CHARACTERS 13: MARK WALLACE - THE SPARTAN
Story by Riley McIntosh // Photos by Margus Riga
|Discipline is choosing between what you want right now and what you want the most.- Lao Tzu| We are both from Maple Bay, British Columbia, and I have been watching you develop into a fast rider for a long time. How did it all start for you?
|I've always known Mark Wallace because we grew up close together in Maple Bay. However, since he's 11 years younger than me I never really spent much time with him and left for Nelson when he was still little. However, over the years my brother Kelyn who is closer to Mark's age would give me reports on Mark's progress as a rider. Over the phone, Kelyn would tell me things like: ''You should see how many bridges and jumps Mark has in his yard, it's insane.'' And then a few months later I'd hear: ''Mark can do backflips and no foot cans now.'' Nowadays, I spend a ton of time with Mark since he is working for my trail building company two days a week and we ride lots. It's really exciting to see him riding at the World Cup level and I find it extremely motivating. I'm trying to learn from his spartan-like discipline and will even say to myself, ''What would Mark do?'' when I want to skip doing push-ups and watch a movie and eat a bag of chips instead!- Riley McIntosh|
I started riding in my driveway like most kids, my parents would go and ride during the weekends on Mt Tzouhalem which is about a one minute pedal from our house. When I was about three and a half I decided I wanted to start going too, still with my training wheels. The training wheels caused an issue on trails with ruts though, they would hold the back wheel off the ground and I only had a rear brake so I couldn't slow down, but my Dad took them off pretty quick after we discovered that. As I got older we went higher up the mountain, when I was five my Dad and I would go to the top every Tuesday after kindergarten. From there I started building ramps and jumps in my yard and had a couple trips to Whistler under my belt by the time I was 10. Until about 2008 I wanted to be a freerider but then got introduced to Andrew Mitchell, who was Canadian National DH Champion a couple times. We went riding one day and he told me to try downhill racing. So in 2009 I did. Andrew Mitchell was my first coach and played a huge role in my early years. You have had some big results for only 19 years old, especially 20th in Senior Men’s at the DH World Champs this year. Where do you want to take this over the next few years?
I want to keep getting better, for 2015 I’m looking to improve on where 2014 left off and hopefully get close to a top 10 once or twice. I’m most proud of my result at Mt. St. Anne in 2014, it’s a really long track, challenging, and it has a bit of everything in it. It was sweet to do well in Canada too! I felt a bit more pressure to do well there because of that. I was also on the live feed for the first time because I qualified 24th, It felt cool to be at the top with the top 30 guys in the world for that race, and when you are up there at the top part of the Gondola, it's super noisy, there is noise from everyone’s trainer, it was kind of an intimidating atmosphere. My hands were shaking so much trying to put my gloves on I could barely get them on. Nigel, our mechanic, was laughing at me. I warmed up close to Loic Bruni, George Brannigan, Sam Blenkinsop, and Brook Macdonald, we chatted a bit but I was pretty nervous. George Brannigan clapped me on the shoulder and said “Good to see you up here so late in the game” which helped. Once the clock ticked down, I felt pretty relieved to be honest, just too finally get going and get into my run. I felt fast through the first split and the run just kept getting better! I was really happy to get my best World Cup result especially since Steve hurt his other ankle in timed practice, so it felt good to kind of put my best foot forward for the team. When did you start riding with Steve Smith? How has your relationship with him affected your riding career?
