Interview: Alex Fayolle on Going From World Cup Winner to Privateer in 2 Seasons

Feb 4, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  


Lourdes 2017 was a race of serious significance for the world of downhill. In the French pilgrim town, the sport was shown a vision of the future as the Syndicate turned up with 29 inch wheels for the first time. Grey clouds overhead reflected the mood in the pits as teams looked on enviously at this new technological innovation and whispered conspiratorially about a Judas-like betrayal of the sport's values and history.

The weekend marked nearly 2 decades since a French DH rider won a World Cup on home soil and, when Vergier went fastest by 0.5 in qualifying, it looked like he may have been the rider to break that record. However, it was another rider who would scoop it away from him - Alex Fayolle. Fayolle had picked up his first-ever podium at the previous World Cup and looked to have put down a scorcher in finals in Lourdes, just 0.1 off Vergier's qualifying time. Almost as soon as he crossed the line, holy water fell from the skies with a vengeance and the limestone track turned slicker than ice in an instant. 10 riders were still in the start gate but the race was clearly Fayolle's as the live feed showed the sport's fastest squirming and sliding over a film of slick mud.

With Tracey Hannah s 2nd and Fayolle s win the Polygon UR team leaves Lourdes with the number one plate of the top ranked team.

Fayolle isn't the first rider to have been gifted a World Cup win by the rain but it quickly became an albatross around his neck and he was unable to ever find that pace again. Earlier this offseason, he described it as a "stolen victory" and now, just two seasons later, he's leaving full time racing behind to run a privateer program, splitting his time between downhill e-MTB racing. We caught up with Fayolle to get his thoughts on that fateful afternoon and his new start.



How were the early days on the UR team?


It was really difficult in the beginning because I didn’t speak English so I had to learn fast and train with everyone. The 2 years before I was a privateer and had my father as my trainer, I didn't have really big sponsors so I had to learn a lot about being a professional mountain biker, not just a rider. My mechanic was the brother of Andrew Neethling so he had a big accent but he was really helpful when I broke my bike or had a problem.

What results were you expecting when you joined Polygon?


I knew that I was fast on some steep tracks like Lourdes, Val di Sole or Andorra so at those races I was hoping for some top 10s and then in Andorra I got fourth, so that was amazing. I did a lot of work with everyone and it was just the dream come true to be on the box with Minnaar, Bruni, Hart, it was really crazy for me.

Can you tell that 4th place finisher Alex Fayolle comes from a moto background

bigquotesI called my trainer and I asked him, “do you think I can win in Lourdes?” and I remember that sentence - “yes, you can win but you are not ready.”

Did that first podium give you a lot of belief going into 2017?


Yes, I had a lot of motivation but I had a new mechanic and I wasn't sure we could work together because it needs a special person. You can not just work with anyone, you have to be 100% with him or you won’t be ready, there is no middle. I know I have a big character so I wasn't sure how it was going to work with him but we became friends so that was a really big help for me.

He taught me a lot about the mechanics of the bike and we worked a lot. The bike was right for me, everything really fit me, suspension and everything so I had a big winter training that year because I knew 2017 would be a good year for me.

I remember that I was in New Zealand and I called my trainer and I asked him, “do you think I can win in Lourdes?” and I remember that sentence - “yes, you can win but you are not ready.” He was talking about my head because when you win everything changes in your mind.

Lourdes was the first race of the year and it was a strange weekend because the Syndicate had their 29ers and took everyone by surprise.


I remember everyone was looking for that only. They were talking about the battle between 29 and 27.5, not about Bruni and Gwin or something like this. “Do the 29 go faster than 27?” that was the only question everyone was asking so it was a little strange.

In qualifying you got 52nd which probably isn't what you wanted but were you aware of the weather?


In qualifying, I had a flat tyre before the rock garden so it was a really long way to the finish pushing hard and just trying to qualify. I had a good time with a flat tyre, I was 52nd I think. I was in France, my family and everyone was here for me so I was really looking for a good place. The year before I had a flat tyre in my finals run so I was a little stressed about that.

bigquotesI beat the other guys but I didn't win. It's hard to be happy after that.

