Racing history is made up of stories. There are big narratives and small narratives that tell the week-in and week-out battles, between riders, the clock, and the course. Few stories though are writ larger than the home win. To take victory at the sport's highest levels in front of your home crowd is the pinnacle of any racing career. For Fabien Barel, that pinnacle came in Les Gets back in 2004 as he clinched his first senior World Championship and a race that was ultimately decided by almost the last corner as his main challenger, Steve Peat, who exploded out of a corner, sealing the title for the Frenchman. It is a story that has everything any good racing story should have - skill, determination, speed, victory and defeat. So a reunion between that rider and that hill was always going to be a special moment.
In the twelve years since that day and the Mont Chery side of Les Gets had not seen another run against the clock until this weekend. And Fabien Barel? Well, he has not raced downhill on European soil since 2010 when he bowed out from professional downhill competition. This year something changed, though - for several years now, he has been quietly working on developing Canyon's new Sender DH bike. With the bike now ready and coming to market he feels he has something to prove once more - he wants to show the world that the bike he has been so instrumental in creating can hold its own at the highest levels of competition. To do that he has signed on to compete in the downhill races at all three stops of the Crankworx tour this year - in races where the field looks not too different to the sharp end of the World Cup circuit. Round one this year in Rotorua did not go to plan for him as he crashed in his race run. So coming into this weekend he did not know if he still had the speed to mix it up with riders who are for the most part ten years younger than him. It was also a very emotional weekend for him as he returned to the very spot where he waited, heart in mouth, those twelve years before to see if his time was going to be good enough...
We spent the weekend with Fabien to take a look behind the scenes at how one of the sport's most meticulous athletes deals with such a big weekend.
DQ or not, it was all smiles from Fab and while his time may not have stayed on the results sheet, it was fast enough to have been fifth overall, exactly where he was aiming for. What makes his time all the more remarkable is that Fabien isn't training as such any more, of course, his ideas of not training involves far more time riding bikes and motos than most normal people, but for a rider closer to forty than thirty, to place like that among a field that included many of the top riders from the World Cup circuit is no small achievement. It also achieved his larger goal - he came to Les Gets to prove that the bike he has been so instrumental in developing can race at the highest levels of the sport, and without question, he succeeded there.