Back in 2010 I saw him lots at Mt. Prevost, he would be riding with his crew and I’d be with mine, and eventually our crews sort of molded together. I think once I got up to speed I just naturally started riding with Steve. I met him at the end of 2010, through riding Prevost. I rode DH a few times with him that winter and since then it’s been a pretty regular thing. The first run I ever did with Steve I hit the big creep gap on Patchworx, went too big, nose wheelied straight into the catcher berm and tomahawked into the bush. Steve and Remi told me later they thought I was trying to impress them, and riding over my head, but I’d actually hit that jump lots already but of course had a big crash my first run with the big boys! Later, Steve also introduced me to Gabe Fox at Devinci and Todd Schumlick at PerformX, and Mike Redding at Fox. All three of them have had a massive impact on my racing. When you are riding with Steve, he is always pushing his limits and encourages everyone else to do the same all the time. I thought it was a bit weird at first how casual he could be about sending huge jumps for the first time but after a few years I realized he just trusts himself. That is probably the most important thing he has shown me; you have to have confidence in everything, from your training to your bike to your ability. You grew up in the Cowichan Valley. What trails did you first start riding on? What are your favourite trails?
My family and I used to ride what we called ‘The Loop’ it was a flowy cross country style trail maybe a few kilometers long that we could go do right from the house. Unfortunately that area is under development now. I started going up there without my parents and just with my friends when I was about nine. I had a Norco Illiminator with a 24” front wheel and a 20” rear wheel. I used to do tons of jumps when I was like 4 years old and still had training wheels. I started to get more serious by building 10 foot gaps when I was seven or eight. In grade 4 my Dad helped me build a six foot wood to wood drop in the yard, I would just do laps on it and hit it over and over. The first time I tried it, it went perfect, but the second time I ate shit. I still use that lesson now, ‘Just because it worked once perfectly doesn’t mean it will be perfect the second time.’ Now I enjoy riding trails all over the Cowichan Valley, Double D and Mad Dog on Tzouhalem, Maple Syrup on Maple Mountain for XC and then all the DH trails on Prevost, they are all amazing, and you can ride year round here so it doesn’t get any better.
Describe the three most memorable sections out of all the race courses last year?
|Beneath Mark's slightly boyish and easy going exterior there's a guy with a deep maturity and sometimes uncomfortable amount of confidence. When you see him ride you know it's because he's got some serious 'Man Speed.' One thing I like most about Mark is that he doesn't give a shit about looking or acting cool. He seems just as happy to hang out with his family than his friends, as long as he can go ride his bike, he's content.-Miranda Miller, World Cup DH Racer|
Definitely the jumps at the top of the Norway course, they flow so well, and it’s a really fun natural way to get into a race run, it gets you pumped and feeling fast right away. Val di Sole is gnarly, the entire track you are kind of on the edge, you always have to be on it and there is a ton to remember and a lot coming at you. The Canadian Open course at Crankworx, the last jump, is really long, like sixty feet, you are hitting it so fast, right as you take off the lip you just see the big crowd and as soon as you are in the air you just know your good to go and the race run is over. This season was pretty successful for you, although at Nationals you didn’t do so well. What was the deal with that?
Yeah I finished 11th, which I was very disappointed with. I didn’t crash, I didn’t flat, I just wasn’t fast enough for some weird reason. My goal was to win, although I would’ve been happy with 2nd since Steve was there. I’d won the National jersey for my categories for the last three years in a row, so I really wanted to make it four in a row. I didn’t have the kind of weekend where everything was going bad, it was just kind of normal. The course was quite a bit easier from the year before, which maybe almost hurt me because I seem to usually do better on the more difficult tracks. I really don’t know why I had such a poor run, I felt like my run was ok so I was really disappointed. It was a weird one for me, because I can’t really even say I learned a lesson from it, expect that sometimes the race just doesn’t go great and it can be tough to find the reason. I’m glad that Nationals are there again in 2015, so that I can have a chance to make up for it.
Do you have strengths or weaknesses as a rider? Like Sam Hill is known for how good he goes on technical tracks but suffers on pedaling courses, or Danny Hart seems to go really well in the rain. From your racing in 2014, do you feel like you have certain things you’re really happy with and other things you really know you have to work on?
