Cedric Gracia. What is there to say about the flamboyant Frenchman? Over the years he's been on top of the podium in downhill, 4X, Rampage and now even an enduro race. More than that though, while we haven't seen him on a World Cup podium in a while, he's still the one everyone is waiting for to come down the hill. He has always looked like he's having more fun than everyone else, both on and off the bike, and somehow it's infectious.
At the start of the 2012 season it was looking like he had found his best form in years, with fewer suicides over 60-footers and a return to raw pace. But in the second race at Val di Sole he went down hard in practice, ending his season, and as we find out below, very nearly a lot more. We caught up with him at the launch of Santa Cruz's V10c at Massa Vecchia in Italy to see him take his first runs on a downhill bike since his horrific crash, and chat with him about injury, recovery and having fun riding bicycles.
| This was as close as we could get to a serious portrait photo...| We have to start with your crash... Talk us through it.
What happened was basically a mechanical problem. When I found out it was already too late. My speed was increasing, and I tried to throw myself out of the bike, but it was off-camber. All of sudden, things were going way too quick and the only thing I saw was that if I went straight I was going to kill a cameraman and I didn't really want that... I tried to put myself behind the bike and to hold on, but with the G-forces, it basically threw me the opposite way and I was reversed in the track with my bike in my hand. I threw the bike and went head-toes, head-toes forwards and on the last impact I saw a big stump behind me, and I was thinking, "Will I clear it?" When I saw I was going to land with my back on the stump I got really scared and I grabbed my legs to do a bomb. I basically bombed into the stump and broke my hip.
I knew right away. I tried to get up and my body was just in two pieces. I didn't know the worst was yet to come. I knew my hip was broken, but I didn't know my artery was broken as well, that I was leaking blood everywhere. That's why in two days I almost died twice. Nobody knew it at the time, now I can say it because I'm alive hahaha, but I didn't want everybody to know. The first time I felt myself dying I knew it, I was warm, I wanted to sleep. They couldn't figure out what it was, why I was leaking, but after a while they looked and I only had three litres out of six left in my body because everything was going into my stomach. I couldn't pee, I couldn't breathe, none of my body was working any more. They couldn't see anything during the first surgery, so they brought me back for another surgery, and after two and a half hours they found the leaking problem, but I had already lost a lot of blood; I only had two litres left by then. Normally, if you only have two litres, you die. I managed to live, which was good. Then they tried to get my haemoglobin a little bit higher for the next surgery and they started to inject me with EPO and ferretin together for a week, just to keep me alive. After a week I told them to stop and I would eat as much meat as I could and after that they did the surgery.
| This is a photo many people, including Cedric himself, feared they would never see: him back on a downhill bike and having fun... This was his first time on a downhill bike since his crash and he looked to have lost none of his magic. (Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz/Gary Perkin)| It all sounds like a nightmare scenario.
That was f*cking horrible... Crashing, breaking bones I don't mind, but when you depend on people and they don't find what it is, the leaking problem, they don't know how to solve it because they don't have blood to do the transfusion, that's pretty bad. You just wait and hope somebody finds a solution. It's good now, I'm alive and I'm riding! I've heard there were problems getting you off the hill in the first place?
They didn't do too bad, it was hard, but they had to climb like a full wall. They made it, and after that they figured it out. When the guy looked at me and he had his hand on his head and he shook his head, when I looked at that guy, talking Italian that way I thought I was f*cked. I thought I was broken in four because he said "quattro", when really he said "quaranta" and there's a big difference. I was a big a*shole to manage, that's why it took nine hours in surgery to get all those bones into place in France. They tried, but they didn't know if it would work. There was another case like mine a year ago and the guy died on the table, because there was too much blood, that's the part of your body where you bleed the most. I got lucky, I didn't die. I guess nobody wanted me up there. They said, "Cedric? f*ck him, just leave him here so we can play our little harps, so when he comes up he'll be old and relaxed." We laugh now, but I wasn't laughing then. Some Italian guys tried to find my hospital and tried to bring me some compotes and apples, things like that as it was all I could eat. Reading the comments from my Facebook fans was maybe one of the best things I have ever seen, because I could see people were caring and it was cool. I had to fight.
| Popping over a tight rock section. (Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz/Gary Perkin)| How is the hip now?
It's good, I'm good. I got out of the hospital in a wheelchair, but it's been five months now. They told me after a year and a half I would be able to walk normally, but I would limp for sure and there was no way I could ride my bike because there would be too much stress on the pelvis. I thought, "f*ck, what am I going to do?" Day-by-day, I just thought, "I'm going to give as much as I could and if it works, it works. I'm not worrying about my life, but I want to ride bikes." I worked hard, I went to the gym every day until I passed out on the machines. The same in the swimming pool, just doing metres and metres and it unlocked my hip. After four months I got rid of the crutches and could walk alone. At first, I couldn't even remember how to walk, because I was laid in bed for a month and two weeks. I wasn't functioning properly. I lost all of my ass, I lost 17kgs, I looked like a piece of shit. I have photos and it's disgusting. Now, I'm back on my bike and almost back to normal. I'm still missing a lot of muscle, and I'm not really fit. Having seen you flying up a steep climb, you don't seem to be in too bad form.
