An electric season sparked off back in July with Gee Atherton setting the new standard in the heather of the Scottish highlands. Stevie Smith crossed the line 1.36 seconds behind for 3rd. Next up was hot and dusty Val Di Sole, scene of Atherton's World Champs victory. Here, Smith would be evicted from the hot-seat by his rival in seemingly unstoppable form, by 1 second flat. The fresh, steep pastures of Andorra brought a surprise winner, and Gee was knocked down a peg, but still ahead of Smith in 4th, by 0.92 seconds. In Smith's home territory of Canada, a new chapter of domination began in his favor, with a win over Atherton of 0.9 seconds, in those adversely biased conditions. After a miss for both riders at the World Championships in South Africa and no clear inspiration gained for either party, Norway beckoned and it was Smith all the way in the torrential rain. Gee came to an abrupt halt and lost 8.4 seconds to Smith and spruce.
Here we are just one week later in early autumn of Austria, staring down the barrel of the final round and it's all to play for, fully neck and neck. Gee leaves the qualifying start hut on 966 points and Smith trails by just 17 in the overall standings. Although it may count for nothing, Smith in fact leads the series in time, approximately 6.02 seconds the leader. The race starts with qualifying tomorrow afternoon and whether someone else can take top spot and go on to seal the final is irrelevant. Gee Atherton or Stevie Smith is your 2013 DH World Cup Series victor. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment of the 2013 season?
|I am most happy with two things this year: My consistency and also winning Mont St Anne. MSA was really special to me because it was the home race and one of the coolest and oldest tracks. With the history there I was really excited to win that one. I've had my best race season ever and feel really consistent at the moment - Stevie Smith - Devinci Global Racing | What has been the key to your increasing levels of success?
|Fort William. Winning on home ground. It wasn't like I wanted to peak for it as a stand out point in the season, but I went in with a will to win and that's a huge drive I think - Gee Atherton - Atherton Racing |
|Every year I've just gone better and better... I think maybe it's just being a slow learner and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Even when I accomplished something like last year when I won my first ever world cup and had a good overall - even though that was the dream years ago to finish where I did - every time I achieve something like that I just want to do better and so it's motivated me each winter - Stevie | Have you changed your approach to racing in recent times?
|It's a case of getting all the small elements dialed in. I think I've had quite a few seasons where I've come in feeling good and strong and fit, but then whether it's been not the right bike underneath me or an injury at the start of the season...there's always been something there to hold me back. To do well in a world cup season you have to have all these different elements dialed. You have to have a good team around you, a great bike underneath you and for me this year that's what it's all been about - Gee |
|I wouldn't say my approach has changed... I still try to keep it fun, put the work in when I'm at home and enjoy the racing - Stevie | How are you handling, what most would consider, a huge amount of pressure for Sunday?
|I'm not one of these people who likes to get into their comfort zone and stick with it. I'm always trying to change things up, do new things, do something different, you know even if something's working for me I'll mix it up just to see. I think it's easy to slip into that comfort zone and get stuck in a rut so I always make sure I'm changing things. Whether it's the training, approach to races or even approach to the season and this year's definitely working out I think - Gee |
|The only reason the pressure is on my mind is because everybody's saying so, but other than that it's good, I'm not too worried. In the end I could not even race this weekend and still have my best ever overall finish. Obviously I wouldn't be satisfied at that, but it can only be positive from here on so I'm definitely looking forward to Sunday and not overly concerned - Stevie | Are you thinking about your ‘opponent’ and if so will there be a point where you shut him out?
|Just like I always do. Every race there's pressure on you to do well, but that's what we do, that's what we love...racing. Performing under that pressure. I relish it for sure, I love racing with that on my back and Sunday's no different to any other world cup for me. When I race without the need to do well I can't perform and that shows at smaller races when I can struggle to motivate myself and step up to the mark. When it's a bigger, more important race for me it definitely changes the way I ride...I just make sure I'm on key you know - Gee |
|This is the same race as any to me, the only difference is that because it's at the end, everyone puts all the stress on it. When it comes down to it I just have to ride great like it was the first race of the year. If you think about the other racers and the guy you gotta beat you're in the wrong head-space. I'm just going to perform as well as I can here and hopefully that's good enough - Stevie | In your race run will you ride at your absolute limit?
|No - Gee |
|It's hard to say. I can get last place and still finish 2nd in the overall, but in the end I don't necessarily want to have an average run. If you put 100% in there's a good chance you're gonna crash, so you have to find that fine line - Stevie | When the beeps start what will be in your head?
|I'll be on it. Same as ever, you can't race a world cup these days unless you're charging 100%. I wouldn't want to go into any world cup at half-mast - Gee |
|That's a hard one to describe because I find I definitely think a lot before the race. When it comes to it and you've prepared properly beforehand, it's all going to come together in the race, and that always seems to happen for me. I have things going through my head in the start gate, but then once I take my first pedal stroke all that stuff's gone and it's just charge and focus - Stevie |
|'Time to bloody go'... You're racing your bike down technical, steep, muddy roots with all the trees, rocks and jumps... A split second of absent mindedness is gonna put you in hospital. You've gotta be totally focused and on top of it. It's not an easy thing what we do... you learn how to deal with it. You learn how to race well. And I like to think I've got it dialed now - Gee |