|The other day I crashed really hard riding Mt.Prevost with Mark. I dislocated my thumb and was sore for days. Mark told me he did the exact same thing a few weeks before but brushed it off. I think Mark is so disciplined and trains so hard that he has prepared himself to be the best. -Remi Gauvin, World Cup DH Racer|
I seem to do better on the more difficult technical tracks. I know I need to work on the more bike park style tracks, the ones with lots of berms and all that, like the A-line race. I suck at the A-line race for some reason. I don’t think it’s a fitness thing because I can race Garbo or Mt. Sainte Anne and still be good by the bottom. It seems like racing on bike park style trails I suffer a bit for some reason. Some riders seem to be able to do it all, like transfer from rain to dry really well, for example like Sam Hill in his 2007 Champery rain run, considering he is from a very dry country. It’s weird because you’d think it would be easy to go really fast on the easier trails, but I seem to struggle with the easier trails and excel on the gnarlier ones, which isn’t a bad thing. But I’m just getting started as a World Cup racer so hopefully in the next few years I start to answer these questions for myself. I think I need to improve on generating speed in areas that are flatter but you can’t be pedaling, so pumping and carrying speed through corners, these are things I know I need to work on. When was your first DH race, where was it, and how did it go?
First DH race was an Island Cup at Cumberland in 2009, I was 3rd place in beginner men. I was 14 years old, on a Norco B-Line with 24 inch wheels. I wasn’t very tall back then, I was one of the shortest kids in my class in grade nine. The year before, a kid I was riding with a bunch, Trevor Thew, had done a bunch of races, and he was always talking about how cool racing was. None of us were riding Prevost yet, we were mostly going up Tzouhalem at that point and building jumps and stuff. I didn’t start riding Prevost until the spring of 2010. I remember being super scared the entire first year of going up there, I had to mentally prepare for it! We mostly started riding the Race Trail, Memphis, and Patchworx on Prevost, but over the last several years Prevost has changed so much. When I first started riding up there, there was just the four main trails and now there are connector trails, new trails, upper trails, it’s turned into way more of a downhill trail network so there are tons of options and endless new jumps for us to discover. I think having Steve Smith being up Prevost so much has really affected how seriously everyone else takes their downhill riding and has led to lots more motivated builders and riders. Tell me about 3 of your favourite racing moments.
2012 Canadian Open, I got 5th place, it was a pretty big surprise and I was on the podium with a bunch of top riders. Halfjell 2013 was a good weekend, I got my first World Cup junior podium with a 3rd and Steve won the men’s race. Mont Sainte Anne 2014 I qualified 24th, it was my first time on the live feed, I was able to finish 23rd in the finals for best World Cup result yet and it was a race in Canada which made it ever better.
|It's been amazing being part of Mark's journey in mountain bike racing. The DH riders are so friendly to everyone and supportive of each other. It's been easy to get to know so many of them. I enjoy looking back over the six years since Mark's first race and remembering all the places, people, and experiences we've shared. He's been fortunate to have had so many more highs than lows, but I suppose that's what his dedication and hard work have given him. There are so many people to thank for their support but I'd like to thank Linda and Jillian for always helping Mark and I get to the races, I also want to think my son for always being himself and constantly focusing on the positive side of life. I have learned so much about myself from being with him.-Ian Wallace, Mark's Dad| What is your favourite World Cup track?
|Any of the times I have been fortunate enough to get to work with Mark, it is easy to spot the qualities that are building him into a champion. Beyond his impressive talents on the bike, which makes photoshoots easy, he has a good 'Canadian' demeanour about him, which will go far into making him one that will go to the top!-Sterling Lorence, Photographer|
Val Di Sole is my favourite because it’s so steep and the dirt doesn’t have much consistency so it’s changing all the time, it’s all in the trees and you just have to bring your A-game. Apart from Val Di Sole, Hafjell, and Sainte Anne are at the top of my list too. I also really liked Andorra, it’s just such a neat spot, but every spot is so unique, in Norway I love the scenery and old houses with grass roofs. Sainte Anne is cool because there are golf courses, a go cart track and a really rad waterfall swimming spot, not that I really have time to go enjoy that stuff because I was so busy with race preparation. How has it been racing for Devinci? Are you now on the full World Cup team?
