There have been so many things going through my head over the last six weeks since the Whistler EWS. All the “what ifs!” My worst result of the season to this point was 9th. On paper, just needing 23rd or better in Finale Ligure sounds easy enough, but you just never know about a flat or a snapped chain…all the thoughts of something going wrong creep into your head. Deep down you’re thinking it will be fine, but you just never know.
We arrived in Finale Ligure to perfect weather the weekend before racing to get in a few rides and familiarize ourselves with the dirt. From day one, I felt relaxed and good about the week to come. The World Champion title was so close and I wanted it so bad, and I began to get more nervous as the weekend approached.
One thing that made me feel much more relaxed was watching the Josh Bryceland Interviews in the latest "This is Peaty" episode. I felt like everything he was dealing with going into the World Cup DH finals was exactly what I was feeling now. Everyone is telling you "you've got this" and deep down you know you do, but it's hard when you still have to do the race and not blow it. And hearing Josh talk about feeling the pressure and still being able to finish Top-3 for the race and secure the overall series made me feel that I could do the same thing.
We had a really good time during the practice days and did a few shuttles with Richie and Rosara. The mood was kept light and good times were had. I was also pretty pumped with the stages, as they had the best variety of trails we've ever had for an EWS round. They ranged from super tight and technical to fast and flowy and everything in between. It’s what I had always wanted to see at a race, and it’s what every race should consist of. Stages 1-4 for Saturday’s racing were all very different, and there were a lot of opportunities to pick up some mechanicals if you weren't riding smart or paying attention. Sunday’s stages were more fast and flowy. I was really happy when I saw these last two stages. I knew if I had a solid first day’s racing, it would be easy to nurse the bike home for the result that was needed to secure the overall.
My race plan was sorted; Push hard on the pedals, but go into full safety mode on anything technical or risky. My plan certainly didn't involve finishing on the podium and sticking to doing only what was necessary. After all, I'd feel like a right goose if pride and an over competitive nature got in the way and I crashed or damaged my bike to a point that it ruined the whole race and season. There was just too much at stake. I also know myself well enough to know that when racing begins, my “racer” brain takes over and I can find myself doing things that are risky. With that in mind, I packed what I called "the kitchen sink" for my race pack. I carried a spare of everything with me…derailleurs, hangers, cables, rotors etc…not to mention full DH tires. My pack weighed a ton and my bike was the heaviest it had been all year. But again, if I had a problem and wasn't prepared for it when I could have been, I would’ve never forgiven myself!Saturday - Race Day 1
Stage 1 -
A fun stage that was super tight and technical, yet somehow flowed decently. But, it was probably my most dreaded stage of the race because there were lots of sniper rocks where you could pick up a mechanical. My plan was to keep it super smooth and steady. My run went as planned. I certainly didn't feel like I was setting the world on fire, but I was doing what needed to be done. I ended up 8th for the stage, which gave me a huge smile!
Stage 2 -
A super mixed stage with flowy corners, high-speed rocks, and some very technical stuff lower down. I pushed hard in the pedaling sections, but kept steady on the rocky stuff and had a near perfect run…with one exception. There was a spectator off in dreamland in the middle of the track in a key section of the stage that required me to stop, get off my bike, and run over a rock section. I lost quite a few seconds and wasn’t pumped. But, I ended up 2nd for the stage, and moved myself to 3rd overall. I was felling well and truly pleased with how things were going with four stages to go.
Stage 3 -
Some really tight technical switchbacks on this stage and I was looking forward to getting it done. I had had a few problems with the super tight turns in practice that resulted in a couple of small crashes. It was just another one of those things that gets you thinking that the race isn't over until it’s over; one slip-up and anything could still happen. I got through the stage reasonably clean, and was very happy to have this stage out of the way.
Stage 4 -
Fast and flowy up top that dropped into the sketchiest slippery bottom section of any stage this year. With the day having gone so well, I wasn't going to push my luck on this stage. I even backed off on the pedaling because I didn’t want to be tired when I hit the bottom half and lose concentration and make mistakes. I still managed a small crash, but I was unbelievably pleased to have Day 1 of racing done. I was sitting in 4th place overall, just 8 seconds back from Yoann Barelli in the lead. I was very, very happy! Richie was also killing it, sitting in 3rd, just 3 seconds from the lead!Sunday - Race Day 2
Stage 5 -
We started the day with over 1000m vertical of climbing, over 20km in distance. It was quite flat for the first 8km, then 12km of fairly steep relentlessness. It was actually super enjoyable. Riding in a group up the hill with everyone chatting equals good times! Justin Leov has been one of my best friends on the circuit for many years now, and getting to chat and ride with him on all the climbs this year has been awesome. Despite knowing the super slow rolling DH tires would be like giving away time, I wasn't about to start taking any chances and the DH tires stayed on! My stage was super conservative. There had been some overnight rain that turned the stage a bit muddy and slippery in spots, but I was taking no chances and was glad to have the stage over.
Stage 6 -
Nerves were kicking in big time now. At around 15 minutes, the stage was the longest of the whole race. It had endless flowy turns and was the sort of trail you would never get sick of…so much fun! There were sections that could possibly cause a mechanical, but all in all, I knew I could just enjoy this stage. I rode everything to plan; steady but pushed hard on the pedals. About 5 minutes from the end of the stage, I knew I had it. A strong sense of wanting to throttle back completely and just enjoy the stage came over me. So, that’s what I did and soaked it all in a little while I sat down and cruised. I knew I was in contention for the race win, as well, but I didn't want to push my luck. I came across the line and it was like a weight had been lifted. I had been stressing the small "what if" scenarios for six weeks, but I had made a race plan, stuck to it and everything worked out as well as I could possibly hope for. I was now the World Champion!
So, that’s a wrap for another season, and I flew home with a complete sense of satisfaction. That feeling is very hard to come by in life. Anytime you achieve something that makes you feel that way, you have to make the most of it and enjoy it. It's the type of feeling that gets you through all the preseason training, the feeling that makes all the sacrifice worth it. I'm so happy right now!
As usual, I have to say a huge thanks to the Yeti crew and sponsors. There is so much more to winning races and titles than many people know. It really is a team effort and I have felt the love at all times this year, which just makes my job easier. And, of course, a massive thanks to Shauny Hughes. To have a mechanic that you have complete trust in is a very rare thing and he really is the cream of the crop!
For now, it’s rest time. I'm in my happy place (my garage) as I type this, about to have a Bundy rum, crank some tunes, and kick back and relax! Life is good! Cheers everyone!
Frame: YETI SB6c
Fork: FOX 36 Float 2015, 15mm axle, 170mm travel, 70psi
Shock: FOX Float X, 170psi
Wheels: DT Swiss 240 straight pull hubs, aerolite spokes, EX471 rims
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 3C Maxx Grip (DH casing), Maxxis Prototype rear 2.3 (DH casing) 25/29 psi
Cranks: Shimano XTR 170mm w/Stages power meter
Brakes: Shimano XTR m987 levers, Saint calipers, 180mm Freeza Rotors
Derailleur: Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Shifter: Shimano XTR
Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-36
Chainring: E-13 Narrow wide, 36t
Chain: Shimano XTR
Bar/Stem: Renthal Fatbar lite Carbon, 20mm rise, 740mm, Renthal Apex 50mm stem
Seatpost: Thomson Elite Dropper and Thomson seat clamp
Chainguide: E-13 Carbon LG1
Headset - Chris King