"If you build it, they will come"
is, as advice goes, pretty awful. Whether it's Flanders' Leftorium or life at the Etihad Stadium, it's probably not a maxim to live your life by. However, every once in a while a cavalier can-do attitude pulls through and makes space for something special.
This team is still in its infancy, but as we close curtains on the wild World Cup season, I thought we were all due a trip down memory lane. Somehow, the six months since Lourdes seems like a lifetime. I've certainly aged, we've all learnt a shit ton and collectively, we've eaten enough broccoli for it to be classified as deforestation on a near-industrial scale.
Here is part one of the Pinkbike Racing Photo Epic.
Before we get to the heart of it, some special thanks are in order, as PBR wouldn't have happened without them.
Tina Cathro for getting us to the races, Peter Duke for making sure we knew what we were doing when we got there, Craig Bunnell for making us brocco-holics, Harry Jenkinson for not only filming the chaos, but often revelling in the bedlam, Max Rendall and Glen Thompson for sleeping a cumulative 17.5 hours between them over 9 races and making the coverage as good as it is, and of course Ben Cathro, not only for taking on such an outrageous challenge, but also for being the ultimate BFG.
A big thank you to all the brands that supported us as well. To the outside, this might just seem like lip service, but without their kindness, faith, patience and professionalism, I don't know where we'd be. Also, a massive thank you to all the photographers who, after standing on a rainy hillside for 10 hours, then organised, edited and sent us all the photos you see before you. Thank you Ross Bell, Andy Vathis, Nathan Hughes, Nico Widovitch and Jack Tennyson for working with the team this year.
Round 1 - Lourdes - All Hell Breaks Loose
Lourdes was a strange event in some ways. As it happens, starting a team in the midst of a world's part shortage is brutal, and teams definitely aren't immune to that. After several weeks chasing components around France, we turned up to the race. I don't know if it was the fact that it was March, or maybe because we were new, but it didn't really feel like the real deal to me. It felt like a dry run. Like new shoes that are yet to feel like your own, life in a new team can feel somewhat disjointed as everyone settles into their roles. I think the riders felt a sense of that, too. For Thibault, it was a new team that happened very last minute. It was Aimi's first ever World Cup and there is a huge learning curve associated with that. Not just in terms of the track, features and speed, but also the procedures and figuring out how the weekend functions. Then, of course, it was Ben's first weekend leading the team, as well as doing his normal video commitments.
Round 2 - Fort William - Familiar Territory
After the disjointed is this really happening?
experience of Lourdes, we took a big step forward for Fort William. We were nowhere near perfect, and I think the point of progress is that you never really get there, regardless of how much you try, but you just have to keep trying all the same. We had some good days in Innerleithen testing and were joined by our fourth rider, Jackson Connelly.
Jackson fit the culture of the team like a glove and it wasn't long before him and Thibault went all in on 2 BFF Pandora bracelets. Jackson and his can-do yet irreverent take on the world was the thing we didn't know we were missing.
We came into Fort William without expectations, but we certainly left with them. Jackson knew he was on pace coming back from shoulder surgery, Aimi announced herself as somebody who not only could be but was
a genuine podium contender, and Thibault left knowing he had the speed, if only not the result to prove it. That weekend was like a tectonic shift within Ben's psyche, too. I think he realised that old flame hadn't died and he was still sheltering the precious red embers of his ambition.
Round 3 - Leogang - What Goes Up, Must Come Down
It felt like Fort William was a smash and grab for the team. One minute we were trundling up through the Scottish Highlands in a Luton Van without really knowing what lay ahead, the next we were driving away with some genuinely strong results. For me, and this might sound like something lifted out of a new age glorified stretch session, which I believe some call "yoh-ga", but it was a meaningful experience for me, and meaningful experiences make it all worth while.
Leogang however, was the antithesis. All the riders were battling one adversity or another and it never really felt like we got up to speed. Ben was ill, Jackson crashed in a near season-ending fashion and Thibault had an unfortunate front-wheel-wash coming onto the wooden step down. It wasn't that Thibault needed good luck, but rather the absence of bad luck. Even Aimi didn't feel like she was enjoying her riding in the same way as Fort William, battle on as she might.
Round 4 - Lenzerheide - Here Comes the Sun
Lenzerheide felt different, not least because it was a dry race at long last. Coming into the season there was such an atmosphere of pessimism about the first race in France happening in what was still technically winter. However, it transpired that winter in France was far more welcoming and hospitable that the summer months of Scotland or Austria.
The Lenzerheide venue is just fantastic. It overlooks a lake, there's high speed wifi and the accommodation is both close and of a decent quality. There were coffee shops and bakeries where you're lucky enough to merely pay 15 schmeckles and a well used kidney for a fancy pants coffee in a disposable cup. Luxury.
It also felt like something of a resurgence within the team. Thibault F***ing Laly came firing on all cylinders and managed to be the first ever PBR rider to feature on the live stream. It was a very surreal moment. It felt strange, almost weird to hear the commentators talk about our riders and our team as if they were a real thing, instead of something that we struggled and toiled with but didn't exist outside the fall walls of our own environment. We were all enormously happy for Thibault. Heavens knows he deserved it. Aimi also returned to form with a fifth place. I think this was another important moment for Aimi. She wasn't merely competitive because she knew the track or because it was wet. She was competitive because she absolutely deserves to be on merit alone.
With Jackson out injured, we also got to welcome Leona Pierrini
to the team. She slotted straight in and, by the end of the weekend had us scratching our heads - why didn't this rider have a fully fledged team supporting her? To qualify at a World Cup on a new frame that you've never ridden and that has a components list that you have absolutely zero experience with is quite a fantastic achievement. Her attitude was also absolutely top-brass, too.
As the dust continues to settle, stay tuned in the coming days for Part 2, plus an update on all things PBR.
After, "I don't do jumps", every time I see Aimi sending it it raises a smile.
I can't remember the last time I was this invested in something I wasn't a part of.
What. A. Team.