Fast. Funny. Crazy. If we had to pick three words to describe Yoann Barelli, these would be them, although we'd leave it up to him to decide which order they go in. When enduro made the jump to the mainstream, Yoann was one of the first riders to emerge as a star of the sport. Yes, he's fast enough to play with the big boys, but we'd bet that more people know him from his enthusiastic presence in videos and on social media. His Tuto Tuesdays on Instagram, which is still running strong, is arguably one of the best regular features on mountain bike social media. Part of what made Yoann so endearing to his growing army of fans was not just his ability to go fast or big, but his ability to not take himself too seriously; he's more than happy to post videos of his crashes or having a laugh at his expense.
After a strong showing in the debut EWS season in 2013, Yoann moved from a French Giant team to their factory program. Yet after four good years he is moving on. We sat down with Yoann, looking to find out more about his move and what he sees as his future.
What motivated you to move to Commencal?
Well, why Commencal? It's been 20 years that I've known Max, really. I started riding on a Sunn, so I basically followed the team Sunn, and all the adventure. And then Max created Commencal. I always followed their story, I always liked the fact that they don't do carbon for ecological reasons. That's something that I always really liked. I like the spirit of Commencal, they are fun, they are creative, they do a bunch of video content, stories, and they are really adventurous. They are not scared of taking risks. These match with my personality really well. You see that too? Commencal are a small brand and they already have the Ravanels racing enduro... Where do you fit into that?
I will fit right in! [laughs] At first I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to have Commencal as a frame sponsor and to add different sponsors to create my own thing, but I quickly realised that it was a lot of work to do on my own. A lot of work! Then when I came back from the EWS in Finale I was on the plane on my way back to Whistler thinking about it, and an idea came to my mind: “what about if I talk to Cedric and Cecile?” They will be at the EWS races, and we already talked during the season and I was like, "Is it okay if I stay with you at the EWS?" They're like, "Yeah, no problem." So I was like, "But what about if I just link with their team?" I called Cedric and Cecile and they were into it right away. They were like, "Look, we were already thinking about it, but we didn't know, you are on Giant now, it's a big team. We are really small, and you are a little bit crazy so we are not surprised [laughing]". They did the loop around their current sponsors, and everybody liked the idea and got on board. A week later they called me and they were like, "Look, everything is going in the right direction, and we are pretty sure and pretty confident that we can make it happen." I basically took my decision then. Are you going to do a full season of EWS next year then?
Yeah. I'm gonna do two full seasons, (including) next year and then the season after. Watch out world, I am coming! I was a little bit confused during the season. I was thinking a lot on doing some of the stuff, maybe racing some DH, maybe a few other things, but I quickly realized that if I do a bunch of different things, I am not going to be as focused as if I only race one thing and it's going to be the best way for me to be average everywhere, and not performing at all. I know that with a little bit of dedication I can be one of the top guys in enduro. I don't want to reach the end of my career and be like, "f*ck, I went around it, and I didn't actually achieve what I wanted to do", so I'm going to go for it. I'm going to do two full EWS seasons, with some other stuff mixed in: some urban DH races, maybe the Red Bull Hardline and the Mega. I went to see Rampage, and that's crazy, but it's still something that I have in mind. I want to do the Andes-Pacifico, and one or two adventure races per year. Most of all I want to be myself, doing a bunch of cool stuff around, but focusing on the EWS.
You're coming to EWS with a goal to win. Is that the idea?
Win? Of course [laughs]. The goal...that's everyone's goal really, but for me it's going to be more about focusing working hard all season and not just during winter. We all do that (work hard during the winter), and for me I know that as soon as the season starts I kind of lose a little bit of focus. I'm too much into the results. Even if I say that I'm not like that; I'm a racer and I can't help it. [laughs] You think about the result and not really about the process. If I stay consistent with the pleasure that I take on the bike while training, and focus on the process, I think that I can have a really good season; the same way I started 2016. I'm going to try and do that. I'm working with a mental trainer as well. These are things that I never done before, and I'm stoked. Does this mean you have to be serious at races then?
Well, I'm still gonna be a goof, because that's who I am! But yeah, I'm gonna try to take it a little bit more seriously with my training, and the preparation, and the process. Yeah, I'm feeling really good with the bike as well. What bike are you planning to run? Is it going to be the V4 is it?
It's the Meta V4.2. It's a 160mm, 170mm bike. In aluminum. It's the exact same weight as my Reign. We've full-on big tires, everything the same. I was a little bit concerned about the weight at first, but when I was checking the weight of the bikes, I was like, "Oh, actually it's the same." I'm pretty stoked. I had the geometry of the bike on my laptop all year, and I was doing my research and comparing, doing some comparisons with other brands and the Commencal, and blah-blah-blah. In my head, I was like, "Okay, that's a bike that's going to pedal well, and be pretty easy to handle quickly," and that's exactly what it is.
Have you tested a few bikes? How big a factor was the bike in making your decision?
Well, to not lie: I basically said "Yes" to Commencal without trying the bike [laughs]. On paper I was confident, but inside I was like, "Ooh." Have you been timing yourself, or just riding it?
No timing. Just riding. We did a video shoot and photo shoot for the release. I did a bunch of laps and stuff I'm feeling really good on it. I know that I'm climbing well with this bike. The way we worked with George and Collin to set up the Reign, we are basically setting the Reign as a downhill bike, with a coil shock, no lockout, big tires. Sometimes we were with two Magic Marys - front and rear. With that I was really confident in the downhills, but I know that my weakness is the pedaling. So now you're looking for a bike that offsets your weaknesses rather than one that simply compliments your strengths. Is that a good way of putting it?
Exactly. A bike that pedals well, and I think that the Commencal is the perfect combination of that. It handles well, and it makes you really confident on the descents. It's dynamic, precise, and it's easy; really
easy, to ride fast. It's cool.
