Every rider trains hard to start a race season fit and strong but the ultimate goal and the focus point of that training is to be in perfect shape for the World Championships in September. This season more than ever, that fitness would be key when added to all the other ingredients, in the hunt for glory.
The Pietermaritzburg (PMB) track combines a test of skill at the top, a test of power output in the middle and a test of everything combined at the bottom including endurance as the not so steep hillside takes it’s toll on the legs and lungs.
Preparation for World Champs started long a go with the bike, the Saracen design team always pushing to refine the Myst would have the 2014 frame ready for the guys, Fox suspension supplied the factory Float 40 suspension fork and testing in the spring was done with a Fox factory air shock. Next up we put together a list of all the key components from our other awesome sponsors and looked at where we could shave some more weight. PRO carbon seat post and saddle, titanium bolts all round. The best Shimano products available as usual and finally of course the attention to detail that is team mechanic Alex Lovett. He worked day and night to configure, prepare and build his masterpiece of the season. Over 4lb lighter than Manon’s race bike of the previous year, this was a one off bike, made for one racetrack and one purpose.
A season peppered with the toughest courses in the World and a tight schedule of racing, meant injury was always a possibility. It struck our junior rider Phil Atwill right in the middle of the season and despite everyone’s efforts to get him fit and strong again and to keep him focused on the season, it was a tight call and he had to miss two World Cup races on the run into the World Champs. Alan Milway had him working hard on a specific programme that allowed him to train every inch of his body that he could whilst the bone and joint in his hand was healing. Manon stayed injury free and improved week on week getting closer to that elusive World Cup win. More focused, better prepared and in in top form, we boarded a plane to South Africa…
The World Championships is spread across a full weeks schedule, with all the MTB disciplines coming together, there’s a lot to fit in. This year it seemed it was all about the early starts! 3hr practice slots each day to start with and then an hour and a half on the big day. Both Manon and Phil had been to PMB before and soon got into their groove. Loving the bikes, they soon found their settings and worked on getting up to speed. Everything was looking positive for Sunday.
So there we were Sunday morning, race day of the World Championships, in South Africa, walking through the early morning frost in the car park looking at the blue skies. It was going to be a hot day and we were ready.
Phil was first up and the rest of the team gathered at the bottom of the hill to cheer him home. His top split time was just a little down, so now it was down to his legs and the pedal across the infamous middle section of the PMB track. As we looked at the big screen he shot into view, down through the woods and into the final valley. Big step-downs and the moneymaker hip jump that launches the riders into the cauldron of spectators at the bottom of the hill. He lunged for the line but sadly it wasn’t going to be his day. An awesome effort considering he’d sat out 8 weeks of racing at a difficult time but 11th place was obviously not what he was after and the disappointment showed.
Manon was next and with the early runners coming down the hill, all eyes looked to the TV screen and the timing board to see how things were playing out. Tracy Hannah was in the hot seat with the top four ranked World Cup riders to go. Morgan Charre was next up but the 2012 World Champion couldn’t find the speed to defend her title and it was Manon’s turn now. She flew out the start hut and down the first section of rocks, heading out of sight of the first camera, all eyes switched to the timing board and the first split… the time ticked on and it was clear there was an issue, she was well down at split 1 and even further back at split two. A big crash on the top section of the course had claimed a cameraman, a black eye and a World Championship dream.
When so much hard work goes into one event, it’s tough when the four minute window of opportunity to get it right doesn’t quite come together but that’s what makes the sport so exciting and that’s what makes the victories so special when they come along and we are quite sure they will again soon for Phil and Manon.
No rest for the wicked, it’s straight on to Norway and Leogang for the final World Cup races of the season…Photography: Laurence Crossman-Emms // www.laurence-ce.comMadison.ccSaracen.co.uk