After an amazing start for Sam Hill and the team at the first two rounds of the Enduro World Series we were hoping for the same at the opening round of the UCI Downhill Mountain bike World Cup this past weekend in Lourdes, France.
Team Manager Nigel Page reports on a mixed weekend…
Team mechanic Brooks Cardwell is currently injured so wasn’t able to make it, but my good friend Matt Stott stepped up to the job of team mechanic for the weekend and myself – driving our awesome newly transformed race van, (thanks to the guys at Merseyspeed for doing an amazing job and Vinyline for getting our graphics done so fast) – Stotty and riders Mike Jones and Elliott Heap set off driving to the Channel Tunnel on Monday lunchtime and onto the long haul through France to Lourdes over a thousand miles from home.
We eventually got to Lourdes very late on the Tuesday night and then it was an 8.30am set up of our pits. After getting set up, it was off for the food shopping and a late evening meal back at our apartment and bed ready for sign-on Thursday morning and then course walk.
We all headed up to walk the track Thursday lunch time and it was looking great with a couple of small but nice new fresh sections and the track was looking dry and super fast.
Friday came along and the riders were excited to get up the track for Elite men’s practice on their brand new bikes equipped with SRAM’s new Code DH brakes and massive 220mm rotors. These brakes are perfect for fast and steep WC tracks with so much power, the riders can leave their braking later and there are no overheating problems at all.
All went well in practice and both Mike and Elliott were loving the track. Mike being ranked in the top 80 got to do a couple of timed runs at the end of practice but Elliott as it’s his first Elite men’s race is not ranked in the top 80 from last season, so he went up and walked the track whilst the fastest riders did their timed runs.
Mike was a couple of seconds off the pace of the very top riders, but no stress as this is the first day of practice, but myself and Mike went up to walk the track and I pointed out a few lines he wasn’t doing that some of the other top riders were taking which looked maybe a little faster.
Saturday morning came along and it was just a short practice session before qualifying. Elliott looked super fast and smooth in practice and Mike had stepped up another level and was flying. I made my way down to the gully section for the last bit of practice which was super sketchy and scary to watch and Mike was going to try a slightly different line. Two years ago when Mike got third he was doing a line here that no-one else was with a huge transfer jump but this year they taped the corner before the jump so it wasn’t possible, so Mike was forced to do the main line which was really dodgy at full speed.
Elliott came through on his last practice run and looked as good as any of the riders and I just waited for Mike. I saw him coming through the trees a few corners up and he seemed to be going faster than anyone else, but something went really wrong as he hit the take off and he just ejected over the bars flying through the air and smashing into the bank of dirt and rocks!
I filmed the crash – hit play below:
It was horrendous, I ran up to get to him and he walked off the track very winded and holding his wrist.
I sat him down and helped him get his helmet off once he said his neck and head felt ok, the 100% helmet did its job for sure and his Leatt neck brace, which even cracked on impact! Thank God he had both of these on. The medics came to check him out and apart from his wrist which luckily was still straight and no compound fractures he wasn’t too bad.
Mike just wanted to get down the hill and so I helped him walk down and took him straight off to hospital to get checked out. Thanks so much to Hérve from 100% for lending us his car. After seeing the doctors and getting an x-ray what we thought was confirmed, Mike had fractured his wrist and so on with a cast for the young Welshman.
He was so disappointed after training so hard this off season and getting so fit and strong, but that’s what can happen in this sport, it’s very dangerous for sure. But the positive news was the fracture looked ok, no separated bones or surgery needed so hopefully Mike will be healed up and strong enough in six weeks’ time ready for his favourite track in Vallnord, Andorra at round four. Heal up quick buddy.
Whilst we were in hospital young Elliott was up trying to qualify in his first Elite men’s downhill World Cup which is no easy task. I am sure Elliott was nervous but was riding easily fast enough to make the top 80 cut. I was trying to find out news from the race whilst at the hospital and it turned out Elliott crashed on the exact same section as Mike, but was able to get up grab his bike and still make it down to qualify in 58th position. Great job, Elliott.
When I got back to the team pits with Mike I went to find Elliott to say well done and he was laying in the race van as white as a sheet feeling sick and I found out he had banged his head during his crash. Once he was feeling better, to be safe I took him over to the UCI head trauma doctor to get him checked out to see if he was safe to race or not on Sunday. After a good chat with the doctor and passing all the tests the doc gave Elliott the all clear to race on Sunday as long as he still felt ok to ride 100% as normal.
So Saturday night we went back to the apartment, I cooked dinner and Elliott and Mike studied the helmet cam runs and Mike pointed out to Elliott the parts he could improve and lines that were maybe a little faster.
Sunday came along and it was race day, Elliott’s start time was just around 2.30pm and the weather forecast was saying high winds and torrential rain storms in the afternoon with 100% chance of heavy rain at 4pm.
I was waiting in the finish area with Mike whilst Elliott and Stotty headed up to the top for his race and I started to feel the odd drop of rain. At this time the course was super rough and dusty. The rain held off and Elliott put down a great race run.
I know he must have been nervous after his crash in qualifying and apart from making a mistake at the top tricky rock garden, I thought he rode amazingly to post a very fast time of three minutes putting him in second place. Elliott stayed on the three-man hot seat for a long time before his time was beaten and then Frenchman Alex Fayolle put down a storming run of 2.52 matching the fastest qualifying time.
Alex stayed in the hot seat all the way through until the top 25 live TV riders were due to start and then as the weather predicted the heavens opened and the high winds blew in, making it impossible for the top seeded riders to go anywhere near as fast as Alex’s time. The weather just got worse and worse until the last 10 or so riders.
The track was a complete write-off; the best riders in the world were basically just trying to ride the very steep and sketchy track with massive winds, there were some wild moments for sure and the skills the riders have was awesome to watch and they were still trying to push it, but it was impossible to get anywhere near Alex’s blistering run in the dry so that was it for the race and Alex Fayolle took his first WC win, congrats to him.
It was a real shame for the race fans but they still got an exciting show from the world’s best in the rain and this has definitely thrown a spanner in the works for the points overall in the series heading into Fort William for round two in just over a month.
A huge thanks to Matt for stepping in as our mechanic and doing a great job helping out all week. Well done Elliott who ended up 23rd which was amazing, thanks to all our sponsors for the help over the weekend and healing vibes to Mike Jones, you’ll be back soon buddy.
Next week myself, Sam Hill and Elliott Heap head out to Madeira for the third round of the Enduro World series, so stay tuned.