You have travelled extensively: Where is your favourite destination for riding?
I think New Zealand. With the two islands you have a lot of variety. On the North Island you can ride in the forest, jungle, and technical slow trails. On the South Island there are good bike parks like Queenstown, and also a lot of natural trails, both open and Alpine stuff; a good mix. And you can go riding in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon, which you can do in South Africa too.
This is your second time to South Africa. What trails have you ridden during your trip and have you enjoyed them?
I liked Tokai, when I was here on my first trip. It was my backyard when I was staying here for three weeks, but this time it’s not open yet. It’s a good reason to come back.This trip I have ridden at Jonkershoek, Grabouw, Helderberg, and just below Table Mountain at Rhodes Memorial and the cable station.
So is Tokai comparable with the world class trails you have been exposed to?
Yes, I really liked the flow we had at Tokai, it has a good gradient, a nice climb, and I could do good training. The downhills are nice and technical but still with good flow. It’s not flat like some bike parks, the trails had rocks and roots, and baboons to avoid.
Photo credit: Jeremie Reuiller. How did you get into enduro?
I started riding bikes because I was doing cross country skiing and my trainer was doing mountain biking in the summer, so instead of running only he suggested a bit of mountain biking. I ended up doing a bit of everything. I liked both cross-country and downhill.When I turned 15, the only race that existed that combined the two was Megavalanche, and it became my main focus of the season. In 2006, we had the first Enduro National Series, and when that appeared I left downhill and cross-country and went to that full time.
You have won Megavalanche three times- what is the secret to winning this event?
Firstly, you have to be a little bit crazy at the start. I often say that you don’t win the race on the glacier, but for sure you lose it. The key point is to be in the top five at the end of the glacier. Then afterwards its forty minutes of downhill with some very physical sections so you have to minimise your mistakes and be able to ride fast for 40 minutes downhill. So it is important to be able to ride fast downhill when you are very tired.
How much fitness and training goes into preparation for a race?
Training is getting more and more important every year. I do gym, cross country skiing, dirt jumping, and I spend a lot of time on the road. This year I am also going to start with some motorbike- I haven’t done that before.
Mentally, is there anything you do to focus before a big stage? How do you deal with the pressure?
The hardest part for me is probably the practice. For two days of practice and one day of racing you have to be focussed all the time. I try to be really precise with what I do in practice ad to remember the key points. I then focus on what I learned in practice, so that when I start a stage there is only one thing in my mind, and that is what I should remember for that stage. When you start your race run you can’t think of anything else.Sometimes when something is really sketchy, instead of going full gas, I sit back a little bit. I might lose 1 or 2 seconds but at least I can ride confidently and I will not be focussed on this part of the trail the entire way down. Then I can ride fast and not be worried about a specific section.
Everyday riders and privateers can come and ride an EWS event. Is that something you like?
For me, that is the root of the sport and its success because when you go to an event any weekend warrior can race with the top guys. They spend the day outside together, the same rules apply, there is no advantage. That for me is a key point to keep.World Series races are getting harder and more people may need to do some races beforehand. Some people were racing their first race ever at the World Series and that may be too much. Some kind of selection may be necessary for safety and to ensure that the speed differences are not too big. EWS are working on a ranking system and qualification events.
Photo credit: Jeremie Reuiller. Has enduro influenced the way bikes are designed?
Maybe the other way round? I think both. When people start riding mountain bikes often what they want to do is climb up the hill - no matter how they climb - and then have fun on the downhill. That basically is enduro, you climb up, and find a fun way to go down. So the bikes were already designed. With technology progressing, we have more and more parts that are enduro specific, but you can also fit them on any kind of bike. For example: dropper posts were originally made for enduro, but I have one on my cross country bike, and Julian Absalon and some of the XCO guys, they use them for cross country now. Bikes are changing a lot, more and more things are getting lighter and stronger, with more travel to give riders a better experience.
Photo credit: Jeremie Reuiller. You are riding a Cannondale Jekyll prototype. Is that something you work with Cannondale to develop or do they design it and give it to you to test?
The riders have been involved in the development of the bike for almost two years.First we sit down with the product manager and talk about the good points of the bike, and what we would like to improve, what we have seen on other bikes and would like to try. It’s all about geometries and suspension design, so that’s all paper and numbers. Then the engineer works on our feedback and they come with a prototype that we can test and give them feedback to make some changes. So the company and the engineers have some ideas about where they want to go, what they want, and what the market wants, but they also listen to the rider, and our feedback. I think it is quite essential for them. Cannondale is a racing brand, and they use their racers in their programs to develop the bike and make a better bike, whether in cross country or enduro. So yes, we are very involved, and it is interesting to work with companies like that to try and develop a better bike every year.