Racing for Devinci has been awesome, I’m so glad to be a part of the program and can’t thank everyone involved enough. It’s a fairly small company and they make sure to be very personal, which is really good, I get to talk to the Engineers, and even the owner Felix all the time. I’ve been to the factory which is surprisingly fun, usually when I’m riding I don’t really think about what has gone into creating my bike and where it came from, but now I view my bikes in a different way and appreciate them a lot more. In 2012 I traveled with Devinci for 2 weeks and got to hang out with Gianluca, George, and Nick Beer, and that was all part of my first trip to Europe so that felt like a big step to learn about racing and traveling and they’d all been doing it all season and were really welcoming. For 2015 I’m fully supported and racing every World Cup and it feels good to know I’m going to every race. You guys have tons of 'alternate jumps' on Prevost, basically new lines not many people are stupid enough to try. You guys double stuff, triple stuff, find ways to jump stuff that doesn’t really have a takeoff or landing, it’s quite the thing to witness firsthand. Who finds them more, you or Steve?
Usually it’s always been Steve who sees them and jumps them first. He loves to push his limits, the most obvious way to do that is to jump new things on the trails we have ridden countless times. It is a bit of a game of who can find crazy new jumps on the trails, right now we are tied, but he has always been the one to step up the game and find a new challenge.
What was your scariest moment during a race?
|I've really loved watching Mark's progress over the past few years. When we started riding I was pushing him off any gnarly thing I could find and these days we are still finding new things to do up on Mt. Prevost and he even beats me to the punch sometimes. Mark is definitely the most fun riding buddy I've ever had, and makes for a perfect team mate.-Steve Smith, World Cup DH Racer|
The entire race run at the Valparaiso Urban DH. It was the first street race I’d ever done so I didn’t know what to expect. There were people and dogs everywhere. I hung out lots with Mick and Tracey Hannah, and did practice runs with Bernado Cruz, Guillaume Cauvin, and Remy Metailler. I think a lot of the other riders had more experience with the street races. I didn’t know what the hell was going on most of the time and even missed some of the practice. I was down at the bottom, everything kept getting delayed because there were so many spectators. Riders started coming down and I was like shit I guess practice started so I jumped in a truck shuttle as quick as I could and got up there for practice. I have a photo from track walk where I’m looking at the course and have eight different dogs in the shot, that are walking on the track! The immensity of the crowd was really amazing, going to Valparaiso was a really special experience, especially since it was in February so it was kind of just like this one off race in the middle of winter in a foreign country. How do you truly 'train' for going that fast? Do you mostly ride at super high race speed or just do chill runs and then turn it up every few runs?
I usually just ride the way I want to for that run or that day. Sometimes I will make an effort to try to do a couple “race runs” just for practice but usually I just ride to enjoy it. The best days are always the ones where your own limits are pushed anyways so that’s the aim I guess. When you are racing, is it full on 110% or do you ride smart and careful? What is race brain?
For me, in the start gate I am always planning on putting 110% into it but once race brain starts I feel there isn't much control over my thoughts or actions, I just ride as fast as possible, do what feels natural and usually scare myself a few times if it’s a good run. By ‘race brain’ I mean the different mindset I have when I’m racing. I don’t think much about consequences and kind of react to the situation and go as fast as I can. I can usually go through the entire track in my head right after track walk, and then after about five runs I feel like I have it pretty dialed, after that it’s mostly about making small adjustments and little improvements. A track like Leogang is pretty easy to get dialed in your mind quick, whereas a course like Meribel is much more complicated. Watching the run via helmet cam is pretty helpful but I like just visualizing my way down the track. Also, I usually stop a few times during course walk and concentrate on everything I’ve walked and really visualize it. Sometimes during practice I just stop on a tough section and watch a bunch of guys blow by and check out their lines. Maybe a bit of the ‘let others make mistakes so I don’t have to kind of thing’! I watched Minnar go through a really rough section in Norway at Worlds and that was pretty confirming of how deliberate and accurate he is, it’s really good to watch him go by because he is in the position I want to one day be at, at the very top. You put so much focus into mountain biking. Do you ever wish you had time to do other sports? Which sports would you do?
