It feels so good to be back healthy after Tasmania. After that race I flew back to New Zealand where I’d got pneumonia from my racing effort and was forced to take it easy for a few weeks. Going into Madeira I was a little under my usual race form but none the less happy to be there and ready to race to my limits.
We arrived early enough to get most of the stages walked and it was amazing what this little Portuguese island has to offer. So much diversity in the trails, weather patterns and climate between the areas we would be racing.
Madeira has a great feel to it and I was really happy with the atmosphere there.
I decided with a lot of really rocky terrain in most of the stages I would be riding my bigger travel Strive for this race. I would also need some puncture protection in the rear wheel so I planned to use the Flat Tire Defender (FTD) system so that at least if I did cut a tyre I could continue to race without damaging my rim.
Conditions in Madeira were following a pattern. It would be completely dry and sunny at the bottom of the mountain in the township and then it would be cloudy, windy and even raining at the top of the mountain. A jacket was a must and again anti-fog eyewear was important. Packing for practice was always quite strange, to be leaving the house in the sun and then to be practicing in the rain.
I had a solid feeling in practice, my setup was good and looking forward to racing I was ready as I would ever be.
Day one was the more physical day of the two. The first stage being the toughest of the weekend and kicking things off it sure put me in the hurt box! Digging deep I was completely shattered after that one but happy to get it done, and out of the way. It took almost the whole liaison to recover but stage two would again offer a physical challenge, but would also throw in some short sections of slippery roots and narrow paths on rocks.
Another clean stage and I was happy with the start of the day. Stage three would be the most slippery and dangerous stage of the weekend. Not a lot of room to make a mistake, and rocks that would cut tyres or pinch easily if a line wasn’t ridden right. I was stoked to get another clean stage in the bag, and even a top ten finish, which was a great feeling on such a difficult stage. With a steep liaison to the feed zone I was out of water and starting to really feel the day’s effort on my body.
With only one more stage of the day I got back some energy to finish and with a wild moment at the top of the stage and almost a big crash I finished clean and ended the day sitting in 13th overall. Very happy going into day 2 as it was all about being focused for a mostly technical day.
Stage 5 would be the most physical and straight away I could feel the effects of yesterday's racing as I pushed through the pain. A solid stage but riding up to stage 6 I was not recovering as fast as I hoped and by the time I dropped in, I was already hanging. I rode this stage quite tight in my body so crossing the line I was determined to open it up a lot more for stage 7. This would be the "DH" stage of the weekend. A real short punchy stage with lots going on.
I started superfast and it was evident I was excited and riding a lot faster than I had practiced. Entering the first major rock garden I decided I wasn't going to touch my brakes and just enter at full speed. The problem was I was out of rhythm for the big steps and next thing I knew I was launching completely off the side of the course and straight into a photographer who became my safety net! I remember seeing how big his eyes were looking at me the last second before I hit him and it was a moment I'll remember for a long time! Luckily we were both OK and I could get back on course without major delay.
Finishing my stage I was thankful it turned out the way it had as it would have been a terrible thing to injure someone who was watching on the side of the course. With just a liaison down to the food stop I was happy to get some energy back. This part of the day I was really on my limits of concentration and I just needed to get through without a big mistake.
Stage 8 was a longer stage and I rode well up top. My concentration was definitely a little off, and it was smooth so all was going good until I hit the bottom section where it required a bit of pedaling and flow to get to the finish line. With only a few straights left to the finish line a slight problem happened to my chain and derailleur and I wasn’t able to pedal; something had jammed and I had to scooter to the finish line.
I was able to fix my problem within a few seconds after finishing and with only one stage left I wanted to finish the day as strong as I could. I was in 14th but times were really close. I knew I needed a good stage to stay in that position and I was pretty tired. For the first time in many years I had an energy drink as they were available at the start.
I was that out of gas I was prepared to try it out, even though I knew these drinks usually make me so hyped up I can't ride properly! This time it worked and I nailed my best stage finish of the weekend and kept my position of 14th.
I have to say I'm stoked to ride into this position. It's no podium or top ten but it's got me heading in the right direction and sure beats the opening two rounds and the struggles I’ve faced.
Onwards to Ireland with a much more positive outlook!
Words: Justin Leov
Images: Sebastian Schieck