May 12th, 2018

2018 Swiss Bike Cup, Solothurn, Switzerland

My bad luck continued in Solothurn with another flat tyre, this time just halfway around lap 1 while in 3rd wheel. I took the risk with some skinnier tyres to help on road sections but paid the price for it when I pinched my tyre on the rim on a high speed descent. Super frustrating for it to happen for the second weekend in a row but hopefully that’s all my punctures out of the way for the season! 

I was able to ride to the tech zone and get it changed, re-joining the race in around 20th position. I worked hard to catch up to the next group which formed around 13th-19th position. The race for the podium was gone for me by this stage, especially on such a fast course, so I settled into working with the group I found myself in. 

By working together we were able to pick off a few more riders in front and with a final push on the last lap I was able to finish as the first rider of my group and bring it home in 11th. This was the best I could do out of the situation in the end, so I was left somewhat satisfied. I also had the feeling that my legs were a bit better than the previous weekend so that’s also a good sign. Next up are the World Cups in Albstadt and Nove Mesto. Fingers crossed that a seasons worth of punctures is out of the way already!

April 25th, 2018

2018 Sea Otter Classic, Monterey, California, USA

Overall it was a great couple of days racing at the Sea Otter with a second place in the short track and first place in XCO. Last year I really struggled with the short track and wasn’t able to feature in the race in any way, so this year it was nice to be at the pointy end of the field and show good form in that discipline. With World Cup start position soon to be determined by a short track race 2 days out from the XCO event having a good race and result here meant I’ll have a lot more confidence heading forward. I’ve only ever done around 5 proper short track races in my life so it’s fair to say I’m on a steep learning curve!!

The cross country race at the Sea Otter is a really fast paced race and this often keeps larger groups of riders together. With such a large flat section at the end of each lap I knew I had to be careful not to do too much early on in the race even if I was feeling good, as a big chase pack would be able to reel me in from behind if they worked together. I decided to be patient and play the long game, and had my first attempt at splitting up the race with 3 laps to go when there were just 3 riders left at the head of the field, myself, Nicola Rorhbach and Howard Grotts. I was able to string them out but I was very cautious of opening an immediate gap on both and have them work together to catch me on the flatter sections. The ideal scenario would have been that one of them was strong enough to come with me and the other rider dropped back out of contention, leaving me to have another crack at the final rider with me on the second to last lap or the final lap.

The plan didn’t work out perfectly on the 3rd lap but my legs were still feeling great so I decided to attack with everything I had from the lead group of 3 on the second to last lap and I immediately opened up a solid gap. From there I was able to solo the final lap and a half to take the win! Off to Germany now and back to the European race scene. The World Cups are just around the corner so it’s going to be important to keep up the good form.

Photo credit: Matt DeLorme

April 20th, 2018

2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia

   

Where do I start? Coming off a strong race at the first World Cup of the season I knew I had a good base to build on for the Commonwealth Games 4 weeks later on the Gold Coast. I had a few weeks at home training hard and putting the finishing touches on my shape. I felt I was in the best form of my life but the danger always lies in that situation where you are running the knife edge that it’s easy to get sick. Unfortunately, I arrived into the Gold Coast on the Saturday with a very sore throat and knew I’d picked a bug up somewhere. I was angry and disappointed that I had put so much hard work in only to fall at the last hurdle but deep down I was clinging to a glimmer of hope that I could still salvage a good result.

After a few days my sore throat subsided and my nose blocked up which made me feel even worse. From my experiences during course practice leading into the race I felt much better towards the end of my ride. Taking this into account I made sure that on Thursday when we raced I had a nice long warmup to really clear out the nose and the legs. Once the adrenaline and excitement of race day kicked my cold slipped to the back of my mind and I was focused on the race. I had a decent start but my legs felt bit dull on the first climb, however I was able to make it in 2nd place in the first single-track and sat there for a lap. Sam set a blistering pace and it was a fight to hold the wheel but I was able to do so which was a big relief! I was lacking my usual spark in the legs so played the long game and tried to keep the pace slow to get me through until the later laps in the race. I was able to do that and came into the last laps feeling strong. I tried to up the tempo on a couple of climbs near the end of the race but I just felt I didn’t quite have what it took to open a gap.

