After a pretty mental season filled with lots of travelling and exploring some of the most stunning places in Europe, it was finally time to jump on a plane and head to Canada. Although I had had some awesome in stage results in both Canazei and Les Orres, my overall results were not anything close to what I am capable of (141st & 126th). This unfortunately left me still stuck racing in the EWS 100 race which although the same format as the main event, isn't where I want to be.
I have spent many years racing in Europe and riding in some of the most stunning locations imaginable like Finale Ligure & La Thuile both highlights for me in last years race series. I had however never ventured further afield with my bike and for me Whistler has been a dream of mine since I was 13 watching the Collective Seasons dvd on repeat. Getting the opportunity to fulfill this dream was incredible and something I will always be grateful to the MTB Beds crew for allowing me to do.
Racing as a privateer is difficult especially when competing against the worlds best. One of the biggest differences between a privateer and factory racer is time, the pro’s arrive at the beginning of the week to acclimatize to the trails and also get over any potential jet lag that may cause their performance to drop. With the busy holiday season in full flow I finished work on the Tuesday evening and flew early on wednesday touching down in Whistler at 9pm with plenty of jetlag and a bike to build ahead of practice the following morning.
I woke up early the next day mainly due to an intense excitement to be back racing and also to finally have made it to Whistler. I quickly got myself changed, prepped my bike for practice and headed into Whistler village for a coffee at the infamous Lift Coffee co.
Top Of The World
Practice went well, I rode quite cautiously on the first stages so as not to injure myself before racing but couldn't resist a quick lap of Aline after practice with the lifts staying open until 8 pm. We practiced Top Of The World, which was to be stage one for this year's race. I had watched some videos to try and get a feel for the track but there is honestly no preparing yourself for a 22-minute track like this. The top was very rocky with some awkward loose corners following into some awesome bike park berms and rocky section which formed some of my favourite segments of the track. The grueling fire roads were flat out and although they were a good opportunity to rest your hands this was pretty scary when reaching speeds of up to 76kmph.
Day 2 was a much bigger day with plenty of pedalling to reach stage 2 on the opposite side to the bike park, this trail was the steepest and by far my favourite paying homage to a certain Pleney mountain that I frequented back in Morzine. Stage 3 contained one of the most physical stages I have ever ridden to date, with a 1 minute solid uphill sprint It was sure to separate the fittest from the pack. I really enjoyed stage 4 & 6 which had a good mix of bike park trails with high speed technical trails, something I have come to realise is one of my strengths when racing. Stage 5 was definitely the most technically demanding, fresh deep loam and more roots than dirt meant that this track would be carnage if it rained.
Race day 1 was a fairly relaxing day with only 1 stage, the super physical Top of the world. My race run was at 3pm so I got a chance to do some chilled laps in the morning to warm up before heading up the hill for the race. I played it safe as I didnt know how hard to push at the top. My aim was consistency so although I definitely had more in the tank, getting down with a respectable time and almost clean run was a great way to start the weekend. I got down on a still dusty track before the heavens opened for the top 20 racers at the top, Richie Rude still laid down the gauntlet and put an impressive 48 seconds into his nearest competitor and teammate Shawn Neer.
The rain would continue all through the night and through much of day 2 meaning what was already set to be a physical day has just become one of the hardest race days in EWS history. I set off early in the morning, fully prepped for the wet weather with my rain jacket and waterproof Fox trousers. Having ridden much of the winter in the rain in the UK I was pretty confident in my tire choice of Maxxis Assegai front and rear, these were both DH compound tires combined with Rimpact inserts to avoid any possible mechanicals in the day.
I made it steadily down the steeps of stage 2 and got down clean a little frustrated as I knew this was a trail I could have gone quicker on but smart racing was key for the overall and to get the points I needed. I then pedalled across to stage 3 by which point the fatigue was already setting in, this was truly to be a day of mind over matter. Stage 3 was the toughest stage I have had to race and left me struggling to breathe at the bottom of the run. It was to be my weakest stage which I was unsurprised with considering the lengthy sprint in the middle of the stage
Stages 4 & 6 were uplift assisted and I was super excited to get a hit at the tracks whilst relatively fresh and treated them much like downhill runs. The tracks were super blown out from previous racing from the EWS 80 racers but would be some of my best results and continue to contribute to my battle for consistency. Stage 5 easily the stage I was most concerned with, not only was it very physical but the sheer number of roots and sketchy off cambers meant staying rubber side down would be one hell of a task. It’s not often that I wish I was riding flat pedals but dropping in on stage 5 was definitely one of those moments. I slipped through the track and actually found some kind of flow which was surprising and I finished out stage 5 with a 65th overall stage placing.
I finished the race with a time of 1:01.45 which would have placed me 82nd in the overall, another top 100 result and secured the points I needed for the main event for the final races of the year.
Dirt Merchant Laps
After a very tough couple of days racing it was time to unwind with an abundance of Aline and Dirt Merchant laps before making the journey home from one of the best trips I have ever had, Whistler, I will be back!
The next race is in Zermatt for the final race of the season, I will be looking to lay down a solid result to close out the season.
Photo Credits: Thomas Gaffney