I put a lot of focus into riding because I want to, I never feel like I’m missing out on anything or want to be doing something else. When I was younger I did play soccer, field hockey, ice hockey and rugby. I enjoyed them and had fun but nothing can compare to riding bikes for me. If I was to play any sport now I would probably go with ice hockey, it’s fun, fast paced and obviously living in Canada there is a good scene. Have you done much trail building?
I helped some friends build a downhill trail a few years ago. Recently it’s mostly just maintenance on the trails that we ride, usually just raking leaves in the fall, clearing fallen trees during winter and trimming branches in the spring. Sometimes bridges need to be replaced or we see a good spot for a new jump but we like to leave the trails fairly natural most of the time so there’s not a lot of upkeep. If you could beat any rider fair and square in a World Cup, assuming you both had great runs, who would it be?
Steve! He showed me the way, I’m always around him, and I think if I ever beat him he would be pretty choked and that would probably give him tons of motivation to crush me next time. I think realistically I’m a couple years away from beating him, but let’s hope by 2019 I can do it! Ha ha! Have you got to meet tons of the top World Cup guys and feel like you are part of the crew?
Yeah for sure, everyone is really welcoming and if you just hang out with them they are just normal guys who happen to be really frickin’ good at riding. It’s not like you have to get top 30 or you can’t hang with them. Many of them are my heroes from when I was younger but bigger than that is thinking ok now I have to try and get better and stronger and beat this guy. Some of my favourites are Josh Bryceland because he is so funny and fun to be around and just such an amazing rider, he is always having fun. Also Loic Bruni because he’s a really nice guy, so skilled and I think there is a very good chance he is going to be one of the pinnacle riders in the next couple years. Being around Minnar or Gee, you know they really have it figured out. I think Luca Shaw is rad, he’s one of my friends now and I love when he does well. Sam Blenkinsop has a unique style, he is really active on his bike, he moves his body and bike around a lot and I find he looks quite different than everyone else on his bike.
Is it hard for you to be so committed at a young age? Do you ever feel like you are giving up your youth?
|On Mark's 7th birthday he received a pogo stick and this was my first insight into Mark's unusual level of determination. For the first 30 minutes he was just having fun with the three jumps he could manage. Then he decided he wanted to do 10 consecutive jumps, and that's when the change occurred. For the longest time he couldn't reach his goal but he never gave up trying. He ignored everyone's attempts to 'leave it for a bit' and stayed with it until he met his goal. Soon after 10 jumps were mastered he set his goal on 100 consecutive jumps.-Linda Wallace, Mark's Mom|
Not at all, I know this is what I want to do and anytime I’m doing something that will make me a better rider or faster racer it’s worth it. But it’s not like I’m being forced to train or anything, my parents have always just wanted me to enjoy what I’m doing and be working towards something I want and fully trust me in the way I want to go about that. In some ways I probably have more of a youth than most people my age. For example I get to ride my bike and dig holes in the forest and that’s what you do when your like seven years old, so it’s good! I have missed a few things that I didn't want to for a race, for example I missed high school graduation but I guess that’s just the way it goes sometimes. You have an incredible amount of support from your family, tell me about that? How do they help you?
We do a lot of stuff together as a family, we all have pretty similar interests. My parents have always pretty much let me do anything I want, they trust my judgement and have barely ever told me I can’t do something. I think I’ve been an easy kid in many ways because I never got into the party scene at all, I don’t enjoy that stuff. I’ve always had riding to guide most of my decisions, since about 2010 I got really serious about riding and training and have taken it seriously working with a trainer. If I had the choice to hang out with friends or ride I’d usually go riding, it’s not that I don’t want to hang out with friends it’s just what I like doing! Pretty much every decision I make, I think about how it will affect my racing, even if it’s the smallest thing, like even when I play a lot of ping pong, I have to convince myself that it won’t be a detriment to my racing. If I want to eat a cookie that I know isn’t good for me, I might think to myself, well if I eat this cookie now it will make me feel good and then I can just work harder at the gym later to earn that cookie. Your dad has done an absolute shitload of shuttle driving on Prevost, has it always been this way? Why is he so supportive? What kind of truck did you use?
