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26th/29th July 2012 - World Cup #6 Val d'Isere, France

   Helmet cam run

I was heading out to the French World Cup after a successful couple of weeks racing the bike, so feeling confident for a good result. A 5th at BDS round 3 in Glencoe, and then a 7th at the National Champs. Unfortunately I was still fighting off a cold, but hopefully that wouldn't cause too much of a problem.

When we arrived in Val D'Isere the placement of the track in the valley seemed interesting. There were a number of different chair lifts giving access to all of the slopes, which in places had good tree coverage and were all very steep. It looked like there were some great places to build some amazing downhill tracks. Instead, the world cup track had been taped out of the trees, and seemed to simply zig zag down the ski run. When we walked the course it became apparent that not much thought or time had gone into preparing the race track for us. It was basically a series of long narrow switchbacks, and very few features had been built to make the track more interesting and challenging. There were no line choices and it was also very short. Disappointed was the word that sprung to mind before even setting tyre on the track.

My first practice day went well. As the track was so simple it didn't take more than a couple of runs to start to feel up to speed. The track was new and in places there were lots of loose rocks, so lines changed throughout the day as we rode the track in. At the end of the day I did a timed practice run with the helmet camera attached, and attempted to do one of my talkie runs. However the track was that fast and open that the wind interfered with my commentary,so its hard to hear what I'm saying in places. The video is within this report, and the run was a 2.39. I then did a proper timed run without the camera and took a couple more seconds off that with a 2.37. I felt there was more time to be found by carefully checking out the track and making sure I was the right side of various rocks, and braking the right places.

I woke up on qualifying day feeling like my cold had got a bit worse. It had decided to manifest as a head cold that morning and made me feel quite groggy. I hoped a practice run would shift it, but it didn't and I just couldn't concentrate on riding. Some paracetamol later and I was feeling much better. After two more practice runs I was good to go again and feeling fast, confident for the qualifying session that afternoon. I was coming into this race having qualified for all 5 world cups so far this season, one of only about 30 riders to do so, and was really keen to take that 100% record throughout the whole season. I also wanted to finish the season with a ranking closer to 40, and currently I was 58th, so two good results here and in Norway would be necessary to make that happen.

After going through all the usual efforts to get myself and the bike ready for the qualifying run, including new tyres, new pedals etc etc which takes over an hour, before I've even thought about me, I was off for my run. On the way up the chair lift I watched some of the top 20 riders head down on their runs below me, and noticed a number of them getting punctures. I make a habit of running lots of pressure in my tyres, as France is a long way to travel to get a puncture and not finish! I thought that was one problem I was safe from. As I got off the chair lift, in true Alpes fashion, the heavens opened and a big storm rolled through our valley. It had been dry all weekend so far, so this was really going to mix things up for the rest of qualifying. Myself and the riders around me would now have to ride in the wet, with dry tyres on and no mud guards to protect the goggles, but the later riders would have time to prepare their bikes for the change in conditions. The storm was that bad that they actually stopped racing for 20 minutes to let the lightening roll over.

By the time I was in the gate and watching the clock count down for the start of my run and the beeps to sound, the bad weather had passed and sun was back out. I suspected the track was going to be a little greasy, so I was ready to ride aggressively and get wild. Unfortunately it wasn't my day and I never got chance. 15 seconds or so into my qualifying run I got a rear puncture and that was that. I pushed back up to the chair lift and took the painful 10 minute ride down watching everyone else race. I was gutted as you can imagine, but that's racing and I'll come back fighting this weekend at the next BDS round!

As a slight consolation prize I spent the next day riding in the Tignes bike park, across in the next valley, with a few of my racing buddies who also missed out on qualifying for their own reasons. We had an awesome day riding some of the best bike park tracks I've ever ridden, and it served as a perfect training day in preparation for the long race I have in Whistler in two weeks' time. Long rough descents shaking your hands and arms to the point when you can barely hold on any longer is exactly the training you need for racing in Whistler! The next day while everyone else was racing me and Dad sat on the French motorway for 10 hours on the long haul home feeling rubbish – you need to be dedicated for this World Cup game! I'll be all guns firing for Norway in September!

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