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UCI World Cup Round 5 @ Hafjell - 12/15 September 2013

The final two world cup rounds of the 2013 DH season were to be held on neighboring weekends in September. Hafjell in Norway, was first of the two and round 5 of the world cup series. I was keen for a good performance here after qualifying 24th here last year but then crashing out in the race run. My aim was to near to the top 30 at each of these last two races.

When we arrived the weather was fantastic. The track was dusty dry and running really fast. Yet again the UCI had made a mess of the schedule so we only had 3 hours on the track on the first day of practice. This was long enough to do my desired 5 practice runs, but there was no time for rest and reflection between the runs, which wasn’t ideal. I wasn’t feeling the magic by the end of that day. Normally it takes me about 3 runs on a track and I’m then feeling ready to race, but there is something about the Hafjell track that results in me taking longer to gel with it. I think it is because a lot of the sections don’t flow into each other very well. You can be riding smooth bike park style berms and jumps one second and then you’re in a really technical rock garden the next.

Thankfully after a couple more runs on the morning of qualifying I was into it and feeling the love for the track. I’d decided against doing the massive road gap step down in the top section of the track in qualifying to avoid disaster. I’d done it 4 times, 3 times getting over it ok and once casing the knuckle and consequently going straight on over the back of the following berm and through the tape. There would be no coming back from that if it happened in qualifying, so I decided to be safe rather than sorry. 

I had a steady start to my qualifying run, keeping things smooth and tidy. This however showed my top split time wasn’t good, I was only 88th fastest through this section of the course. However we then move into the more technical stuff and that’s more my cup of tea! I was 28th fastest through the middle section which put me right back in there. I kept things smooth and fast at the bottom and slotted nicely into 53rd place and qualifying through to the final. Times were very close and only a few seconds off my time would have put me into the top 30 where I wanted to be on finals day. However rain was due for Sunday and racing, so things would get much more spread out. Personally I was calling for rain, as the more technical the track became the more it would suit me!

Race day arrived and so did the rain. Heavy rain! This was the first weekend I had the option of using Schwalbe Magic Marys and wow – what a tyre! I felt like I had grip everywhere in practice and I know for sure the tyres were a lot to do with that. Hafjell in the wet is difficult in terms of tyre choice because there is a lot of rock and in other places a lot of mud. Therefore a spike mud tyre, the Schwalbe Dirty Dan, would be good in some places and not in others. The Magic Mary lived up to its name and was awesome everywhere. After two practice runs I was having so much fun on the newly wet track that I decided to call it a day before I got carried away and crashed!

By the time racing came around the weather was getting progressively worse. The first 10 or 15 riders came down before the really bad rain and wind got going, which definitely gave them an advantage and showed in a few of the times. I couldn’t even do a warm up at the top because I couldn’t leave the cover of the tents due to the heavy rain. It was very frustrating watching all of the pro riders I was trying to compete against sitting on their turbo trainers doing a proper warm up, while I tried to dry my hair with toilet paper after riding down from the lift, and also try to get some feeling back in my cold hands! Before I knew it though it was time to get my helmet gloves and goggles out of their rain protecting bin bag and head up to the start hut!

Again I was down at the top split, but this time more to do with not doing a warm up, rather than not pushing hard enough! I was 28th through the middle split again which gave me a really good chance of that top 30 going into the last section. I finished 34th which I’m very happy with, even though it is a few places behind what I was aiming for. I only made one small mistake, getting completely sideways in the mud at the start of the long fast field left hander close to the bottom, and altogether felt like I rode very well.

We’re now in Leogang, Austria and ready to go for the final round of the series. After that good performance in Norway my world cup series ranking is up to 55th, despite puncturing and therefore not racing Fort William, and not finishing Val Di Sole due to a crash. The aim is to crack that top 30 on the day, and finish the season with a 40something number!

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