Did you know on the morning of the race that the rain was going to come?


No, I wasn't aware.

Your race time 2:52.7 was only 0.1 slower than the fastest qualifying time, which was Vergier. You put down a good run that was potentially one of the fastest of the weekend. Do you not think that even without the rain you would have got a really good result there.


Everyone told me without the rain you would have got a podium or really close to the podium or even better because you never know what can happen. When I crossed the line and saw my time, I was really stoked about my riding and I think that was the best run of my life. I can't describe the feeling on my bike, I've never had it again, I was just on another planet in my head.

I was really focussed and during my run nothing could stop me. I was really feeling good. This is why I am really disappointed about the weather because I really would like to know which place I would come in the middle of the best riders in the world with my best run. And this has not happened because of the weather and nobody was really close to me.

A mob of fuzzy animals snatched Alex Fayolle off the hostseat as soon as Vergier crossed the line.

In the moment I was really emotional and all of this but the night after I just ate with everyone and went to bed.

So you didn't celebrate at all? Were you upset?


We just had a big dinner with my team and my family but after that maybe it was 21:30 or 22:00 but after that I went to bed, no beer, no party. I wasn't happy about that. For me, I didn't win this race. I beat the other guys but I didn't win. It's hard to be happy after that.

Were you putting a lot of pressure on yourself to podium and win at every race after that?


In Fort William, I was really excited about the leader’s jersey but I was too stressed in the start gate so I was riding like shit. I found some good speed and I remember I was 12th at the first split and I crashed in the woods but even with the crash I came 25th.

That was actually my best result in Fort William, even with a crash, so at this moment I didn't mind. I knew it was a big step in my career because I was faster on every track now. Even if I did a bad run, I knew it was better than the year before. I knew I was good physically but after Lourdes I wasn't really good mentally.

Alexandre Fayolle is never afraid of a huck getting stuck into hefty lines whatever the weather

I think after Fort William overall I was fifth overall and after Leogang I was tenth. I knew tenth was my place, so I didn't have a lot of pressure.

Vallnord was good as well.


Yes, that was not a crazy run, just a good run and in my place, 11th. All my family was here for supporting me so that was a good weekend.

What position did you finish overall that year?


10th.

So you must have been pretty happy?


Yep.

Why did you not race World Champs that year?


I was selected for the world championships with the French team that year, and I decided, with the agreement of Manu Hubert [France's National Coach], to leave my place to another rider because I was totally exhausted physically and mentally.

Do you regret winning in Lourdes?


I do not regret it because the weather is part of the race, but to be on a podium among the best riders had more flavor than this victory. I cannot wish that it did not happen because for all the people around me it was a magic moment.

What happened after 2017?


I knew that it would be really hard to win a World Cup again, I just wanted to be between 5th and 15th - just be consistent for the year. I was thinking that 20th would be my worst and 5th would be my best. Sadly, the opposite thing happened.

Do you think it was mental struggles in 2018 or was there another factor?


We were having some problems with the team and with the bike so that year went really badly because I didn't feel really good with the team and with the sponsors. I was more battling to be good with everyone than training or thinking about my racing so that was really bad and finally at the second race of the year I hurt myself. I was protected all year and that helped me a lot because without that this year I would miss a lot of finals.

The only good race I had this year was Andorra I think, and Hardline. But 2018 was really bad for everything and I never found a good feeling on the bike so that was really hard for me.

I had a two year contract so I knew the year after I had to work harder. Between 2018 and 2019 I wasn't sure I would like to continue with UR, we had some big discussion together. We tried a lot of things but that was never like the feeling I had on the bike in 2017.


If you're not feeling good on the bike it's hard to push yourself, everything's got to come together.


Now, with the standard in World Cups, if you don't have everything good, you cannot perform. Yeah, you can be 40th or 30th but you cannot be top 20 because the top 20 is so fast now. When I started the World Cup, if you were 20th, that meant you were good but not fast enough. There are a lot of guys that can win and a lot of guys that can do a top ten and even more that can do a top 20 so you cannot just be a talented rider and come along and do top 10s, you have to work, you have to train, you have to do a job.

bigquotesUntil November, I was retiring from World Cups.