I knew I was going to have to just go for it on the last lap regardless and hope to force an error from the other riders. Coming into the last lap it was myself, Sam Gaze and the South African rider Alan Hatherley. Sam suddenly pulled over in the tech zone much to my surprise and I was left with just the South African on my wheel. I figured Sam needed a wheel change and or something and his race was well and truly over. I managed to drop the South African on the climb and opened up a sizeable gap. I took it very cautiously down the following rocky descents to make sure I didn’t get a puncture myself and just be careful and nurse it home. It wasn’t until I took a quick glance back at the end of the rocky section to check my gap to the South African that I noticed Sam charging down from behind and just a few seconds back. He caught me soon after and up the next climb I tried to make sure I kept the lead, however just before the final descent he was able to come around me on the inside and from that moment on I knew I had no chance unless he made a big mistake. There were no passing options down the descent and with the drag to the finish line being so short I had no chance to try and come around him, so I had to settle for a hard fought 2nd place. So close yet so far!

In the end I’m left feeling really proud with how I performed on the day and the fight that I showed. To come away with a Commonwealth Silver medal is still a great feeling, even if it doesn’t quite have the allure of the Gold medal I was able to win 4 years earlier in Glasgow. Plenty more Commonwealth Games left in me still hopefully!!

Photo credit: Phil Walter/Getty Images AsiaPac 

March 14th, 2018

2018 MTB World Cup # 1, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The first World Cup of the year is always the most nerve wracking. It’s the first race of the year where the best of the best are on the start line and you get a true benchmark of where you are at. With my highest World ranking ever of 5th I was set for a good start position on the front row. The gun went and I clipped in right away and got off to a great start. I lead the start loop and expected some riders to swing around me before the first single-track and was surprised when they didn’t.

Like many others I wasn’t sure of what to expect so it was a nice surprise to find myself still at the head of the race at the end of the first lap. Halfway through the second lap I found I wasn’t quite able to keep up with the pace and had to button off and try find a steady rhythm that I could sustain for the duration of the race. 

I suffered a bit in the middle laps but had a strong last 2 laps to bring it home in 6th. A result I’m happy with as I feel it was definitely the best result I could have had on the day. Overall it was a very successful day for NZ mountain biking, with Sam Gaze taking the win – a first elite World Cup title for NZ, and Ben Oliver taking second place in the Under 23 event. 

It’s very early days in what will be a long season and I personally feel I still have a lot of room to improve, however I know others will too. It will be interesting to see how things pan out at the next World Cup in Albstadt in around 9 weeks time!

Photo credit: Matt DeLorme

February 28th, 2018

2018 National MTB Championship, Lake Hawea, New Zealand

Earning the right to wear the national champion jersey on the World Cup circuit has always been a very special thing to me. Even though this year my main challenger for the jersey, Sam Gaze, was not competing I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the competition lightly, especially with an in form Ben Oliver in the mix.

I arrived into Wanaka on Tuesday to some dismal weather due to Cyclone Gita passing by. This resulted in a big dump of snow on the planned race course up at Cardrona skifield – something that surprisingly has occurred on multiple occasions this summer! The organisers had to make a tough decision to change the course venue as it appeared as though the snow wasn’t going to thaw in time to run the event to schedule. In a hurried effort, the overgrown private XCO lap on the Wright’s farm at nearby Lake Hawea was beaten into shape, and come Saturday it was riding well enough to race Nationals on.

My game plan for the race was quite simple. I wanted to clear out early on and ride my own race, establishing a gap between myself and the chasers and maintain that buffer in case I got a mechanical or something untoward happened. I executed the plan perfectly, opening up a gap within the first lap and continually extending it to the finish line by riding consistent lap times. The win marks my 4th elite national title and I look forward to wearing the jersey with pride both nationally and internationally during 2018.

