Three and Half Years to Get Back on the Bike

On the 25th to the 27th of September Thale played host to the final round of the 2015 iXS German Cup. And the first time I raced a DH bike in around three and a half years…

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Photo: David Behrendt

It was all pretty scary and exciting going back to Down Hill racing after such a long break. I mean, it’s not like I forgot how to ride a bike.

I never stopped with that. In fact, although I have not really been training to race, I have ridden a lot. I rode trails all over Johannesburg and since being in Hahnenklee, I’ve done a fair amount of trail and DH riding. Just didn’t really know how my head would cope with the whole racing thing.

Well, I’m glad to say: pretty well. I put my practice time in, focused on finding fast lines and made sure I carried as much speed as I could in the tricky sections. By the end of the weekend I was well fatigued and didn’t go as fast as I may have wanted, but I’m still happy.

Let me start at the beginning though. Peter Hülsmann picked me up on Friday and we headed up to Thale for a weekend of riding and having fun. Peter is like 20 years old and his plans revolved around riding, looking stylish for the cameras and partying like crazy. Mine on the other hand included, riding and making sure I got enough sleep to make it through a race weekend, after a tough week at work (we built a new section on one of the tracks in the park during the week, so I was already very tired). I wasn’t sure about the sleeping part, as I didn’t really know where I was sleeping. Maik from the Thale Cableway had kindly offered to let me stay upstairs in the organizers’ offices, with a few of the photographers that where working the event.

The start gate

The start gate

So, with accommodation sorted and with race numbers on my bike, I headed up the hill for a few practice runs. The chair lift was pretty crowded, but the line moved along, and it gave the riders a chance to chat and to meet new people. Down Hillers are a great crowd of people and race events always show that off. I met and chatted to people from all over Germany and that really set off a chilled weekend. Everybody always wants to know why a South African would move to Germany, and I always ask what German riders want to see in the bike parks they visit.

The first few runs on a new track are always a bit wild. I try to go easy, but the speed of the track and the really fast Makulu 27.5 make it hard to hold back. The new platform of the 650B has changed down hill forever. I try to explain it to people, but until you ride a bigger wheeled bike, you just won’t get it. As for the Morewood, the new bike is amazing. It’s lighter, longer, and just a new evolution of an already amazing ride.

The Rosstrappe track is quite different to the other tracks I’ve ridden in Germany. It has very few roots and rocks and although there are some man made obstacles, like a small rock garden and a few road gaps, it is mainly just fast and flowy. This makes the track seem easy, and except for the steep section at the end, you think it’s just going to be down to who can pedal the longest. When you head out of the start gate, you pedal hard and jump the first double, only to suddenly feel like you are going too fast. The difficulty on this track, is to hold on when the speed gets a bit out of control. It’s a huge amount of fun, and makes you work hard. I enjoyed every run, even when my hands felt to tired to hold on anymore.

After three practice runs, I ran out of time and the track closed for the evening. We did get there a bit late I guess, but I was feeling good and I had already found some good lines.

Friday evening consisted of unpacking, drinking a bunch of ‘smiling water’ or sparking white wine with Maik and his event team, and sampling some of the local cuisine (a curried sausage and chips dish from the food stand across from the offices). Very tasty dinner, was followed by an early night, while most of the downhillers and staff headed out to the huge party happing that night.

Saturday – the search for more coffee. I had most of what I needed in the digs, a warm bed, a hot shower, but I didn’t have any coffee, so I headed out to find some. And I didn’t, so I got up the lift and did my first practice run of the day. We had open practice from 8am till 11am, so I thought it best to get going early. After my first run the coffee shops were open, so the first cup was had.

I got in quite a lot of runs in the three hours we had available. My Morewood Makulu was dialed and the Onza Ibex tires I put on were holding up well, even in the muddy section, about half way down the track. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the technology in bikes these days is simply amazing. Narrower tires work better than the fat ones we used to run. The bigger diameter wheels on the Makulu 27.5 roll so fast and give so much more grip. Wide bars, better brakes and gears, it all makes for a lot more fun and I like it.

For most at the event the late morning was just spent waiting to do their qualifier, but I was very lucky and got to be interviewed by a German TV news station. I guess Germans find South Africans very interesting. They asked the usual questions about how I ended up moving and what the heck I would be doing in such a cold place, and then what I think of this country. I was cool to have my 5 minutes of fame. We even had a mini on track filming session on the track. Loads of fun!

Clip from TV riding shoot.

 

Being on German TV, Priceless!

Being on German TV, Priceless!

Qualies went well too. I didn’t really try to put down a super fast time, but rather tried to hit all my lines, at good speed, then rested in the easier parts. I must admit, I was tired, but thought I could still put in a fast run on race day. The rest of the day was spent looking around the sights of Thale and talking plans for the future of Bikepark Hahnenklee. I went to bed excited about things to come and hoping I could still hold on to the bars for the race.

Sunday, race day! The weather was amazing again and after a good breakfast, I headed up the track for one practice run before the race. I always try to do just one practice run on the morning of race day, to save energy for the main and to not get too overwhelmed by the day. Rosstrappe DH track had taken a beating over the course of the weekend. The lower part had some mean braking bumps and my arms and hands took a lot of strain. I’m not used to wearing arm and core protection to ride and I think it all started to take a toll, making me feel like a bit of a novice on that big track.

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Excuses aside, and after a good time talking to the crew from Thale, I headed up for my race run. The excitement of a UCI start gate clears the mind like nothing else. I took off out of the gate like a man on fire, hit the first double with good speed and into the next section fully committed. There is a funny natural jump into a rocky landing that comes up fast after that. I landed a bit off line and I think it was at that point that I started riding too reserved. I hit all my lines as I weaved down the hillside, but I just didn’t carry much speed. Towards the bottom I could hear my brakes start to squeal and knew I had been dragging them to much, loosing valuable seconds.

Eventually the finish area jump and mixed emotions. I knew I had not done a good time, but I was happy to finish my first race back after a long break, with no injuries and it was a good weekend all the same.

So onto some more training and looking forward to the 2016 Downhill and #Enduro season. I have to say a huge thank you to Fox Factory GmbH and Onza; through Cosmic Sports, for their support, and of course to Bikepark Hahnenklee and all involved here. And the biggest thank you has to go to Maik and his crew at Rosstrappe DH in Thale for all their help and for making me feel so welcome. Thank you all so much.

Till next time.

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