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!

August 10th, 2017

2017 World Cup # 5 Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada

  

Although it had been a difficult month or so after altitude training, disrupted travel and getting sick around the time of the Lenzerheide World Cup, I was still hopeful of a good performance in Mont Sainte-Anne. I’d always performed well there and I really enjoy the technical and natural track as I feel like it plays well to my strengths. 

On race day I felt a bit tired and tried not to let it phase me. As soon as the gun went however I knew the legs weren’t there. I tried my best to hang in the top 10 hoping that my legs would improve but on the second full lap I had to ease off the throttle so I didn’t blow up completely. I tried to find a good rhythm to ride, eventually coming home in 23rd position, my most disappointing result this year.

However, if someone had told me last year that I would be 23rd in an elite World Cup I would have been pretty chuffed with that, but after some stellar results earlier in the year I feel like I should be much higher up. I know that I haven’t had the time to rebuild my fitness since recovering from my illness from Lenzerheide and I’m confident that, with another couple of weeks good training and intensity, I should find myself back further towards the front.  Thanks to all the team for their continued support. It’s very much appreciated. 

 

Photo credit:  Matt DeLorme 

July 10th, 2017

2017 World Cup #4 Lenzerheide, Switzerland

 After falling ill after Monday’s travel from Andorra, I did everything possible to be in good enough shape to take the start on Sunday. I took Wednesday and Thursday off completely, and had an easy spin on Friday. I completed 2 laps on Saturday and felt pretty lousy but thought I’d make a call after my warm up on Sunday as to whether or not I would take the start. 

I had a good sleep Saturday night and woke up feeling somewhat human. I felt okay during my warm up so decided to give the race a crack. I had a pretty clear race plan of having a strong start and from there riding my own tempo and not getting caught up in chasing for top positions. It hosed down for 45 minutes just before the start of the men’s race and everyone on the grid switched to a meatier tyre tread pattern. I opted for Bontrager XR2 2.2’s front and rear with 18.0 psi front and 19.5 psi in the rear. I also decided to race the Top Fuel on the super rough and rooty course and that proved to be a wise decision, as it enabled me to apply power where I otherwise would have had to freewheel on a hardtail.

I had a great start just as I had planned entering the first single-track in the top 5 and from there set about riding to my own rhythm. I crossed the line eventually in 16th, over the moon with that all things considered! I had set myself a goal of top 40 due to my poor health prior to starting, so to find myself riding around in the top 20 despite my condition was hugely encouraging and I can’t wait for Mont Saint Anne in 4 weeks’ time!

photo credit: Matt DeLorme

July 4th, 2017

2017 UCI World Cup # 3, Vallnord, Andorra

The last time I raced in Andorra I managed to take the win in what was a wet, muddy and chaotic race during the Under 23 World Champs in 2015. I was hoping to build on those memories again in 2017, this time in the Elite field for the 3rd World Cup round of the year.

 
Racing at altitude is still something I’m yet to figure out it seems. I got myself a bit boxed in early on and worked super hard to get back to the lead chase group before the end of the first lap. I managed to get back up there but suffered big time from doing so, and after hanging in for another lap I was completely spent. For 2 or 3 laps I felt that everyone else was going twice as fast and I couldn’t hold the wheel of anyone coming past from behind. I dug deep to hang in and with 2 laps to go I was starting to feel a little better and made up a few positions to come home in 18th.
 
It was a reminder of just how cut throat XCO racing is in the Elite field with everyone on the podium having storming rides. If you’re off by 2 percent you have no chance in the current era. I’m looking forward to this weekend in Lenzerheide for WC round 4 where I hopefully won’t make the same errors early in the race and will be able to finish a little higher up. It was great to see fellow Kiwi’s Sam Gaze finish 4th in Elite and Ben Oliver finish 6th in Under 23. Both exceptional results.