Cranzilla 2017 Practice, Day 1 – Boris Beyer photo
He won it in 2014, the race that’s infamously now referred to as Crankzilla. Despite emerging from battle victorious, he described it as a day he will never forget.
“It was mentally the hardest of my life, and one of the most physically tiring.”
Fast-forward to 2017. The beast, a race billed as Crankzilla 2.0, is back. Is he?
We talked to MTB legend Jared Graves ahead of the Canadian Open Enduro presented by Specialized
Congrats on the third place in Aspen Snowmass, your best result of the season so far. How helpful is it coming into a big race like Whistler with a strong result like this? It’s now pushed you from 16th in the overall to 10th.
Whenever you come off the podium, it’s always a good confidence booster. Going back to the start of the season, I had some mechanical issues with the mud in Rotorua, and then just some dumb mistakes in Tasmania, and that sort of trend continued. Flat tire in Madeira. Flat tire in Ireland. And then it just starts making you think like you’re not even capable of finishing a race without an issue.
That’s the biggest thing that played on my mind. But just putting together a good race was good for the confidence. Especially since this year as well, it was still very physical, but it was a lot more sort-of skills based than maybe it was the year before. It was a good race.
So with all of your years of experience, you’re saying it still gets to you. You have a few races with mechanicals, with this or that, and it starts to get at your confidence and you start to question yourself.
In the thick of it in Rotorua, 2017.
I think you never stop learning, as far as racing goes. Sometimes, I think a lot of people don’t understand there is a definite element of luck involved.
In 2014 when I won the whole title, I had so many flat tires away from races but was lucky enough to not flat during a race. And it’s been the complete opposite of that the past couple of years. I’ll go weeks and weeks without getting a flat tire training, then get a flat during a race stage—it’s just the most frustrating thing ever. Then you get people on the internet talking about how it’s the tires, and they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
But yeah, you’re always learning. You’re always trying to approach things differently, and you just hope that everything works out on race day. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.
The trails right now are super dusty. How’s it felt the past couple days being out on the bike in Whistler?
Crankworx Whistler 2016 – Clint Trahan photo
It’s in a bad state, that’s for sure. But I think Curtis and myself both see it as a bad state, but in a good way, because we ride conditions like that a lot at home. It’s definitely slippery and it’s hard to ride, but it’s the same for everyone. I don’t think anyone’s out there thinking that they’re tearing it apart. It’s another challenge, and it’s the sort of conditions that I like, so I’m hoping it stays dry.Tell me about the bike. You posted recently on Instagram and it got a lot of attention. You’ve switched from the Stumpy29 to the Enduro29, citing advantages of longer travel, longer wheelbase and slacker head angle. And yet most of the chatter was about the colour…
I’ve been on the Stumpy a lot because it’s a really good size for me. The geometry’s really spot on. I think last year with the Enduro I kind of, to an extent, felt like I was in between sizes a little bit, but I’ve kind of adapted to a different bike over the past 12 months.
Then the Öhlins suspension that we’re running this year, to me, transforms the bike into a different bike, compared to the suspension we had on last year. So Öhlins have done a great job with that, and it just makes me feel at home on the bike. It pedals better than when I tried it last year and given the course here, you know, Top of the World to Ride Don’t Slide, that’s a big bike course for sure.
Trails like Howler and Billy Epic and everything on Stage 5 in the bike park, definitely something with a bit bigger bike and a bit more travel, it’s all going to help you out a little bit. I definitely wouldn’t say the stages this year are very pedal-y at all, so it’s more about a plough-fest than anything else really.You’ve said about Top of the World to Whistler Village (when it was Stage 5 in 2014) “This stage is my boy; I just love everything about it. To me this stage is enduro and truly combines every aspect of mountain biking into one stage.”
As you mentioned, this year we’ve got Top of the World to Ride Don’t Slide. What do you think about that combo?
It’s definitely different. I just love that long Top of the World down to the Village stage. You have to be fit, you have to be technically strong, you have to pace yourself, the terrain changes as you’re going from trail to trail so much that one will be tight and technical, one will be open, fast and drifty, and you’re just constantly adapting the whole way as you come down to totally different sorts of terrain. It just tests every sort of skill set there is to test. That’s why I just like that stage.
