MTB World Champs – Race Report by Sasha Smith

This year I was selected to be part of the 47-strong NZ MTB to go to the World Championships in Canberra in September in the U19 Women’s XC Race.

This year I was selected to be part of the 47-strong NZ MTB team to go to the World Championships in Canberra in September in the U19 Women’s XC Race.

My first World Champs experience started on Friday 28/8. After a day of travelling with some of the team we arrived at Canberra Motor Village where the other kiwis had set up camp in our row of cabins, and Chris Mildon had already stocked up our cupboards with lots of good food!

The first four days before my race on Wednesday involved practicing the technical Mt Stromlo course, an 8 hour team relay and getting to know the awesome people in the Kiwi team. The first practice out on the course on Saturday was when I began to realise where I was – at the World Champs! Seeing the other countries out practicing in their country’s kit was a real thrill.

just before callup

On Saturday night we were presented with our NZ Jerseys. This had to be one of the best moments of the trip, getting to wear the silver fern for the first time which previously was just a goal and was now a reality. The uniform is an eye-catching black and white design personalised with our names on the back as well as sponsors logos on the side. The red of the R&R sport logo against the black and white on my shirt looked especially mint.

An 8 hour relay event (not a Worlds event) at Sparrow Hill gave us a chance to show off our NZ kit as well as to get a bit of speed in our legs. Monday and Tuesday were my last two days out on the course. Mt Stromlo was burnt down in bushfires in 2003 so it is very open and there is no tree cover anywhere. The course involved a fast gravel road start – this was a gradual climb up to the start of the singletrack which kicked off the rocky and technical first half of the course. At the top of the climb was the famous spectator spot “The Hammerhead”, a dodgy looking rockface which at first looked impossible. After a few crashes into the pads I nailed it on the fourth attempt. Most of the kiwis seemed to do “The Hammerhead”, unfortunately not without a few casualties. Monique Avery in the U23 broke her arm in practice and wasn’t able to race. Katie O’Neill had a nasty crash which landed her in hospital, she was able to race although a bit shaken up. After “Hammerhead” was bermed switchback downhill, awesome fun but dodgy if you are tired! More fun downhill, table tops and a dual slalom track led you to the feed zone. The second half of the course was less technical and had more flow. My full-sus Giant Anthem X0 made the course especially fun. I enjoyed the technical course and felt comfortable on it. I was ready for race day.

Wednesday 1st September – Race Day. Breakfast was hard to down on race day morning. I was obviously nervous. Sadie’s advice that this was just like any other race, where I go out there and smash myself, helped a bit but I couldn’t get it out of my head that this was the biggest race of my life so far. The coaches were awesome, they had everything sorted for us at the feed/tech zone so all we had to worry about was getting ourselves organised and warmed up. My spot on the start line was on the left in the 4th row – at the back. My initial start was great, I was towards the front/middle of the bunch after about 100m. My good start didn’t last though, because once we went around the corner onto the main gravel road, the bunch took off and I pinged off the back. Part of my race plan was to not kill myself trying to stick with the group at the start because I knew this wasn’t my strong point and I didn’t want to blow. Fortunately I didn’t have any problems, and I needn’t have worried about sticking with the bunch on the road start as once we reached “Cardiac climb” I caught back up – it was a walking traffic jam up the hill. On the technical singletrack climb I gained a decent amount of places, on the pump area at the top of “Cardiac Climb” and at the top of the bouldery hill where some tired girls were taking wrong lines. I managed a dodgy unclipped descent down the infamous “Hammerhead”, gaining a couple of places where some girls chose to take the B line. By the time we reached the start of the descent, I was first Kiwi and probably a couple of places behind the 20 mark. Catching some girls on the technical after being near the back gave me a confidence boost – it was going to be a good race!

Hammerhead

On the descent it went wrong. I cleared and landed the simple gap jump but I think this is what caused my crash. When my foot unclipped I hit a rock which sent me over the handlebars (actually I’m not sure because I can’t remember it, it wasn’t one of those slow motion crashes). Anyway, I had a mean crash and had to retrieve my bike which had fallen down the slope a few metres. I had a panic when those who I had passed earlier came tearing down the switchbacks past me! Looking back now I think the crash shook me up a bit and took away the rhythm I had before it. For the last two laps I had a good race though, putting out as much as I could, getting my lines right as well as eating and drinking well. I finished 15 minutes behind the leader, 3rd kiwi in 28th place. I am disappointed with my end result –I was hoping for a better placing and I know I can beat the other two kiwis as well. But I was happy with how I raced… disappointed but happy, my brain is a bit confused!

My race was one of the first of the week and it was great to be able to relax and take in the World Champs experience afterwards. Part of this experience was being a part of the kiwi team. It was great staying with a cool group of people all interested in mountain biking and there was a great atmosphere at the kiwi camp. We had great support from the MTBNZ crew, mechanics, coaches, a doctor, physio and video analyst! Chris Mildon especially was a hero! I was in a cabin with Sadie and the other U19s – Georgia and Kate from Alexandra and Alexa from Rotovegas, all awesome fun people who made it impossible to keep a straight face. During my stay in Canberra I picked up a bit of South Island lingo “HOLY!” and “Just kidding” (they say that a lot!) . We also had a number of food fights involving watermelon, almonds and peas, as well as fights over food. One of the greater achievements of the trip was getting Sadie to eat her beans. Stealing food from other cabins as a joke and having food stolen from our own was a common occurrence! Coaches Stylie and Laurence complained of someone taking their butter and milk, Stylie later admitted he had water on his cereal one morning. Our 4 litre tub of icecream disappeared but we nabbed someone elses cheesecake – yum!

We had a number of great results in the NZ team, the big one being Brooke McDonald’s World Champion status in the U19 men’s DH. Dirk Peters and Richard Anderson did exceptionally well in the U19 XC, coming 12th and 14th, hinting at a new exciting era in NZ’s XC mtbing.

dirk peters, richard anderson

I have to say that coming home was easily the worst part of the trip. Although I didn’t get the result I wanted, my first World Champs has left me amping for more and more motivated than ever before. The trip has changed my mindset about my own mountain biking. I am motivated to become a better and faster XC racer, and have fun out there racing my bike. I would like to get some more international experience as well. Thanks to everyone who helped me get to the World Champs – Sadie Parker-Wynyard for her coaching and guidance, the Jafakids and all the Jafakids parents for their awesome support, R&R sport who have helped with an awesome Giant Anthem X0 race bike when my X1 got stolen in July, all those who supported me at my fundraiser the King and Queen of Woodhill as well my parents for supporting me in my sport.

Now I’m just excited about what’s to come!

Piki

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