There is more to Amaury Pierron's seemingly rapid and somewhat unexpected rise to the top of the World Cup downhill standings than first meets the eye. If you look closely enough, the clues have been there for a while. He didn't waltz into a factory team as a top junior, instead, he cut his teeth travelling as a privateer, earning a few podiums and a win which was enough to draw the attention of Pierre-Charles Georges, the team manager of the Lac Blanc SCOTT outfit.
At the deep end in elites, Amaury's next three seasons would show flashes of rather inconsistent brilliance with two podiums and a handful of top 20s, but crashes and injuries stalled his momentum. He finished 2017 on a high with a podium in Val di Sole and a top 10 at World Champs in Cairns which laid the groundwork for his brilliant 2018 season; he'd found a new level of confidence and self-belief which, when paired with a promotion to the factory Commencal team, made for a dangerous combination.
We sat down with Amaury to discover the steps he took to get to the very top of the World Cup standings.
First off, what's been happening since the end of the season?
After World Champs, I did my first enduro motorbike race and then I was f*****, I had no more energy. It was cool, a local team give me a moto for the race and all the set-up, it was like I was a pro racer. I definitely wasn’t as it was my first race. It was an amazing experience, so I've done a bit of moto and partying but that's it! There was a big party after the Roc d’Azur!
Did it take time to process the season?
Yeah, I took a bit of time to think about it. I just started to realise what I have achieved, it's big I think!
We’ll come back to 2018 later, but where did the Amaury Pierron story start? How did you get into riding and racing?
My mother and father both rode motorbikes since I was born, where I lived when I was young riding moto was banned so my brother started to ride mountain bikes and build wooden jumps in front of the house. I tried it with him a bit but at the time I played football.
We then moved house - where I live now there’s more freedom. I can ride mountain bikes and motorbikes so I followed my brother and that's how I started downhill. I went with him to his first few races and I saw how fun it was, it looked like the most fun sport ever. All the people who were riding a bike looked happy, all the people that were riding a downhill bike looked happy. I saw that and thought I wanted to do it. I started racing at 13 but only downhill!
Were you successful straight away?
I was at the top of my category. I started with local races and I was good, I was on the podiums. After that, I did the national races in France which were the first big races. I did s*** on the first race, I crashed 4 times on my race run. I ended up 18th so at the next one I told myself don't crash and we will see where I end up. I ended up 10th.
After that was National Champs in the mud, and when it's in the mud it's more about the skills and less about the physical side, I was not fit! I ended up second, it gave me something good for the following races. I was like just don't crash and do the same, no stress... I ended up 5th and 4th at the following races. I was always on the box behind Loris. Loris always beat me!
In my first year of juniors, I raced some World Cups but I was a privateer with my dad and his friends. I think that was a good first step into the World Cups. I think it is good to go step-by-step because you can fight some juniors already on the top teams. In my first year of elite I was in the Lac Blanc team, I moved from privateer to a good team. I spent 3 years there, step-by-step working my way into the big team. I'm really happy about it, I saw every side of the World Cup which is really interesting and maybe it can be part of my strengths today.
Your two brothers race as well, what was that like growing up? Was there a big sibling rivalry between you all?
No, we just had a good crew with my brother and all our friends. All our tracks were only around twenty seconds long. We just tried to do some sections and go as fast as we can, watching each other and giving each other points for how fast and how stylish we could ride. So it would be something like 10 points for the speed, but only 5 points for the style... We were just kids enjoying ourselves!
When it was time to race downhill as a junior your results were up and down a lot after showing flashes of speed. Did you learn a lot from those few years?
I learned lots. The first thing was to stay on your bike! It's a big thing when you try to go fast and you're not ready with your body or your bike setup. If you try to go fast you can be fast, but to be fast on a World Cup track when you're not 100% ready is not easy. I always wanted to ride at 100%. You cannot do it if you're not 100% ready! That's why I think I had a lot of crashes.
Did you find it frustrating watching Loris and Luca battle in front of you?
No, I think it was a good source of inspiration. They were clearly the best of the juniors. There was Loris and Luca who I think were equal, and then there was the rest of us. For sure at each race I wanted to be closer to them and grab back a bit of time. So, no, I was not frustrated about it, I admired them.
In 2014 you managed to take a few podiums including a win in Leogang, showing you had the pace but maybe not the consistency?
At the first race in South Africa, I got a 3rd place finish, that was pretty good but I was 8 seconds back which is a lot, but that was my first World Cup podium so I was really happy. It gave me a bit more motivation for the following races. I didn't go to Australia as it was too far away and too expensive.
