It’s fair to say this is your strongest start to a season yet. How have you found it?
Yeah, it’s definitely the strongest start so far. It’s not been plain sailing though, in Tasmania I had a bit of a lead going in to the last stage and I had a crash and threw it away so that was a bit of a bitter sweet second.
Then Rotorua was kind of similar. I had a puncture so I lost some time but still ended up fifth, which was kind of second out of the riders that were contenders for the full series.
It was a hectic start but after everything is said and done, all the races have ended up pretty well.
Is there any one thing you’ve changed in the off season that has made the difference?
I’ve been less structured and more going with what I feel like doing. I still have structured training but I’m not stressing if I don’t do something at the exact time of the day or whatever. Taking that step back has made me enjoy it more and I ended up training way better because I want to do all the little details like the stretching.
The bike feels great as well, it’s our second year on the 29er Cube Stereo so that was nice not trying to set up a new bike. It’s just a combination of those sort of things that has just added up to feeling good on the bike.
When you say experienced, does that relate to race craft too?
It’s still only my third season professionally so I’m still learning a lot and improving a lot with every race. I turn up to a race and almost go through motions. It’s not as daunting.
There’s also knowing what my body wants to eat during a race weekend, knowing how hard I can push, knowing where I can take a risk on a stage, knowing where I can ride safe and just all the little things that just make a race weekend run smooth.
What were your first thoughts when you got to Madeira, was it a track you thought you could win on?
It was quite a mix to be honest. There was a lot of physical stuff in it and I know I’m fit so I knew that could play into my hand. But then, the wet stuff is still really slippy.
Some of that I knew would be really good for me but stage three was just slippy into slippy rocks into slippy rocks, there was no escape or a berm that could catch you. Normally when I ride that stuff I’m terrible because I get scared and ride real stiff – I’m an absolute passenger
Come race I managed to just block it all out and try and ride it like a normal track. So those kind of things are kind of daunting but I knew overall it would be a good race for me overall.
At what point did you realise the win was on?
It was weird because I didn’t really think about it too much. After the first stage you know how your weekend is going to go because you’ll either be 20th or you’ll be in the mix.
I was fifth on that so I knew I was in the mix and then going into overnight I knew I’d had a safe day and I could have ridden faster but I just stayed upright and kept my bike healthy.
I was kind of surprised after Stage 7 when I was told I was in the lead. I knew that Adrien had crashed because I finished Stage 5 and he didn’t turn up and then on the top of Stage 7 we heard Jesse’s tyre blow so then it was between me and Damien. All day I was watching people drop away and watching myself move up, there was no one moment where it was like “yeah, this is on”.
Next we head back to Ireland where you’re going for the hat trick. Does that give you more pressure than before?
It’s a tricky one. The first year people thought maybe I could do it but they didn’t expect it. The second year it was like: “wasn’t it mad that you did that, wouldn’t it be funny if you did it again?” And then I did it.
This year people have already been saying to me: “oh, so that’s the race you just win isn’t it?” and it’s not that simple.
I feel like I’ve got a target on my back because a lot of riders want to knock me off that throne, they don’t want to just see the local guy win every year so they’re definitely gunning for me.
Do you think you lose the home advantage the more times the circuit heads to Ireland?
It’s interesting that everyone assumes I do well there because I know the stages when actually since the race last year I haven’t been back. I’ve heard they’ve built a new stage and I’ve never seen it so I’m not going to have any special lines on that.
I think it’s more like the stages are shorter than what we typically race and I’m used to racing that short, high intensity stuff and then the crowd just lifts me massively, it’s so, co, cool.