I don't feel like it. Maybe because I'm starting from ground zero, but maybe my fitness and muscles are stronger than before. When I started to ride a month and a half ago, I thought, "I may as well go big or f*cking do something else." So I started climbing mountains and mountains. When I was at the top and felt good, I'd go down and do it again. I'd go home and I was so tired I was just falling asleep, because it was so much training all of sudden for my body. But it worked, because now I can push and I feel good. I lost a lot of technique, but this will come back with riding, and I'm not worried. Where I am today, and winning my first race four months after the hospital, I was pretty stoked to be in front of Fabien. I didn't know how I would do, I just went to that race with my wife and the dog to hang out and ride. I had a lot of fun, it was really cool, but if someone had told me before that I'd win, I wouldn't have trusted them because I was in a shit position. It's funny how quickly you forget where you were, especially when you're having a good time. When I got back on my downhill bike today I was expecting maybe to get scared on the downhill runs. The first run I went easy, and the second run I was already pinned. I was thinking, "What an idiot."
| He wasn't hanging around on his trail bike either.| Have you always trained this hard?
No, not really, before I was just smoking crack, hahaha. No, when I was young I didn't do much, I was just playing with my mates, playing Playstation with my mates and riding when I could. I always enjoyed riding, but I decided to train four years ago when I saw the level was getting higher and my age was not getting younger. I thought I'd better do something, and I enjoy training now. For me, it's just cool to be healthy, it's a lifestyle, I don't want to be a fat f*ck. It's a good reason for me to go drinking too; if I drink then I train hard to balance it out. Would you count yourself as a rider, or just a racer?
I always used to think I was just a racer, but f*ck... I've always enjoyed riding. In the beginning I was riding all-mountain trails, for me that was what riding was like ten years ago. I always liked that kind of ride, downhill was a luxury because you have a lift and can go and shred down. I think I always liked riding and I always will. When I'm done racing, done with everything with biking, I will still go riding by myself and with my friends. Biking is so cool, you're in the forest, you hang out. Hitting a berm sometimes can make a day incredible because you hit it just right. You close your eyes at night and think about how amazing that berm was. It's just a f*cking berm made of dirt, it's pretty amazing. I don't get this with other sports.
| Taking dinner with the guys from the Syndicate.| What do you ride when you're at home these day?
Between races, if the park at Vallnord is open, I ride the tracks in the bike park with the V10 or the Nomad, it depends if I want it to be rougher or more technical. Sometimes I take my enduro bike and I just go riding. I pick some softer trails to have a different feeling on the bike. When I was racing 4X I was taking my hardtail with two brakes up into the bike park and riding all the way down on it with no suspension. Just to get the feel, you can have fun looking for the best line. This helped me a lot in 4X - just doing something different as you can't do the same shit every day. It can be hard to take days off to let your body recover. You see all these people having fun and it's so hard not to touch it. You're saying to yourself "f*ck, f*ck, f*ck." It's like a drug, that's what I do, I ride as much as I can... You have to back off sometimes as you get tired, not of riding, but physically, you need to be fresh to race. After doing so well racing enduro in Spain, do you think it's something you'll do more of?
Yeah, I think it's my future. I didn't know that enduro was that much fun. I ride it and I don't feel like it's a competition for me, it's just having fun, so why not? I like downhill a lot, I will always ride downhill, but I think after a while it will be hard for me to compete with the big boys and then what I'm going to do is ride, ride, ride. I'm going to do more camps, do a lot of camps, because I think I need to teach some people and I think it's fun. I'll start to do enduro because there will be more races, and an international series - it could be really cool. But f*ck, I'll always ride big bikes, I will always ride big bikes just to jump big stuff. I hope I have them in my garage and every day have the luxury, the rich person's problem of going "Which bike am I going to take today?" I think this is a rich person's problem, being able to choose your bike and I am pretty fortunate to have four different bikes in my garage ready to go. I don't think many people have this chance. Especially when you have to buy them - that's being rich right there, I'm happy. I consider myself rich for the stuff I have for sure. Not in terms of money, but in terms of access the bike park, riding, quality of life and good friends. That's something money can't buy.
| Although not a Syndicate rider, Cedric is very close to the guys at Santa Cruz.| Have you thought much about what you'll do after you call time on your racing career?
Obviously, when you're sitting where I was sitting, you have to think about what you would do if you could not ride bikes. I will be working, I am lucky in that way, I have never been the guy who stays at home and does nothing. I have always felt kind of guilty to be paid to ride my bike, I always thought it was kind of unfair for people who don't have this chance. I always work - on my Facebook, on my email, on my team, with my sponsors. It takes a lot of time every day, it's a full day and I don't have weekends as I'm racing. I don't have summer, I didn't have summer for fifteen years of racing. People go to the beach, have fun, get wasted, I don't. But... It's so much more that I have right now, coming to somewhere like here, Massa Vecchia in Tuscany, it's priceless. I need a job when I'm done riding my bike as I have too much energy and I think I have too much to give. I don't want to be an idiot, I need to keep using my head. I don't know if I will always work in mountain biking, there is a lot of interesting work, but whatever I do will involve riding. It strikes me that you don't seem to take any of your success for granted.
I was educated like this. My mum would f*cking kill me if I was thinking like that and my dad would take my balls off. No way. It's all about education, it doesn't matter if you're from a rich family or not, I'm not, everything you have, you have to appreciate it. If you don't you're an idiot. I meet a lot of people who have lots of money and they're pretty f*cking cool, but I've also met a lot of a*sholes with a lot of money too. In mountain biking we're pretty safe, most people understand the riding is what's important. But for sure, a lot of people at the top of the World Cup, when you see the attitudes of some of them, they think they are the shit and nothing can happen to them. That makes me sad and I usually don't talk to those guys. Too cool for school? F*ck you, get out of here, don't even talk to me... I don't have time for this, hahaha.
| Don't leave your phone with CG...| Has your career changed as you've got older?
I have more time now to meet people than I have ever had. Yesterday night was so awesome, to meet all the fans here in Tuscany. They were so stoked and just to see the smile on people's faces is enough, that's worth a lot. People buy your products, especially products you've been working hard on and to see them stoked makes me proud. It's fun to see people interested in what you're doing, it's awesome - I'm a happy guy.
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