You said you won't be riding with UR anymore in 2020


After Val di Sole, I told them I was looking for another team just to be fair. I had 1 or 2 teams in mind where I could have a good bike and everything I wanted to perform but they were looking for other riders, so that's life.

Fayolle looks like he means business fast and aggressive all day today.

In my head, I was stopping riding at a high level. So until I think November I was retiring from World Cups but I knew I wanted to find something maybe just to ride and do as a privateer. My previous mechanic was happy to come back to the World Cup and so we started looking for little sponsors together, nothing crazy but just a little help and finally we found something so I know now I will do three World Cups next year.

Which ones?


The three best. Maribor, Val di Sole and Vallnord. The three I know and can get some good results and have a lot of fun. This is the thing I miss the most, having fun on my bike and just riding, enjoying it and not having to do videos or something, just ride and have fun.

I also found a sponsor for ebikes because I really enjoy it. I had an ebike from Polygon and I think I had the most fun ride in 3 years! I will do the one in Finale Ligure, the final EWS with ebikes and I will do some events for them during the year. But I didn't train a lot because I thought I would be not riding but actually I will do 7 or 8 events or maybe more. So that made me happy and I just can't wait to ride again and maybe I will get some good results.

So your motivation is back now?


This is not the same as 2017 for example because I was looking for results and the overall and everything. I'm motivated to just give my best and get a good result. I feel more excited now than the two years before could be.


52 Comments

  • 101 55
 What a rollercoaster it has been in the team, we tried our best together working on many challenges but achieving more than we would have imagined, happy to partway as friends and super happy to see you on a bike rather than scrolling too much on social media all day ;-) good luck for this season Alex
  • 142 36
 Passive aggressive much
  • 21 6
 @honda50r: Once we publish our 2020 team launch video you'll see that it's all about teasing each other for fun as Alex is making a pretty funny appearance in our next video ...
  • 7 21
flag ridos27 (Feb 5, 2020 at 3:47) (Below Threshold)
 @urteam: your team video is shit
  • 51 6
 Can we finally acknowledge that the R3act suspension design is utter crap?
  • 6 0
 Exactly what I was thinking. He pretty much admitted it without being too obvious
  • 2 1
 beat me to it haha
  • 9 0
 Didn't Tracey pick up a ton of time on it? and IIRC Alex ran a different shock than his teammates, may have played a part. No doubt it's hideous to look at, but it seems to work.
  • 6 0
 @maxyedor: the think has immense chain growth/pedal kick. No doubt some people won’t get along with it
  • 3 0
 Didn´t look like this at all on Mick at aussie champs...
  • 11 1
 @PauRexs: Mick has ridden plenty of bikes with horrendous suspension though. Before Polygon it was GT and their POS Fury, before that it was Cannondale's Judge, before that it was Haro and their 307 thing that broke twice per race (he literally raced Kovarik's spare Intense at one WC after breaking both his own frames), before that he was riding some Haro 7" freeride frame that looked like it had a steel rod for a shock (also broke a lot from what I heard), before it was the Haro M1 (probably the only bike with decent suspension he raced) and before that he was riding for Orange. Despite the many obvious shortcomings of those bikes he did well on all of them, so I think his 20 odd years of dealing with terrible suspension and failure prone bikes have probably stood him in good stead with Polygon.
  • 27 0
 I feel sadness after reading his words, and couldn't wish him more to get pleasure and succes doing what he likes to do. Keep on riding Alex, have fun !
  • 26 0
 Fastest time in Lourdes on that day, that's the only thing that matters. The rain wasn't his fault. Hope he finds his speed on the new bike again.
  • 22 0
 That's what its all about, riding your bike and having fun, if your job impacts the thing you love then it's time to switch it up
  • 4 1
 But almost everyone dreams of the other way round.
  • 9 0
 @dh-corn: Yeah at some point though you can lose that love and desire as you get caught up in too much detail and pressure, same happened to Bryceland - he's just loving life now though
  • 3 0
 @sewer-rat: I agree but one half is pressure, the other half is personality. Without wanting to get too close to anyone...
  • 5 0
 @dh-corn: when I went to watch a World Cup it struck me how for a lot of riders their faces didn’t look like they were having fun, they looked like people at work - there were exceptions Vergier & Loci looked like they were having the time of their lives, Minnaar looked miserable, shortly after he did an interview and basically said ridings a job not what he does for fun. It must really mess with the riding dynamic when your job is to try and win. Not doing well or to what’s expected of you must be like turning up to the office etc and thinking this is shit. For most of us riding is getting away from the job.
  • 1 0
 @StevieJB:

