Ross Bell caught up with Camille Balanche and Reece Wilson after they arrived in Maribor to discuss their life-changing weekends. If you want to hear these interviews in an audio form they will also be included in our World Championships round-up podcast.
We're two days down the line now, has it started to settle in, or have you just not had the chance to think of what you've just achieved?
I've had the chance but everything is just going so fast and I had to move on because we're already in Maribor, so I don't know, it's a weird feeling
Maybe next week when we have some time off?
Yeah, I'm going to have Swiss Champs as well! But for sure once I'm home with my friends and family I'm going to have time to think about it again and just enjoy it a little bit more than here with all the stress around. But I'm really happy for sure, really stoked.
What was your run like?
It was nothing crazy actually. I went for just one run in the morning and I crashed. I felt bad, I knew I had to change some stuff on my bike so I put on the full Dirty Dans and put a bit more pressure in my fork. I wanted to go for a second one to try but I knew I was going to crash again, I was kind of desperate. I was like, “Nah I'm just going to leave it like that and go for a safe run”.
My goal was to take the safest lines, don't try to go fast, just be smooth, don't lose too much energy, just go smooth for the upper part and cruise the forest and just stay on my bike and really not try to go fast and yeah, it worked out.
When you crossed the line did you have any idea that it might hold or it would be beaten?
In the first place, I was so happy at the bottom, on my back, I was over the moon. Then I heard that I had the best time and I knew that Pompon [went before] me and Tahnee so I knew I was on the podium, which was actually insane. I think the first thing was I was just happy to be there in one piece and I didn't even think about becoming World Champion actually
You'd have been super stoked with even just a medal?
Yes, but I have to say when it was just Tracey, I was second and I was happy for sure but at that point, I was like, “no”. Everyone knows that second or third is a bid for nothing at World Champs but now I was really hoping I would win because I had the chance now. So just when Tracey went down I was like, “Actually, I really want that Rainbow Jersey.” Yeah, it was crazy.
How many years have you been racing World Cups now?
It is my third year.
You can follow year on year the progress, was it just last year you got your first podium?
Yeah, the first year I did just two World Cups just to try it and last year I did the whole season and got a third and fifth. That was already insane but all the best riders were injured so it's hard to know where you will be. This year, I came third in the French Cup and I'm faster for sure. I feel more confident and looking at this track, I was here last year and I now look at the stuff like, “Why was I so scared of this part?” It's really cool to see how I've been improving and nice to see I'm getting better and I'm enjoying it
And you have a better set up around you this year with the Dorval AM team?
Oh yeah, for sure.
Has that helped you a lot do you think?
Yeah, we did training camps, a testing camp which I’ve never done before and I have a really good bike and mechanic and the whole team. The guys are really good riders and I’ve learned a lot from them like how they train, what they are looking for with the lines, little details. We were watching my run yesterday and they asked me why I took my wheel off the ground just before the motorway and I didn't realise I should have pushed there like a pump track and I didn't notice that. There are a lot of details I am learning from them and it's really cool.
Are you with them again next year?
Yes, I have a 2-year contract.
It's a different situation again now, is World Cups a different approach to World Champs?
Normally, yeah but the two last World Champs that I did I wanted to do really well and I crashed and I just ended up 17th and 15th. This year, I took it pretty much like a World Cup where you just want to be consistent and not go for the gold medal so for me it's going to be pretty much the same here. It's going to be tough, back to back racing, we're going to be tired so I'm going to try to not lose too much energy and be clever and hold on for the last four rounds.
What are you wanting from these last four rounds?
I hope to be in the top five but I'm going to see how I feel on the track.
It’s going to be such a good feeling pulling that Rainbow Jersey on.
Yes, but also a bit of pressure I think! You want to show the world you can be fast and that it wasn't just a mistake or anything. I'm going to have to try and take it easy and not put too much pressure on myself with that jersey on my shoulders.
Two days down the line, has it sunk in at all?
It has been a really, really unique few days. I expected something to have sunk in by now but there has been a really strange set of emotions, to be honest. Obviously, with us just driving straight to the next race, I'm half focussing on racing but getting reminded quite often by everyone that I'm World Champ so, yeah it has been really strange. Obviously, I'm more than happy but also very focused on just racing this weekend.
It was a hectic weekend because everybody said you were looking good in practice, you were doing some wild stuff but then quali didn't go your way. Did that take the pressure off for the race at all, or did you just know if you got a clean run down you'd be at the sharp end of things?
