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Pietermaritzburg World Cup Race 1 - April 2014

2014 World Cup fever is finally upon us and South Africa is where round 1 kicked everything off last weekend. After racing here in 2012 on a less than appropriate frame and not doing very well, I was excited to go back as a fitter and more experienced rider with better equipment to see what I could achieve.

First we had to get there. I travelled to Switzerland to meet up with my SC Intense team mates on Sunday, and then on from there late on Monday down to Africa, arriving there on Tuesday. That much travelling really does tire you out, so I was glad we had Wednesday to chill and just walk the track before getting on the bikes.

The track had been changed in 2013 for world championships to improve flow, and to my surprise it had been changed again for us this year. This time the change involved making the track more technical in the upper sections, in the form of big rough rock gardens. This suited me down to the ground and made me even more excited to get riding!

Thursday morning started well with my buddy Matty Stuttard pulling me over the big jumps first run of the day – the boy loves a bit of air-time! These jumps are half way down the track and they are HUGE table tops. I failed to clear them in 2012 and they have been on my mind ever since. The relief when I realised I could do them no bother on my M9 was huge! I had three good practice runs in the morning with Matty and my team mate Joe Connell and was feeling up to speed by lunch time. Our team mechanic Gavin Black was working hard to keep the bikes running sweet and was doing an awesome job. We also had our team manager Lars Peyer on site organising everything, as well as walking the track to spy on lines for us.

Timed practice was in the afternoon and I decided to do a full run straight off to see how everything would feel. I was running a Schwalbe Magic Mary on the front which is my tyre of choice for the season. However because of the long flat pedaling section after the jumps (about 1 minute long), I was running a Schwalbe Rock Razor on the back, which is their semi-slick tyre. It was important to give this combination a proper test in a timed run to see how it would feel. I also wanted to get some video footage of the track on my iphone, using my Miveu chest mount, as this is good to watch in the evening to learn lines.

I had one issue in my timed run, coming out of a berm a little wide and going straight towards a tree and having to stop on the wrong side of it to avoid hitting it. After reversing and rejoining the track I lost between 5 and 8 seconds, and came down with a time of 4.25 which placed me 22nd out of the riders that took part in timed practice. Without the crash I would have been around 8th, so I knew I was on pace for a good result this weekend. But then…… I went up for another run to have a steadier roll down and look at lines. I really don’t know why I do this because I’m not concentrating fully and sometimes I end up crashing as a result. This was unfortunately one of those times. I got a little sideways while braking into one of the new steep chutes in the upper section and before I knew it I was flying over the handlebars. Initially I thought I was ok, but after dusting myself off and getting back on the bike I realised I’d hurt my shoulder and couldn’t hold on anymore.

As I slowly rolled down the track reflecting on how annoying this situation was my shoulder got worse and worse. By the time I got to the pits I could barely put my right hand on the handlebars, and certainly didn’t have any strength in it. I spent the evening icing and resting my arm in the hope that it would start to feel better. Before going to bed it was very painful to lift my arm into the handlebar position and I was convinced I wouldn’t be riding in the morning. I was so frustrated. All of the winter training and preparation, just to crash in practice at the first world cup and hurt myself, possibly to the point of not being able to ride.

When I woke up it didn’t feel any different. Joe had some strapping tape so we put some of that on and rode down the road to the pits. It felt terrible on the bike, but the tape did provide some support and I thought giving a practice run a try was possible. When I arrived at the pits Lars had arranged for me to be seen by a local chiropractor, who diagnosed that I’d damaged my bicep tendon, and reapplied strapping tape in the appropriate manner. I headed off for a practice run.

I managed to ride the track, but was in loads of pain and had to stop multiple times to get down. I was also riding bloody slowly, and wasn’t able to do any of my aggressive lines. When I got down and took my shirt off the guys were surprised by how little tape the local guy had put on to support my arm. I decided to head into the pits to see if I could find a physio who was working with any of the big teams. Luckily I managed to find Greg Minnaar’s physio Laurence who was happy to help. Thankfully this guy knew exactly what was wrong with my shoulder and didn’t only know how to strap it properly, but also how to make it feel better first. After he was finished it felt much better, and I had much more confidence in being able to hold onto the handlebars come qualifying that afternoon.

I took qualifying very steady! I couldn’t afford to crash as that would have definitely ended my weekend. In a couple of places on the track my bike and body was jerked and forced into very painful movements by the rough terrain, but I gritted my teeth and pushed through. I remember yelping out loud in a couple of places. Thankfully I managed to throw a reasonable run together and qualified in 55th place with a 4.25. This was the same time as timed practice, but in that run I’d crashed and not sprinted the flat section. Again very frustrating to not be able to race at my full potential after all the hard work, but I was mainly thankful to be in the final.

Laurence treated me again first thing in the morning on race day before I went out for practice. He was happy about my progress and so was I. Pain had been reduced to a minimum, and it felt much stronger than the day before so I was keen to get up the hill and see how it would feel on the bike. Thankfully riding was much easier, and I managed to ride all of my lines from before the crash. I just did the one practice run as to not strain my shoulder any more than necessary and save the strength for racing.

I felt confident going into my race run, and although I knew I couldn’t give it 100%, I hoped to be able to save a top 40 result from the weekend. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury (literally) my gear cable snapped in the top section of the track which meant I was stuck in hardest gear for the majority of the track and all of the pedaling. The two issues definitely cost me time, however I crossed the finish line with a 4.15 and went into 2nd place with 50 or so riders remaining. My time held out for 40th place, which all things considered I’m very happy with! I was only 2 seconds off the top 30 and 4 seconds off the top 20, so I’m sure I would have been in that top 20 somewhere if luck had been going my way this weekend!

So a very up and down start to my 2014 world cup campaign, but after it all not a bad result on the board. It has certainly made me mentally stronger that’s for sure! I want to say a big thank you to my team mechanic Gavin, and team manager Lars for all the help and support over the weekend. Also all of my sponsors for making the trip possible and finally Laurence the physio who saved my weekend! Onwards now to the Fort William BDS in May!

Pictures from the world cup taken by Dunc Philpott

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