After, I went to Scotland and I've never had luck there, I broke my shoe which was s***. After that was Leogang where Loris had a bad crash and I took the win. That was crazy and I think I found a new motivation and focus. I found the secret or key to riding fast. After that, I felt super motivated and I came second in qualifying at Mont-Sainte-Anne at the following race, so again even more motivated, I had gained confidence.
On the morning of the race, I broke my collarbone so I was crying like a kid like the dream was over. It was one month left to the World Champs and I was hungry for it. I was back on the bike just in time for World Champs but I was a bit too excited, I was third in qualifying but I had two crashes in my final run. It was all or nothing!
How challenging was the step up to elite racing?
At that time, I tried to go to school to be a sports teacher. I really wanted to do that but after 3 or 4 months I realised it was too much, the course was 5 years long and I didn't like the lessons. I stopped at the start of March and I went to Portugal with Thomas Estaque and some other friends to ride some tracks and that went well.
Racing in elite is totally different. When I was in juniors I wanted to get into the top 3, but when I went to elites I didn't have the same goals. I just wanted to get through qualifying and if I did it I just wanted to make the most of the final. It was not so bad, I was 17th in the opening round I think. I had top 20s in Lourdes, Lenzerheide, Val di Sole, and at World Champs in Vallnord. At the opening round in 2016 I finished on the podium in 5th in Lourdes, but straight after that in Cairns, I broke my wrists.
Taking your first podium in France in front of the home crowd must have been amazing?
It was just crazy. It was not my aim, I just wanted to maybe get a top 10 because I'd been in the top 20 the previous year. To have this podium straight away gave me a lot of pressure for the following race, I was a bit too nervous and that's why I crashed. I had a stupid crash on the rocks and broke my two wrists. Lourdes was just crazy and unexpected. The crowd in France is always crazy!
Did your crash and injury at the following round in Cairns teach you anything about your approach and dealing with pressure?
I broke my collarbone in 2014 and broke my two wrists in 2016. My main goal after was to not injure myself anymore. Just take your time, be safe and enjoy the little things of life. I just broke my two wrists and that was rough. I came back when it was the Lenzerheide World Cup and I finished 15th in qualifying. I was happy, it was a good comeback. In the final, I had a big crash, a massive over the bars on the stump.
After that I was like I want to stop downhill, I don't want to crash, it's too dangerous. I then I spent two weeks chilling, no nothing, no bikes. Then in Vallnord, I ended up 4th in qualifying which was just crazy, but in the finals, the rain came for the last riders. It was really hard to ride and I ended up 13th. I was really happy about that weekend. Then at World Champs in Val di Sole, the track was so rough, it was the roughest track I've ever seen. It was too hard for me. I had another crash in finals.
In that season there was a lot of down and a little up. In the offseason I went back to school which made it tough - there were a lot of lessons and I was in school for 8 hours a day whilst trying to train for the 2017 season.
2017 was another up and down season but ended with that podium in Val di Sole, perhaps the breakthrough that set up the success of 2018?
The end of the season was good. I ended up 8th in Lourdes when the rain came for the last riders. I went down in the bit when it was rideable but still not the best conditions. I had no luck in Fort William again. Then Thomas had the worst crash that I have ever seen just in front of me. He broke his wrist, he was unconscious, it was pretty horrible for me to see. He didn't ride for the rest of the season. For me that felt a bit like I was missing something, he was my partner in crime and I missed it a lot. I didn't enjoy this season so much.
But, I really enjoyed the track at the last round in Val di Sole, it was perfect and I enjoyed every run I did. I had a good timed training, a good qualifying, and a good final run. It was a perfect weekend. At this point in the season, I needed something new. I just needed something new and I made the selection for World Champs and ended up 9th. For me, that was a big step because the good results I had before were only on tracks I liked - technical, steep, with good dirt, stuff like that. World Champs was super physical, super boring. To end up 9th on a track like this, I thought to myself, you did not have a super run and you ended up 9th and you did not like the track, so then you can do it on all tracks. This, in my opinion, helped me build confidence. I had the chance to start a new adventure with Commencal Vallnord, the following winter was the first one where I was focused on bikes. I didn't work, I didn't go to school, it was the first time for me. Then we came into 2018 like braaaaaaaap!
Over the winter you changed from what was at the time Lac Blanc Commencal to the Commencal Factory team, did that feel like the natural next step to take?