This is part of the competition and the competition is what they love. In every sport the faces of competitors before a competition are strict and concentrated, you usually only see the winner smiling. But in the end you love the competition including the defeats and setbacks. People have to accept the fact that in competition only few of them make it to the top, of course everybody is spoiled because in the youth they usually win or are in the lead, but from the elite on it looks different.

Accept to fail and you will have fun again! Do it because of the thrill of the competition and not to try to be best.
  • 18 0
 the world cup, seen from the eyes of a pilot, must be sadder than we think
  • 6 1
 what terrible luck, to win a WC...
  • 12 0
 You know, I have a lot of respect for him after reading this interview. I remember at the time of the win, he made some comments that made it seem like he was not acknowledging the weather's impact but really it was probably just a language barrier since he clearly understood and felt bad about it (which he shouldn't, he won on the day and didn't do anything sneaky like Matti Lehikohnen).
  • 31 18
 It's a shame, but at the end of the day, Alex Fayolle'd
  • 31 5
 He's Poly-gone from the full World Cup season now
  • 30 3
 UR both right.
  • 24 2
 How do you R3act to that...
  • 8 0
 You don't, he naild it.
  • 6 0
 Dear Lourde whatever next?
  • 7 1
 I gentley steered my son away from racing for exactly this.. he is natural and has talent .. but racing is a job .. a chore and you need to consistently get results .. he is way happier riding for the fun of it and beating goals he sets himself .. dont get me wrong I adore downhill racing but all that pressure to win must get to you in the end ... if it ain't fun dont do it
  • 4 1
 Lol let your son decide for himself! Ive learned a lot from racing! Some people just have the right attitude too
  • 9 0
 I was always rooting for you man.
  • 6 1
 Win world cups is for trash. Everyone knows a decent Instagram vid is worth a million World Cup victories and if he was really serious about being a professional athlete then he’d have spent less time training and winning world cups and more time making bullshit YouTube videos preferably with a gopro. I’m only joking but what does it say about the sport when talent like this isn’t even getting support let alone paid? Someone needs to find out why that is and do something about it if the sports going to grow.
  • 3 0
 @thenotoriousmic An ex world cup riders said as much to me yesterday, that a talented local lad makes his living from YouTube vids, get some likes from riders who are frequently in the media (Redbull / GoPro) and you are on the way to a living without any good race results.
  • 2 0
 The freeriders did it.
  • 11 4
 If he could have Naild his bike setup, it might have been a different story?
  • 14 4
 Guess they didn't R3ACT the way he expected them to.
  • 1 0
 All these incredible privateers (top young guns as well) who have already proven themselves in WC competition (and other worldwide events) should be very alarming to us fans. There is something fundamentally wrong with WC when a rider with a recent WC win and podiums can't find a factory ride. Privateers should be the unknowns who are looking to show they got what it takes, not those who already have top results.
  • 1 0
 @Rubberelli They maybe cheaper, take virtually nothing for the privilege - it’s a fickle world.
  • 1 0
 @StevieJB: I don't think the unknowns are getting spots either. I think the top WC juniors are getting on Factory teams and the top 25 or so WC pros or extremely well known pros and that's it. The rest are scrambling together some privateer program or joining forces with other privateers to scrap together some sponsors to make a small team and cover travel money and hopefully Fox or Rockshox will service their suspension.
  • 5 1
 All the best for the future !!!
  • 3 0
 Yea this guys soooo talented that World Cup Win was a scorcher!!! and well deserved!
  • 2 1
 Usually PB is so quick to pick things apart but no one has mentioned the Suntour/Kenda combo?
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