Hailing from Helsinki, Finland, is quite unlike the mountains of the South of France or usual destination where top level mountain bike athletes come from. However, with two downhill World Cup wins, a second place overall finish in the World Cup standings and now a successful enduro career, Matti Lehikoinen makes it work in his own unique style.
2016/17 has been a long off-season for Matti, short days and long nights make preparation for the season ahead challenging. Living in a town just outside of Helsinki has many benefits, mountains are just not one of them. His home town's highest peak comes in at an oxygen gasping 50 meters vertical (is that a mound or a hill technically?) and is in a region that is snow covered for a large portion of the off-season. Combine this with outside temperatures that are dropping to a mind warping -30-degrees—it's not the ideal climate for a gravity mountain bike racer.
But this is home, so Matti makes best use of the environment and is dedicated to making this work; Nordic skiing and a lot of cold rides before and after work mixed with some indoor gym sessions has kept the Fin on top for over 15 years. He's had a hugely successful career in downhill and transitioned well into enduro. Two World Cup wins in Brazil and Champery—finishing second overall in the 2007 World Cup Series, top 20 EWS results, with a top 15 in Canada. Going into the 2017 Enduro World Series season, he is confident of progressing further up the EWS standings.
Life for Matti is more than just being a "Pro mountain biker." Like many of us riders, he juggles training with a full time job(s). Working a normal work week with his second major passion; watches (a small hint is on his Red Bull painted Troy Lee helmet of a clock face). If you're in the market to buy or sell a classic Rolex or other premium watches drop him a line. There is also a sponsorship deal with Finnish watch specialist Sarpaneva Watches. If being a Pro rider and selling watches was not enough, Matti juggles this with another dream job; as a rally car instructor. Just before coming over to visit he had returned from six weeks work at Multiple Finish World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen's Rally Schools on the ice lakes of Lapland in the Arctic Circle.
With over 15 years racing at the top of the sport and Nukeproof's longest serving athlete. Matti has used his experience to give his input into many of Nukeproof's designs such as the original Mega, Scalp, Pulse and the new Horizon clipless pedals, and is also a product development athlete for Mavic.
He has been an integral part of the Chain Reaction Cycles race team prior to his life-threatening injury in 2011 which resulted in 56 screws and 13 plates in his face. With the help of long-term sponsors Red Bull and their training centre in Austria, and after a few years hiatus to recover; 2015 saw a welcome return to him racing.
Rather than go back to Downhill he chose to follow the enduro route to return. With a few years learning the art of racing enduro, regaining his race fitness and restoring his confidence, last year saw him posted some top results, breaking the top 20 twice with a 15th in Canada and an 18th in Finale Ligure. He also scooped an 11th place finish at the infamous Megavalanche and a 6th at the Trans Provance on his Mega 275.
In the lead up to the Enduro World Series Madeira Nukeproof invited Matti over to escape the cold and test his new Mega in preparation for the season ahead, where better to test than a sunny Blighty? Luckily for Matti, the UK weather played ball and treated us to an amazing week. With the conditions prime, we chose to shred some of Shropshire finest spots, Bringewood and Eastridge before heading for a day on the uplifts riding at Antur Stiniog.
Dropping into Antur.
Nukeproof and Mavic are stoked to continue supporting Matti. He's a unique character and personality, and combined with his experience and approach, are vital to Nukeproof and he is a true brand ambassador for us. With a 2017 target of some top results in the Enduro World Series, racing the Finish Enduro Series and joining the Nukeproof team at one-off events like the Megavalanche.
Follow Matti on Instagram and Facebook @MattiLehikoinen