Photo credits: Barking Cat Photography

February 15th, 2018

2018 Oceania Championships, Dunedin, New Zealand

It was unusual to have the Oceania Championships before Nationals this year, and especially with the Commonwealth Games a couple of months away I’ve had to make a point of not putting too much emphasis on these early season races. However, being a racer that’s much easier said than done, so I was prepared to go all out on the day to defend my Oceania title. Also starting the season with a win and full stack of points does wonders for the confidence heading into the World Cups and Commonwealth Games.

The course in Dunedin was a very physical one, at least for the first two thirds of the track. The first climb was long and steady followed by a fast flowy downhill. Then there was another climb, this time steep and punchy followed by a tight, twisty descent back to the event village area. The finish to the lap was a fast pace gradual climb followed by a steep techy descent back to the finish line. 

Credit: Kane Fleury

I knew I’d have my work cut out to win and it proved to be the case. Sam Gaze took the lead on the first lap and I followed in second with Ben Oliver in third. On the second lap I took the lead and pushed the pace. While I felt like I had Sam on the rivet I wasn’t quite able to drop him and so we entered the 3rd lap still together. I let Sam take the lead with the intention of hitting it hard again on the 4th lap. At the end of the 3rd lap however Sam stopped to tighten his seat post and it left me with a 15sec gap. I kept the hammer down and by the end of the 4th lap my gap was around 30secs. By the end of the 5th lap it had extended some more and Sam stopped again which left me to cruise the final lap to the finish line.

Overall, it was a great week in Dunedin and it was a pleasure to have my mechanic Matt out from the Trek Factory Racing team to look after my bikes. Also nice to start the new partnership with SRAM and Rockshox on a high note! Next up is the National Championship at Cardrona on the 24th February.

Credit: Russ Baker

January 21st, 2018

2018 Australian National Series, Rounds 3 & 4, Nerang, Queensland

It was a bit of a last minute decision to head to Aussie to race but it proved to be a good move. The opportunity to race on the Commonwealth Games track on the Saturday was too good to miss and a chance to learn how it rides in a race scenario.

I arrived into Brisbane on Thursday afternoon and drove down to Nerang, Gold Coast. Friday was time to check out the track before the weekend’s races and my first impressions were good. The Commonwealth Games track can be broken down into two main sections with the first of those featuring some very steep, rocky pinch climbs and descents and the second half which is fast paced and flowy. Overall it’s a tough and challenging track, which was made even more demanding by the 35 degrees and high humidity on Saturday. 

I had a good start to the race and entered the single-track first. Ben Oliver slipped past me on the single-track when my foot somehow slipped out of my pedal on a climb, and I followed him for the remainder of the lap. He set a fast pace and we were able to open up a gap to the chasers. At the start of the second lap I took the lead and opened up a gap on Ben on about halfway through that lap. I was able to maintain a good solid pace for the remaining laps for a trouble free race, taking the win by over a minute in the end and with enough energy still in the legs to back it up for the following day’s race. 

The course for Sunday’s race varied only slightly from the Commonwealth Games track on Saturday with the first main climb extending further than the previous day. The track was a bit longer so we raced for one lap less. Much the same as the previous day, I entered the single-track first and set about riding my own rhythm and holding a solid tempo. By the end of the first lap I had a 15 sec gap and with each passing lap that gap grew to over 1 minute at the finish line. 

It was great to put together a strong couple of days racing with comfortable wins both days. Getting some race time on the Commonwealth Games track was a highlight and will allow me to head into the main event in April with confidence. There’s plenty more before then though, so for now it’s back to the usual training grind!

credit: Element Photos & Video Productions (MTBA)

September 21st, 2017

2017 World Championships – Cairns, Australia

Although the final World Cups hadn’t quite gone the way I’d hoped I still had the goal of a top 10 finish at World Champs. Perhaps it’s the feeling I get when I pull on the NZ Jersey to represent my country, but I’d never had a bad race at a World Champs and I was keen to see that trend to continue. 
 