I love long stages too because you can really just ride into the stage. You have to pace it. If it’s a 15 or 20-minute stage you have to ride into it slowly. If you sprint, especially on Top of the World, it’s kind of like, you know you’re getting up to some decent altitude up there too so you can definitely get into some pretty high levels of fatigue early on. If you go too hard too early you’ll just blow up and you won’t come back.
I think another aspect of dropping into Ride Don’t Slide this year, the biggest thing I’m thinking of, is it’s going to be a real test for the arms. We’ve ridden it a couple times before, and riding it fast doesn’t seem to be a problem, it’s just linking it all together and trying to do a full run of it. When you get to the bottom and your arms are giving up, you just have to slow down, so you’ve got to be patient and calm and ride smooth and relaxed. If you don’t do that and your arms blow up half way down, you’re going to lose a lot of time.
Let’s take a look back at Crankworx Whistler 2016. You had DNF’s on two stages, yet you still smashed the final stage, coming in third on that stage. Mentally/emotionally, where does that come from, when you already know the final result isn’t what you’d hoped for?
Crankworx Whistler 2016 – Scott Robarts photo
Honestly, I feel like I didn’t ride anywhere near my best on the last stage, just because there was really nothing to race for. You can’t get worked up, you can’t get nervous, you can’t get to that point where you get the most out of yourself. That’s the best thing about racing.
Sometimes, or all the time actually, it really takes racing to bring out 100% of yourself. I got to the bottom that day, and the sections where I really knew I had to pedal hard, and I was just sort of like, ehhh, whatever. Especially the way the day started, I was so keen for the race last year and just to cut open my tire on Blue Velvet, like I never thought in a million years you could get a flat on Blue Velvet. But it was almost the exact same thing as happened to Josh Carlson the year before. Just one of those super sharp, shaley little razor blade looking rocks, just cut straight through the top of my tire. If anyone’s been up there and seen the trail, you’ll see there are those little rocks everywhere in certain sections. It was just a really disappointing way to start the day.
I tried to ride Stage 2, but the tube was just sticking out the hole in the tire, and I knew there was just no way it was going to make it to the bottom, and it didn’t. It just got ripped open. So then I just had an early lunch and tried to have a bit of fun on the last stage, and that was it.
Everyone’s watching down at the bottom, you’ve got the broadcast, and it’s worth it to get out there and give it a go and get some exposure for your sponsors and lay down a good time. It was fun. I always enjoy it, so it was worth doing.
Looking at your overall 2016 season, you’ve talked about how it was a frustrating year, though you did take a massive win in Aspen. As someone who’s been in this game for a while and competed in so many different disciplines, how much has your mental strength evolved over the years? When you have a tough year, what do you tell yourself to keep motivated and keep pushing through the funk?
Last year was definitely pretty tough. I knew Aspen was going to be a good race for me, so that was easy to get motivated for. I knew that Crankworx here would be a good race for me, but that didn’t go well with the mechanicals. After that, being so far back in the overall, I just honestly wanted the season to be over so I could hit the reset button. At that point of the year too, we already sort of knew the direction the sponsors were going for the year too.
We were already testing the product and we knew our bikes were going to be better for this year, so every part of me was just looking forward to this year. So it was kind of just wanting to get last season done with. Then last season I ended up finishing with an injury anyway so I didn’t even get to ride the last round. This year again I’ve had some random mechanicals, but I’ve had a fourth, a sixth, a third, and it would have been a top 10 in Ireland except the flat on the last stage pushed me back as well. Rotorua just was what it was, then a DNF in France. It’s definitely been a very up and down season again, but you just keeping looking forward to the next race.
I think, what you said about different disciplines—every discipline you do has different pressures. Like Four-Cross for example, it’s not like a downhill run where the pressure’s on just for one run. You have seven rounds, and it’s just a constant build up of pressure, you’re in the gate, you do the race then there’s a bit of relief, then it all builds up again for the next round. That gets you good at just dealing with that pressure during an entire day or afternoon. You can take little bits from every discipline. It all helps.
