The World Cup downhill circuit has definitely become a bit larger than life over the past few years. With Red Bull pouring money into live broadcasts, web outlets pushing for strong photo and editorial content, and teams of all sizes employing photographers and videographers to tell the story, the excitement from each rounds is very much up in everyone's face whether you like it or not. And while maybe not as big time as it was in the late 90's it's getting pretty damn close with each passing season.
With all of this added attention to the biggest and the best, we often overlook what is going on at the other end of the paddock. Overshadowed by massive factory team trucks and pit setups, the majority of the World Cup field is on a do-it-yourself program with little more than a shoestring budget. In Fort William and Leogang there were over 200 riders competing for just 80 spots in the pro men's final. Add to that the impressive number of juniors and women and you have what equates to the population of a small village traveling from round to round and setting up camp in the parking lot week in and week out.
From expensive motor homes, to $1500 vans and everything in between. There are fathers & sons, husbands & wives, and groups off good friends trying to live the dream on the road. From makeshift repairs to stranded vehicles and the bitter taste of just missing out, we take a quick walk through the privateer side of things to give some insight into what it's all about.
| Often times this is the image we see of the World Cup. Huge team rigs, elaborate pits, and every detail accounted for so that riders need only to focus on racing.|
| While it's no easy task to assemble such a setup week in and week out, once complete it offers factory riders their own home away from home.|
As the setups of the big teams keep getting bigger and bigger, and sponsorship budgets often times not reaching outside the top 20, it takes some clever planning and a unique lifestyle for the dedicated up and coming riders who are looking to make a name for themselves on the World Cup circuit. While definitely not as glamorous as a full factory ride, and with many many unforeseen challenges along the way, it is the privateers who truly make up the backbone of our sport.
| A quick walk to the other end of the pit row and things begin to take on a completely different look. At least 3 to 4 privateer pits and as many times the riders squeeze into the same size space as a single factory team.|
| It's all about self sufficiency for many privateers and often times it all about being sure the basics are covered. Sometimes that means just having a soft place to sit while enjoying a home cooked meal.|
It's all about having the basics covered. Food, water and shelter being the most obvious of course, but often times this is easier said then done. When your main form of transport doubles as your pit space it isn't so simple to drive to the grocery store or nearest restaurant, and when a storm rolls though you had better have a way to stay dry and keep everything from blowing away. For this reason the go-to privateer setup these days seems to be converted vans. While some have the budget for full on motor homes, more often then not it's more of a do it yourself and build your own style that is most common.
| For most riders following the World Cup on a limited budget, the van conversion seems to be the top choice. Transport, storage, and accommodation all rolled into one.|
| It's all about being able to roll with the punches and improvising. Strong storms and wind in Leogang had many scrambling to do what they could to keep things secured to the ground.|
| With a bed and a kitchen, all these guys need to do is put up their tent once they're through with their sun tans.|
Sometimes when far from home for weeks at a time in a foreign country, it's all about trying to find some sense of normalcy and just a little, if any comforts that remind you of home. Access to wifi is limited so communication with loved ones can be difficult, as can staying on top of current events around the world and in you own country. For many there is definitely a sense of being cut off from the outside world.
| While Austria is a long way from home for Brazilian Bernardo Cruz, thanks to the Shimano pits he could still stay abreast of what was happening in his home country and a different World Cup.|
| Back to improvisation and covering the basics. A river next to the pits and ample sunshine in Leogang meant it was time to do laundry after a week in Scotland. Dave McMillan knows even privateers need to keep their whites bright.|
| Dave McMillan in action at Leogang.|
| McMillan has been at it a few seasons now and his setup is dialed. $1500 plus a few do it yourself upgrades and you have all that you need. Almost.|
| This is my vote for the best use of space and resources. Work station, gear storage, and laundry all in a 5x10 space.|
| The Banshee team has prime pit space right in front of the host hotel. As soon as the media center opens up and someone gives them the wifi password they'll be even more dialed.|
While there is definitely a stark contrast between the factory pits and the privateers, there are a few teams out there who blur the lines a bit. Team's like Dirt/Orange, Begamont Hayes, and Pivot all have some degree of industry backing to help with some cost and logistics, but in the end they are still very much out there on their own.