The opening event of the World Champs was the Team Relay and for the first time since 2013 NZ had entered a team. I was really looking forward to the opportunity to test myself on a full race pace lap and get a time against some other top riders. The relay is made up of 5 riders; 3 Men and 2 Women of different age groups. I was the last rider to go and managed to pass a few other teams on my to get the fastest equal time of the day and 8th place overall for NZ. That was a great result for NZ to kick the World Champs off and a huge confidence boost for myself heading into Saturday’s XCO race knowing that I had the speed in the legs to match it with the best.
The XCO race rolled around and I was feeling great. Yet again, the sun was beating down on the hugely blown out and dusty course. Luckily those are just the conditions which I have grown to enjoy and race well in, so that only added to my confidence. I had a great start from the second row and entered the first singletrack in 3rd. I could tell immediately that my legs were good and it was going to be a much better day than my last races. I tried not to get overly excited on the first couple of laps and went about defending a strong position inside the top 10. I was sitting around 8th or 9th for most of the race but with just over a lap to go I made a small error down Jacob’s ladder and paid for it with a broken saddle. I gathered myself and shook off the pain my knees were giving me. I think I knocked the inside of them on my frame when I crashed, which made them feel dead for a while. I was a little slow to get going but I made my way down the hill to the tech zone where I had my bike fixed and was back on my way again, around 16th position which is where I ended up finishing. 
It was gutting to finish in 16th because if I’d just stayed on my bike I had the potential to finish at least 9th and 5th place was also within reach. But at the same time I was happy with the grit and determination I showed to still finish in that position after my tumble and also that I was riding so well, up until that point, in the biggest race of the year. I already can’t wait for the next World Cup season and World Champs to begin!

August 30th, 2017

2017 World Cup #6, Val di Sole – Trentino, Italy

It was always destined to be a tough day in Val di Sole for the final World Cup round of the year.

Heading into the race I was 8th overall in the World Cup standings with a few riders close enough behind. I really wanted to finish inside the top 10 and from the gun the battle was on.

I had a good start and on the start lap I was feeling good, crossing the line to start the first full lap in 11th. During the first few full laps of the course I felt a bit flat and had to back off and ride my own tempo drifting back into the 30’s. The course was wide open and fast with a lot of wide taped sections which made for a tactical bunch style race which isn’t typically my forte. Mid race, my team mate Sergio joined me and provided a strong, consistent and reliable wheel to follow and we started to pick off some riders in front.

On the last lap I really emptied the tank passing some more riders with a strong finish to come home in 20th place. I was confident but not certain that I had done enough to secure a top 10 overall in the World Cup. It wasn’t until it flashed up on the big screen that I was 7th overall I knew for sure.

 

Fair to say I’m pretty chuffed with that on the bounce back from last season. While the second half of the season has been a real battle just feeling like I’m one or two percent off where I want to be I’m still over the moon with my season and how I’ve been riding. I know there’s even more to come the next years but for now there is still one big race left this season. In fact the biggest race of them all! World Champs on the 9th September in Cairns. I look forward to spending a few days at home upon my arrival from Europe. And then racing in the Silver fern with plenty of Kiwi and Oceania fans making the trip to World’s to support. It aint over yet!

 

August 21st, 2017

2017 Swiss Cup, Basel, Switzerland

It wasn’t the easiest day at the office in Basel. I felt a big weeks training in my legs and struggled especially on the opening 2 laps with the bigger more powerful riders putting me to the sword on the flat sections. The course features only one short climb with the rest flat, fast, furious and an average speed for the race north of 25kph.

After the first 2 laps were complete I felt a lot better and a lot more involved in the race, especially being one of the drivers of the chase group (positions 8th through to around 15th). I put myself in a poor position at the base of the last climb and got held up while 2 riders from our group disappeared up ahead to take 8th and 9th. In the end I came home in 13th which was a bit frustrating as I don’t feel it was reflective of how I rode for the majority of the race. But that’s often the way these fast, bunch style races pan out. I just need to be a bit more forward thinking in my positioning next time. 

Hopefully some more race intensity will do me well for the final World Cup in just under a weeks’ time. The end of the season is approaching fast and I’d love to finish on a strong note!