World Cup 4, Albstadt, Germany

Abstadt in Germany was the host for round 4 of the World Cup in 2014.
We had watched the TV broadcast last year and for 2014 predominantly I was hoping for better weather over the mud bath that it had been a year earlier. In an attempt to weatherproof the track in case of a repeat the organisers had laid down a lot of hard-core made up of rocks and stones, which did the job of preventing mud, but became incredibly slippery when wet. Other changes included reducing the size of the drop (which was a shame, technical features are always good) and cutting out an extra loop on the second half of the lap.

It is always a good idea to try to get a couple of practice days in on a World Cup course and for my first laps on the Friday some overnight mist and dew provided just enough moisture to make the track very slick. With everybody dragging brakes in the corners the rocks were starting to polish up. At times it felt like riding on ice. Fortunately it dried up considerably for final practice on Saturday and by Sunday, race day, the sun was out and conditions fast.

Disappointingly for a World Cup the majority of the course was singletrack with few overtaking opportunities and no start loop. Each lap was on the short side at only 4km. For a starting field of 150 riders this is tough and merely skews World Cup racing more in favour of the big teams and highest ranked riders who are gridded at the front. But there was plenty of steep climbing packed into the lap which I felt good about.

The senior field this year is incredibly strong – I still have a decent number of World Rank points despite missing some races with a back injury, but my grid position was way back at 109. With roughly 8 riders across I was to start around row 14 and knew it was a tough ask for a high finish.

I got off the line pretty well and just managed to skid around a crash mid pack on the start straight. The field bunched and spread through the first few corners before another pile up on the exit of the feed/tech zone caused by another crash. Then it was a dash to the singletrack and into the first of the queuing. It’s always a case of sticking out your elbows and not letting anyone past to maintain your place. Eventually it thinned down for the short decent and then steep duel line climb, before the second bunch of queuing for the main downhill. Through the halfway checkpoint I had lost 2.5mins to the leaders as a result of the congestion.
This is World Cup carnage on a narrow and short track.

I knew I had to ride fast from then onwards to avoid the 80% rule (riders who fall 80% behind the time of the leaders are pulled out at the end of each lap to prevent interference to the front of the race), and also for a good result. Riding hard on the climbs I felt strong, but unfortunately this cost me on lap 3, and a small mistake dropping off the bridge for the steepest decent threw me over the bars and sent me rolling down the hill. Everything happened very quickly. I think a combination of hitting my head and a strong rush of blood as a result of a maxed heart rate left me very unsteady as I tried to retrieve my bike, which had tomahawked further below. The on-hand medics didn’t like the way I was wobbling or the blurred vision and forced me to take a minute. This was obviously the right thing to do as I quickly felt worse – clearly my race was over. At this point just a quick thanks to the young medic who escorted me off the track and carried my mangled bike back to the arena.

It is of course extremely disappointing not to finish the race, it has only happened a handful of times in my career, but luckily I have walked away with no major injury. I’m not sure as a team we can handle any more injuries this year! I was riding too far over my limit, which was the reason for the crash, and it is not sustainable, but given the percentage of singletrack and short lap I had to push it from starting back in the pack of the big field.

It’s pretty obvious someone needs to look at and reconsider the current World Cup format given the depth of talent and size of fields at the moment. Certainly a good, wide start loop should be mandatory, and the track should have lots of passing opportunities. The queuing and congestion effectively rules out most of the field on the first lap.

Looking forward, I now have two C1 class races to get stuck into before Seb returns from injury and we begin an assault on the second half of the season.