Yeah for sure, from the second run I was feeling really, really good. I knew it was definitely a weekend I could be competitive, which in previous years at that point in practice I definitely haven't felt. Then I had a lot of people messaging me and that started to get to my head so I started to put my phone down
In qualifying, I just really overthought simple things and made a simple mistake that ended up costing me a whole qualifying run. I was a bit bummed but after that, I actually put more pressure on myself because I knew there weren’t going to be many opportunities to be at World Champs on a track I was enjoying so much but it paid off so it was good I think. I preferred that compared to having a good result in qualifying, that would have been a different pressure.
With being Scottish, you're riding in shitty conditions a lot of the time, do you reckon that helps at all?
I mean it was probably a sub-conscious thing. We're obviously more used to the cold, our entire off season is spent in bottom bracket deep snow at times, wind chill, rain and you just have to get on with it. You look outside, “it's raining, sweet” and then that's the last you think about it.
In that sense, it probably would have benefitted me but at the end of the day you still had to be a great bike rider, a great racer, you had to have a really good track IQ, you had to predict it and I feel like I did a really good job of that and put it all together. But being familiar with those conditions really helped.
When you crossed the line, you were 7 seconds into the green, what did you think then?
Actually, it was a bit weird. When I turned around it was red on the [timing] so I actually didn't think I'd done it and the run felt like, ”well, fair enough someone probably could have beaten that”. I missed the triple there were two or three lines in the woods that I didn't do and I just played it safe and carried speed so when I saw that I was like, “Oh no.”
When the commentator said I was seven seconds up, I looked around and saw everybody's faces and that's when I thought, “Oh wow, that's a pretty big time gap.” and then just forgot about it and sat there and waited for those top ten guys to come down. I thought they would probably be close if not beating me. It was a very long wait, I've no idea what place I came down in but it was a very long wait.
Your downhill career has been pretty short, all things considered, it's a pretty crazy story, hey?
Yeah, I don't think many people know it because I didn't really have the profile for people to pay attention to begin with. 2013 was my first ever year riding downhill bikes at all, I didn't really know what they were before that really. In 2014, I was a second-year junior, it was my first year racing and I went straight into getting three seventh places at World Cups. After that, I just got plagued with injury after injury after injury, I think I've had five operations now in the last six years. I've missed three or four offseasons completely with recovering from surgery so if you take out all of that time it has been a collective three years of actual productive time.
I think you have to go through that as a rider. A few of the injuries were just silly mistakes, things I shouldn't have been doing in the first place so you learn a lot and I think it has benefitted me now for sure.
I feel like we should throw a shout out to RC maybe?
Yeah, Ruaridh Cunningham was a massive part of where I am at the minute. I guess he found me in a way. He got me on a bike originally and saw something that nobody else saw and really focussed me into giving this a good shot. Without him, I probably never would have started riding downhill bikes, so big love to him.
I heard your dad was mid moto when the results came through?
Yeah, I've been racing motocross since I was six years old right up to 18. Obviously, my dad got me into that, he's been racing for 20 something years and chasing a Scottish Championship all his life. It took him until into the veteran class to actually win one and he actually won a world title in America a couple of years ago so there are two World Champions in the house now.
He played a massive part in it for sure and I think he was pretty emotional when they told him as he was going out for his last race of the Scottish Championship this weekend. I can imagine that was a bit of an experience for him.
How does this compare to Fort William 2 years ago?
Yeah, I almost enjoyed that more, it made more sense to me. I was just treating this last World Champs as a World Cup. It's the first race of the year and I didn't really expect to win until I got there so I hadn't really had time to plan but Fort William I'd been going there since 2014, I'd been dreaming of getting a podium and walking out into that crowd at home and yeah, that really was special.
The way racing is this year with no crowds and stuff, that made it a weird atmosphere. You only really have the other riders there and a few team managers so there wasn't really that much of a cheer and stuff so it was a strange weekend but obviously it's going to mean a lot when it settles in.
Now obviously will be the first weekend you get to pull on those stripes and get between the clock again so that will be a special feeling.
Yeah, I think it's going to be really strange to see photos in a World Champs jersey, it's the best guys in the world normally wear that thing! It doesn't really change anything for me. I'm riding my bike, I'm enjoying it and regardless of whether I’d won the race last week, I'd still be coming here confident and feeling the same.
I feel now like I'm one of those top five guys and I just need to find that consistency. That's where you go from a good racer to a great racer when you can do it every weekend. I'm just learning so much, progressing a lot and things are moving so fast. I'm learning how to put the puzzles together each weekend and we should be good to go. I'm feeling good, I've got a different approach this year, I'm in a different place mentally and I'm really enjoying it and feeling good.