Natural step, I don't know. My results were a bit mixed and to be on a team like that you need to be consistent I think. They're one of the biggest teams on the circuit. But it happened, they gave me the confidence and I'm really thankful to the team for that. We worked a lot this winter with training camps with SRAM and Commencal. There was a lot of work I think. I had never ridden my bike so much, so a lot of work was key I think.
In the move you managed to keep the same frame sponsor in Commencal, but had to switch from Fox to RockShox, how long did it take to adapt to the different setup?
The biggest parts on the bike are the frame and the suspension. To adapt to SRAM took a bit of time, you have to adapt your riding a bit along with the setup. You just need time, and if you take the time you need it's okay!
How much testing did you do over the winter?
We did the first team camp in December, but that was just to meet everybody, the new mechanics and to get used to everything. Then we had 10 days of testing per month which was a lot but really good.
The team is family run and seems to have a very relaxed atmosphere, does that make it easier to perform?
Yeah sure, I was really happy because all the team was friendly with me. Now it's like my second family, everyone involved me in the team. There are only good people on the team. We have no pressure. We work well but don't forget to have fun and enjoy the little things. I don't know if a lot of other teams work like that, but this one works like that and it works really well. A very good team.
There was already a lot of experienced riders in the team with the likes of Myriam, Remi, and the Ruffin brothers - could you draw on their knowledge?
That helped me a lot. They are more experienced than me, so I learnt a lot from all of them this winter to be a bit more professional in the testing and in general life. And the junior! The junior is the most professional rider on the team, so I learnt a lot from him! I take a bit from everyone, I keep what I want, and leave what I don't want. I think everyone is like that. I speak with Myriam a lot about lines and everything. I think we have the same approach on lines and a similar riding style. Although we might not ride at the same speed we can have the same feeling or thoughts about lines and general approach to racing.
Was there one thing that clicked coming into 2018 or was it just having the right structure around you?
I think it was a few things. The big structure with everyone and the experience, the testing, and the confidence which helped a lot, everything was ready to go fast. The second one was that as I told you I didn't go to school or work, we worked more with my trainer so I was really fit this season. I can't be any fitter. This season I had a big step forward in my physique. We had a good plan and did a lot of good training.
There was already some hints of your speed coming into the season at some smaller races like in Portugal. Did that give you even more confidence?
It was weird, I did not know what was going to happen. I won in Lousã but you can't know, sometimes riders just ride faster at World Cups and chill at other races. It gave me a bit of confidence but only 50% you know, you think that maybe you can but it could be a fluke or something.
Your flat in Croatia somewhat masked your pace, but you looked to have been on podium pace. Did that just fire you up more coming into Fort William?
I was 7th in qualifying so I was happy to do it at the first race with the new team. I wanted more for finals and I knew I could do better. I was third at the third split but got a flat on the last rock section just before the road. I think maybe at that moment it was not good, I was really angry and I got back to work really strongly, mentally I was really strong. I wanted to podium and I knew after that moment I was ready.
And then Fort William… What did you think was possible coming into that weekend?
I thought it was possible after qualifying. I ended up 10th with a s*** run, I was not ready for the rain. Me and my mechanic were not ready, that was our first race together and we just missed a few things. We rectified it for the finals and I knew it was possible if I put down a good run. If I just did a normal run it was okay for the podium for sure, to have this win was a dream and a bit unexpected as I only had 2 podiums before. I did it so it's okay!
Then to go on and take three in a row, you must have thought you were dreaming?
After Fort William, I was just a bit stressed about the people talking. Aaron crashed, Greg was injured so you know people can say you just had good luck blah blah bla, and if you win you know everyone is going to be watching you during practice. I tried to be true to myself and stay safe and we had a good weekend with the team, it was very relaxing. It was a fun weekend.
I was third in qualifying and that showed me I could do it again. I was like 0.5 behind the winner or something like that. That is not very far. I just did a run not thinking about the result, but just thinking about a good run and being focused. When I came across the line and I was in front of Aaron it was just crazy, he had won three times in a row in Leogang. Aaron was second in this race. Not 5th. Not 10th. He was 2nd. It was just crazy.
You ended up taking 3 wins on 3 pretty different tracks, maybe in the past people would only expect you to perform on the steeper and more technical terrain, is that true?
Leogang and Fort William are a little bit similar technically, but physically totally different. Leogang is nearly 2 minutes shorter, in Fort William you need to be conservative with your energy and in Leogang you have to give everything, so in that regard, it is totally different. Not easy, but nothing is easy!
