Off-season. A phrase that conjures mixed emotions... Sure, there are those able to regard it in a positive light—an opportunity for much-needed rest—time to relax the body and mind away from the saddle and the race track. For others it's all about the hard grind—a sufferfest spent putting in the hours with a brutal physical training regime that will allow them to climb another rung of the long ladder to the top. But sadly for many of us, it's a dull and dirty word… an empty chasm of nothing but a long, dark, lonely, cabin fever-inducing void that must be endured while the weather goes off the rails outside. There are also, however, the lucky few who continue to live the vida loca on bikes all year long. These are mainly pro riders blessed by the latitudes they call home. Australians, for example. And Californians.
Record levels of rainfall were (another) shaky start to 2017 for residents of Trump's South-west, but for the stars of Intense Factory Racing it was soon time to make off-season... very good... again. The long awaited team camp was upon them; a coming together of riders, old and new, with the management at the home of the legendary bicycle brand in the SoCal city of sun, Temecula. Testing, training, getting to know sponsors, and above all... riding, would feature heavily in a month-long schedule of nigh-on exclusively good times. Before anyone's eyes glaze over green with envy let's remember; the door is open. If you too would like to be a professional mountain bike racer and live this kind of a life there really is absolutely nothing and no one stopping you. Except; Aaron Gwin, Rachel Atherton, Danny Hart, Manon Carpenter, Troy Brosnan, Tahnee Seagrave, Greg Minnaar, Tracy Hannah, Connor Fearon, Emilie Siegenthaler, Loic Bruni… you know, those type of people.
What exactly goes on at Team Camp for the accomplished and privileged few at the sharp end of downhill racing, too often remains a mystery. Well, this time Pinkbike was there to share a piece of this American pie. Come aboard as we penetrate that warm and fruity interior, with a more than ride-rich highlight reel.
Decades of heritage or not, you can't be caught standing still in an industry that moves on this fast. The aluminium workshop at Intense HQ is but a fraction of its former self and just a couple of expert fabricators remain on hand to build prototypes, of which two types, each in different sizes, had to be ready for testing with the arrival of the team.
Jeff Steber (above left), founder of Intense, remains well at the centre of proceedings. Even after some 24 years in the game, he's still got the bug, riding, digging trails and building bicycle frames himself.
The long road to the all new Tracer, lines the walls of the workshop just two weeks before launch.
The old and the new… Pieces of history fill every nook and cranny at the HQ, but they're only gathering dust. It's time to look to the future and after some low-profile years on the World Cup scene, Intense know it. This is the year they fire-up plans to go big at the races and regain the kind of presence they had in the late 90s to early 00s. For that, you need to a build a solid team and Intense will be attempting it from the ground up with a bunch of riders with bright futures all committed to helping put the rock 'n' roll American brand back on the map
Charlie 'Chuck' Harrison – USA.
Dean 'Deanos Machinos' Lucas – AUS.
Jack 'Shark Attack' Moir – AUS.
Nik 'Nasty Jr' Nestoroff – USA.
The weapon of choice for the long season of competition ahead...
the Sram-equipped M16C.
Bad hombre's... The squad that spans the hemispheres is back in town.
Rain ruts the size of Horseshoe Bend had just written off many of SoCals most popular riding haunts, including a couple of the closest and best. Thankfully Fontana, aka Fontucky, not far from L.A., runs well rain or shine, so the boys found themselves back on the hill that hosts the winter series testing wheels and a fresh prototype from Jeff.
Definitely not camo... The IFR squad have all kinds of colors to roll out this season thanks to their new partnership with fellow California originals, TLD.
Considering the extreme wet the team found plenty of grip amongst the granite and put their new Enve carbon wheelsets to the test. Ignoring the infamously flat 'wall' section, the track offers a super easy shuttle and the chance to smash out many a consecutive lap, the perfect place to compare set-ups.
Team mechanics, Ernie and Chappy, were there along with Enve's Eli for the regroup and to dial in the changes between laps.
Charlie Harrison is the man here at Fontana, winning about as many races as he enters in these climbs, here leading out the guys on one of the many winding paths of destruction.
Thanks to a heavy lunch order of foot-longs, all with extra avocado, the squad made it all the way through to sundown and the best light of the day.
Ernie packs up ready to head back to base for an evening on the tools with a delicious In 'n' Out Burger take-out for nourishment. Thick shakes and animal fries all the way.
As the saying goes; a mechanic's work is never done, but a rider's... is. Or something. Dean takes flight after a long day behind bars.
The hot-tub doesn't need the time-machine function when the good times are now... Definitely the 'happy place' for the boys at team camp, as well as for Jeff and Jenn (his wife and the Intense marketing manager). They had their own tub next door but rented their neighbour's luxury pad for the month to put the team up in style.
A washed-out shuttle road saw an end to the plan to session the more highly-acclaimed 69 trail, so the crew drove on towards Nik's turf in the city of San Marcos. As you can see he likes to scent mark his territory before getting down to it.