Same with your training as well. You can do downhill runs, you can go for cross-country rides, you can ride the road bike, you can go to the gym, there’s so many different things you can do that help your skills for enduro. That’s what's so rad about it. You never get sick of anything. A bit of everything always helps. So at this stage of your career what does your training look like in between races?
It definitely depends on the time of the season. If you’ve got more and more races coming up you definitely have to stay on top of your training. Since Aspen we’ve been fortunate enough just to be able to kick back a bit knowing there’s a six-week break after this round until the final in Finale. So we’ve just basically been enjoying Whistler.
We definitely go out and ride a lot. We’ve been out for some longer three or four-hour rides, then just doing some park laps as well. But there’s been no structure since we’ve been here. The night before we just make a bit of a plan for the next day based on how we’re feeling, and just enjoy it here.I've heard you say that being in Whistler is like being a kid on Christmas morning.
Pretty much. Curtis and myself, the last two years we’ve come here for a little training block for a week or so in June. Normally if you’ve been at home for a while training, you leave for a block of races and you’ve just got into the rhythm of being at home and living a normal life again, and sometimes it can be a bit hard to go away. But then every time you go for that trip in June, you’re like, I’m going to Whistler. This is awesome. It makes it easy coming here for sure.
The original Crankzilla, 2014 – Nina Porcelli Fenn photo
Let’s loop back to 2014. You won here on the course that was infamously dubbed Crankzilla. In a blog post you described it as “... a day I will never forget. It was mentally the hardest of my life, and one of the most physically tiring.” What do you remember about that day?
I knew I was mentally and physically ready for the day, but things got really tough. I was riding a prototype fork at the time, and I hit a big g-out on Microclimate, which was Stage 1. It blew a lot of the air from the positive chamber into the negative chamber of my fork, basically meaning that under small bumps I had no sensitivity, like my fork was locked out. It wasn’t until I had a really big impact that my fork would open up. And then when it opened up it just went straight to bottom.
So, I was riding the first four stages like that all day. My fork was borderline dangerous, in that it was dangerous trying to ride fast with a suspension setup that was just completely wrong. Then combine with the fact that, somehow on Stage 2 through a little water crossing, there was some oil in the water or something, I don’t know what it was, but basically I had no back brake for the next three stages after that too. So riding with a poorly functioning fork and one brake, on the hardest course of the year. Combine that with the heat, and it was a frustrating day. But then we had some time before the last stage back at the pits and got it all figured out. Got my fork working again. Got some new brake pads in there.
I was surprised actually after Stage 4. I rode a really bad Stage 4 and just was dead quiet. Just really pissed off. We hadn’t seen the results all day, and I was still sitting, looking at how I’d done on the last stage the year before. I knew I still had a chance at the win if I really had a good last stage, and I think I was only 30 seconds off the lead, and it was a 22 minute stage, so I knew a lot could happen. I lay down a perfect stage, so it was just the most down and then up day. I thought there was no way in hell I was going to win after Stage 1 or Stage 4. So it was a pretty emotional day to pull it off, especially leading the series.
I thought the whole season was going down the toilet that day, and then, to turn around and win and grow the points lead, was just the best feeling at the end of the day. Given that you’re in 10th in the overall EWS standings currently, what are you looking for out of the rest of the season?
Definitely more podiums. You always want to be on the podium. 10th isn’t really where I want to be, but considering I’ve had one round with a DNF, and the mechanicals in Rotorua had me in the mid-30’s there, so those two races have hurt my points a lot. Without those, I’d be right up there, top five overall.
I just want to finish the season strong at this point. I guess though, especially after the DNF in France and dropping back a bit, my one little goal for the season was to make sure I have a single digit plate on my bike for next year. That was a little goal. So sitting in 10th now, I just have to move up a bit more.
Watch Jared in the Canadian Open Enduro presented by Specialized, Round 7 of the Enduro World Series, LIVE on crankworx.com and right here on Pinkbike:
Sunday, August 13, 5:30–7:30pm PDT
Monday, August 14, 2:30–4:30am CEST
Monday, August 14, 12:30–2:30pm NZST