think it’ll be a lot of fun with this team going to lots of places so looking forward to it.