Does that fact that your fiance, Katrina Strand, rides a Commencal help your decision?
Yeah, Katrina has a rider development team with 3 great youths: Ruben, Felix, and Neve. I was kind of working with them and her, but it didn't really make sense because I was on another bike, and now I'm going to be on the same bike as them, even if we don't have the same apparel, it's going to be even better. I'm gonna take them with me. We're gonna go do some BC Enduro Series events together. I even asked them if they would welcome me on their team and they said yes, so I’m stoked! [laughs]
I'm looking forward to this. There is also the fact that Commencal just arrived in Canada last year, and they are based in Squamish. So that's perfect for you then, with you living in Whistler?
It's perfect. Commencal are really pushing on the fact that I'm gonna help them to boost Commencal Canada. It will be a good opportunity to learn some other sides of the job. You say that for the next season, you're looking to try and be more competitive over the whole season, rather than going for the one-race pace?
I think so. The season is really long. It's been two (consecutive) years now that I have missed a round because I'm either injured, or because of some other stuff. Despite that, I'm always close; I was 9th there before. I'm 15th this year, or 16th. I don't know. Somewhere around that. I know that if you do a really consistent season in the top 5, or even in the top 10, all the time, then you are in the top 5 overall; or even on the podium; or 2nd; or you win. For sure, being in the top ten now it's pretty hard, but if you race smart, if you practice well, if you are in the moment and doing some good races. Yeah, it can work.
How was the 2016 season for you? When you came out in Chile and Argentina, you looked like you were going to be one of the guys to beat this season, and then it kind of tailed off a bit.
It's funny, because in Chile, for me, it was the first race of the season and I was really looking forward to racing. I wasn't focused on the result. I wasn't focused on the ranking and stuff like that. I was just like, okay, I'm really looking forward to doing the whole thing--the practice, the GoPro, the track walks, taking notes and everything. And I did everything perfect; sleeping, rest...everything. I was at the start on the gate on the first day of the race, and I was like, "Look, you did everything perfect. You're ready. You trained hard all winter. You practiced really well. You did everything. You are ready. Now you can ride full gazz. Just do your thing, and everything's going to go well." Then boom, I got 3rd on the first stage, and I was like, "Wow. I can do it." Then I got like 6th overall at like, I don't know, 10 seconds off the podium or something. I was stoked.
There was a group of you on about the same second, wasn't there? It was you, Flo and Jerome I think. Yeah. There was a bunch of you guys.
And Vouilloz. There were maybe 4, 3, or 5 seconds or something like that. It was crazy. I finished Chile, and I was like, "Okay, next week there is Argentina. I'm gonna be on the podium." I was only focused on the podium. I arrived in Argentina, I did all the practice just like ... I'm winning! Yeah! Without thinking about anything but the podium. Then I f*cked up, because I did everything wrong. Everything in reverse. In the opposite. I wasn't focused on anything but the end result. I was just like, "Yeah, it's okay. I'm good now. I can be on the podium." Then after the first day of racing, I was seventh, which is okay. Then the next day, I was so mad, I was so mad at myself. I was like, "f*ck, you should be on the podium. You should be there on the first, second or third, blah-blah-blah." On the first stage, I was riding hard, focusing on, okay, you gonna come back, you gonna come back, you gonna come back. Then at some point, I don't know, I crashed, and everything disappeared. I crashed a second time, and then I went off track, and then I bombed. I lost something like 40 seconds in one stage. I was like, "f*ck, that's it." I just made it through the day. I got like 17th. In Ireland, I did everything perfect again. Boom, I got seventh. That's okay. That's the consistency that we're talking about. If you are at 6, 7, 5; by the end you are on the podium. But, you have to focus on everything before the race, not only about just wanting to ride at full gas. Everybody rides full gas. It's what you do before that's gonna get you on the podium.
What is your role at Commencal then? Is it strictly being a rider or is it something more than that?
Yes and no. Rider, yes, but it's also going to be a lot of development on the bikes, working with the engineers, and everything like that. We'll work together on the downhill bikes, enduro bikes, new stuff that is coming, and also a lot of communication. (We'll have) a lot of photo shoots. I'm basically gonna be an ambassador, and I'm gonna be their number one guy that they are gonna communicate with. It's gonna be a complete thing. That's what I was looking for really. I want to be with brands that are gonna work with me and that are gonna use me a lot. I'm 31 years old now, and being a rider, it's cool, but they can use me for a bunch of (other) stuff because I've been riding for 20 years now. I'm really stoked, because Commencal is going to do that, and my other partners SRAM and Dakine are gonna do that as well. I am very stoked on it. Can we expect more Tuto Tuesdays, then?
Oh yeah. That's not gonna change. [laughs] Maybe doing something different... I don't know if it's ... It's cool and stuff, but it's harder than Wheelie Wednesday... Wyn does a wheelie every Wednesday. In a different place. That's pretty easy. But for me, I have to find a new idea every week. It's a pain in the ass. Maybe I will do something different. I will see.
Will we see the crazy Yoann Barelli again? Maybe a lot of your English-speaking fans won't remember your early videos as they were all in French.
I know. Maybe I should do some crazy stuff. I am the crazy Yoann Barelli all the time ha ha ha. That would be cool. I have all the videos that I did the past 4 years in my laptop, a few days ago I was watching them all and I was laughing so hard, watching the first video that we did with Loic [Bruni]. I was just like, "What the f*ck? That was pretty crazy and funny. Maybe I should do that." I was actually thinking out loud, "You should do more of that. That was really cool."
I want to say happy new year every one. I wish you all the best, to follow your dream, and to make it happen! Don’t be scared to take some risks, life will always reward you for that!