Every single person involved with me is a part of the win. My trainer, everyone inside the team, everyone I know. The Ruffin’s parents, they cook and take care of us, and the riders on the team just to speak to and share each other’s lines. The mechanics and everyone in Commencal, and for sure my trainer. To win a World Cup you have to be ready, especially your body. Everyone involved with me is behind the wins.
In Mont-Sainte-Anne you had a big crash on the last run before finals. What were you thinking when you were lying on the ground, did you think you might be injured and the season might be over?
Directly after the crash, I was afraid, straight away I thought, f*** the season is over. You have ruined it, your chance to be the champion. I was really sore, I hit my head and my whole body. My finger is still bad today. I was able to get back to the pits and get help from the physio, he taped me up and I took some medication because the pain was really bad!
Only the allowed medication though [laughing]! At the top I was just trying to do a run and see what happens, I was really in pain. The first 100 metres I felt like a grandpa on the bike, I couldn't push. All my movements were a bit slow. I gritted my teeth and did a few mistakes, I was really worried about the rock garden where I had crashed. When I crossed the line and ended up on the podium. It was just like, oh my god I'm going to get a podium in this condition, I was so bad. At this point I didn't know that I had won the overall, Myriam came over with her phone and showed me the difference in points and I knew it was enough to win the overall which was my goal coming into Mont-Sainte-Anne. I cried and everything!
After taking the overall in Mont-Sainte-Anne the end of the season didn't exactly go the way you were wanting...
I really wanted to win in La Bresse because it was in front of the French crowd and I knew it would be crazy if I won. I gave it everything and I was on a good run until this stupid crash, that was okay though. Remi was back on the podium, the team won the overall, I won the overall. We just did the job you know. It was a crazy season and I’m just grateful for everyone involved in this dream. After the crash in Mont-Sainte-Anne I was really low on energy, I kept everything for my run in MSA and the rest in La Bresse, I was a bit tired at World Champs. I was a bit sick and everything, I was just not all in, I think my mind was already outside of racing. I wanted to do it but something wasn't here.
Missing out on a medal at Worlds must have hurt?
Sure. My dream was to be on the podium with Loic and Loris. I knew we could do it. If you look at the races before World Champs, it was 6 times a French rider won! French power baby! We just killed the game. I am so so happy to be French right now because before we had a bad image, but with Loic leading the French train I think we have changed the image of the French racers. We missed the 3 riders on the podium but Loic won, I was so so happy. Because if it was Martin… I like him, but to have an enduro rider win… I'm so happy, Loic is a good guy and he had a tough season.
Speaking about the French, why are they so good as a nation at downhill?
To be honest I don't really know. I think the south of France is a good place to train, in the winter there is good weather, you can train and you can ride your bike. There is Italy not too far away with San Remo. I think that is maybe why. When there is a good rider in your country other people try to beat them. I think Loic is leading this train with Loris following, Remi is trying to keep his place because he is slightly older with me trying to grab the boys at the top. The more you have good riders, the more good riders you are going to have.
Towards the end of the year the Monster Energy deal came around, that must have been another dream moment?
We started to speak in the middle of the season and they did a good job just in time for La Bresse. It's another dream. You know when you have a helmet sponsor, it feels like you are becoming one of the big boys! The first run I was like take care, people are going to be watching you because you have a Monster helmet, don't have a stupid crash or something! I was nervous about it!
What are your plans on the run-up to the season? When will you start training again?
It was a bit chill the weeks before but I started to do some serious stuff, the boring stuff that takes time. I'm currently on my way to Reunion Island where I will shoot two videos in two weeks, then I will start training which isn't going to be easy when you're shooting. After these two weeks, I go back into training. This winter I started a new course to be a trainer, it's going to be a busy offseason with my course, the training, and the camps, but it's good to keep a foot in real life because a downhill career is not going to last forever.
2019. What do you want? What are your goals?
When you win the overall it's like a drug. I won three races and I missed out on one or two more. I just want to win and I'll just give my best to be able to win and enjoy it. Win and enjoy. I want to win, but I want to be happy. I want to be happy with people around me, that's why you want to win, because when you win everyone around you is happy.
I think I learnt a lot again this year, and World Champs is one of my goals, not my main goal but it's important. When you win the World Cup it's like nothing, there is no jersey, you're not the World Champion. To be World Champion is a big thing. I’m trying, we are working on it!
: @rossbellphoto @davetrumpore @mdelorme