The ever good-natured, Bernat, has his work cut out keeping the boys out of harm's way.
Cougars are about the least of it.
Harrison preparing to drop into the biggest season of his young career.
Nik's local mountain isn't the steepest, but it's an easy shuttle and another good hill to put in the laps and get up to race speed.
Spot the rider among the trees and the cougars.
This year will be a big one for the 19yr old California local with the moto background. Stoked to be part of a full factory set-up this season, Charlie will now go toe to toe on an even footing with the American greats of the circuit like Gwin, Shore, Mullaly and Jackson.
With a half-done team video that wasn't going to finish itself, the boys had work to do with bikes of all shapes and sizes. Making a dubious call, in light of recent conditions, the team decided to gamble on a trip up into the San Bernadino mountains, hoping they wouldn't have to break out the snowboards. Luckily the drive paid off and despite a good coating up top, the lower steeps were ready to rip after a little bit of graft on the mcleod. This is a legendary, but unofficial trail that has stood the test of time for over 20 years of big bike abuse, actually before a couple of the team were even born. Anyway, it proved to be a great choice to show the cameras what the guys could do and the loam was flying.
Who doesn't love fresh donuts? Bernat signs his name in the lawn before the morning commute.
With the morning spent filling in clips for the Tracer launch video the crew couldn't wait to get their claws into the dark dirt for the team edit.
Dean is the only rider on the team who's had an elite podium and the champagne initiation from Greg Minnaar in Switzerland 2015 is a memory that surely can't be beaten. Maybe matched, though—watch this space.
A nice solid POV shot, easily achieved, with plastic bottles.
Stable as a horse's bedroom. Jack gets strapped in ready for action.
Time was of the essence, with so much to fit in on the shoot...
so priorities came first for the boys, as ever, such as tipping this boulder into the ravine.
Sooner or later, shredding this old track to bits was back on the itinerary and it was obvious exactly why each of the four is a threat for the season to come, flowing through the gnarly ruts as if on rails.
Not a typical section of trail for your average Australian, but Jack's no average Australian.
Jake helps gets the switchbacks into decent shape ready for the next loam bombing of the Suspended Productions lenses.
The Aussies smashing their way down through the ruts and onto the road-crossing.
Charlie sees off the last of the winter snow headed towards the final field section and most importantly, dinner, on the last lap of the day.
Built by Eric Carter and friends long back in the day, the iconic SoCal jump spot is just a stone's throw down the highway from Temecula. Overlooked on their 2016 team camp it was a must-visit location to put some respectable distance between the team's wheels and the ground.
With the management all about the airtime the team had some added pressure to go big and look good doing it. Bernat and Chappy up the ante.
Mechanic, Ernie, soaring like a majestic Catalan eagle.
Definitely no match for the many styles of down-under from Mr. Lucas...
The crew reloads the manual way.
'Nasty Nik Jr', never afraid to go big.
Moir owning the scrubs for the day, albeit in a narrow win over long-time sender of this spot, Chappy.
The squad reflects on their squad goals.
Intense FR are go! Nothing unmanly about good team spirit my friends.
//THE ENDURO SPOT//
With just a couple of days to go before the new Tracer launch, we headed out late in the afternoon with Bernat for an enduro shoot, another quick trip from HQ. There's many a great fun lap to be had among the bushes and boulders at this place.
SoCal sunset at its finest and despite World Cup DH retirement, this old guy's still got it.
Breakfast with Nik. Some would say six eggs just for him is excessive, but this is a man on a mission and with ex-bodybuilder, Brian 'Nasty' Nestoroff, for a father you understand the path he's on.
Hosting Spomer of Vital MTB for breakfast and an all-important, USA versus AUS, grudge-match quiz.
//ONE LAST RIDE//
One of the last outings on the big bikes before the long flight home, well for 50% of the team at least, was a return to the San Bernadino mountains. With all the snow melted away on the upper slopes, the boys were able to pack in the shuttle runs. It would be the last training session together before the first significant regroup of the season in Rotorua, NZ.
Ernie once again bringing that textbook style to the hill.
Back at base and hard on the chill once again.
Yes, indeed camp-life sure looks ideal. It would be remiss of us as journalists, however, to present this photo-set as a complete and thorough representation of what these pro-riders really experienced here in Temecula. The following list includes some of the aspects that, for better or worse, have been omitted in the pictures:
Gym sessions, protein shakes, bananas, foot-long subs, burritos, jerky, pancakes, fish tacos… let's just say 'food'; sleeping, stretching, Reflex Motocross, shoe shopping, California traffic jams, dirty laundry, surfing, sky-diving, Whatsapping, toilet blocking, BBQs, opening boxes of fresh kit, faffing, Instagramming, iPhones falling into hot tubs, XC riding, being sick in swimming pools, and rap music.
Nothing but Jack Moir floating blissfully on a giant white swan in a California infinity pool. A level of calm we should all be aspiring to.
Look out for these not-so-far from Hollywood A-listers and their fresh new sound at a World Cup near you. It's the sound of speed so don't blink or you'll miss it.