| A few teams blur the lines between factory and privateer. Ben Reid's Dirt Orange team has a super pro setup, but looks can be deceiving. They are still self supported.|
| After a season of going it 100% alone, Harry Heath is more than keen on this season's setup and for the help of Ben Reid running everything behind the scenes.|
| Transportation from venue to venue is always a bit of a challenge for privateers. Eddie Masters, running his own team this year with Bergamont and Hayes, enjoys 17 hours of isolation with his friends on a boat from England to Amsterdam.|
| Room with a view, if not space, out on the open ocean.|
| Bergamont Hayes rider Casey Brown.|
| In addition to Casey Brown, the Bergamont Hayes team supports Eddie Masters and Jack Moir, making them one of the strongest privateer teams on the circuit. Their speed on track and antics off make them a must watch.|
| Privateer life on the road is what you make of it, and Jr. rider Aiden Varley is doing it right. Father and son traveling the World Cup series in van they bought from Sam Dale a few weeks back. With a few improvements of course.|
| Aiden Varley in Fort William.|
| There is a reason there's no photo pf the Pivot Cycles pits as sometimes transportation gets the best of you. After flying through the air in Fort William, Bernard Kerr and his Pivot Cycles team ran into van troubles en route to Leogang.|
| After multiple tow trucks and two extra days of travel, Bernard, Micayla Gatto and Eliot Jackson finally made it to Leogang just in time.|
Privateer life is all about rolling with the punches, improvisation, and looking out for each other. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst the privateers, and while I wouldn't suggest that their isn't amongst the top riders as well, it is just simply different at the other end of the spectrum. Lots of favors are given and owed over the course of a weekend and riders do what they can to help their fellow competitor out.
| When your pits space is also your main form of transport, and with multiple bikes and riders sharing one or no vehicle for the weekend, you have to get creative to move gear around town.|
| It's not uncommon to see riders doubled up on whatever ride they can find at the end of the day.|
It's not just the riders looking to get by with a little help from their friends.
| Let's be honest here, us photographers are privateers as well and share in the same challenges while on the road. Luckily for Matt Delorme and Paris Gore they had one of Greg Minnaar's old motorcycles to commute to work each day in South Africa.|
| Back to self sufficiency. When something breaks you have to fix it. If you are lucky you might even get a friends to help. With limited practice times for riders outside the top 80, quick repairs are imperative to be able to get enough time on track before qualifying.|
| When you don't have the resources you need, it's time to start asking around for help. A quick walk through the factory pits at night and you will see many a prvateer working out of the big rigs|
| If you don't have a mechanic and something breaks you do whatever it takes to find a fix on your own.|
| Some privateer's are even lucky enough to have a mechanic along for the ride. When weather gets gnarly this can be a massive help to share the workload.|
Regardless of setup or budget it still comes down one common goal, and that is to compete and to race at the highest level. With fields pushing 200 riders and only 80 spots open for the finals, competition is stiff and all riders need to bring their A-Game to qualifying if they stand a chance to make the final cup. Travel nightmares, sleepless nights, dirty gear, and lingering injuries all take a back seat with your in the starting gate. Once those final 5 beeps begin, all is forgotten. Nothing else matters, that's the beauty of racing.
| In the end it's still all about racing, and every rider out there wants it as much as the next. But this is the World Cup and making the top 80 is incredibly hard. In Leogang, Portuguese National Champ, Francisco Pardal, had to swallow the toughest pills of them all. 81st in qualifying just one place and .5 seconds away from making the big show.|
| If ever there was a theme to privateer life on the World Cup this is it, written on the top tube of Dave McMillan's Specialized.|
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