Since fall of 2010 that’s the way it’s been. He drove a 2000 Dodge Dakota, but this spring the engine blew up so we got a replacement, a 2003 Dakota, and now we have a whole truck of spare parts, as long as this new version’s engine keeps going. I think he is so supportive because he wants to be a part of what I’m doing and the shuttling is a key part. He also enjoys it, on the way back up he will be talking about how he got a bit sideways in a corner or some idiot was going super slow and didn't pull over for him to pass. He has built a relationship with all the riders and he’s always there to listen in on what is going on in our lives. He likes to know anything and everything. He has spent a ton of time in the truck with Steve and I and has a lot of insight into both of our careers as we’ve developed. Both Steve and I can ride whenever we want, and luckily with my Dad’s job he has the flexibility to take the time off work to shuttle us. He takes his driving as serious as we take riding downhill ha-ha. It’s probably a good thing we haven’t kept track of how many laps or kilometers he has driven on that the Prevost shuttle road, which would be frightening. What do you think separates 'Fast' from 'Really Fast'? I mean, I can ride pretty well but I feel like you and Steve have that special something, that 10% that I could never reach. What makes that 10%? Is it lack of fear? A special mix of skills, training? Is it mental?
It’s everything put together, the fitness, bike skill, mental toughness, bike technology etc… there are so many things that go into the recipe. I think a key part is just wanting to go fast, you have to truly want to go fast and be willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. I don’t think about the risk when I’m riding, up on Prevost there aren’t any jumps that I’m really scared of anymore, I’m always looking for a new scary way to ride the trails, like finding a new way to ride a trail or a way to jump over a section. How is race day for you? What is the best part and what is the hardest part?
Race day is crazy, so many different emotions and thoughts go through my head. The hardest part might be eating breakfast in the morning, and for me that should be an easy thing, people always make fun of me for nonstop eating. The wait between practice and the actual race can be pretty difficult as well depending on how long of a gap there is. The best feeling is the last few metres before the finish line after a good run, which stays with me if it’s a green light, or fades with a red. What are you most excited about for 2015?
Right now the race that is sticking out is Lourdes, being the first one this year and a new place it just can’t be here soon enough. I just love racing. I’m riding with a purpose, all weekend there is a purpose and point, and you can see the results from your efforts. I like the system of showing up, walking the track, practicing the course, and finally racing. A season gets broken down into off season and race season, the race season gets broken down into travel, pit setup, track walk, practice, and the race. Each day has a goal to complete and it builds itself up to the race, and that race is building towards the next race, so it’s just a really great way to live.
|Mark is a good brother. He'll help me with my math, and lets me listen to my music as long as I don't sing. One time last year he took me to the field hockey pitch like five times just to help me get this one move perfected! Everything he does for me really means a lot, I miss him when he's gone but I'm really proud of how dedicated and skilled he is at biking. -Jillian Wallace, Mark's little sister |
Riley McIntosh is a mountain biker from Maple Bay on Vancouver Island. After a decade of living in Nelson, he returned home to the land of year round riding conditions. He loves meeting new people and exploring fresh trails, which the Characters series helps him do. Riley sincerely hopes the readers of Pinkbike enjoy Characters and would like to thank everyone involved for their participation.
Characters #1 - Thomas Schoen
Characters #2 - Bill McLane
Characters #3 - Tig Cross and Sasha LeBaron
Characters #4 - Mark Holt
Characters #5 - Kevin Eskelin
Characters #6 - James Doerfling and Kenny Smith
Characters #7 - Tara Llanes
Characters #8 - Andreas Hestler
Characters #9 - Linden Feniak
Characters #10 - Doug Detwiller
Characters #11 - The United Riders of Cumberland
Characters #12 Sam Whittingham