Racing in Europe – A Top Dog Experience
By Piyush Chavan
Right after I came second in the Bangalore Mountain festival, I decided I wanted to race the IXS German cup. It’s a race series I’ve dreamt of and more importantly I wanted to be in touch with how fast I really need to be in order to race at the World Stage.
I booked really cheap flight return tickets, almost 35K INR (my flight to the Philippines was more expensive), booked apartments instead of hotels and made sure I had all the intercity travel arrangements needed for the Schengen Visa. Shortly after my planning and my usual boasting of my Euro trip, 2 squeaky [but enthusiastic] teenagers decided to join me, I was really happy about it until we made the trip as these guys turned out to have way too much enthusiasm than I could handle.
I came home from Philippines on 9th May 12:40 am and caught my flight to Frankfurt at 6:30 pm with the two co-travelling athletes — Rishabh Gowda and Ruturaj Bhopatkar.
After long hours on the flight and on the train (twice – because we went the wrong way), we finally reached Winterberg where the owner – Wiseman as we called him greeted us with a huge surprise as we were the only people travelling there just for the Bike festivals.
Racing at this stage was surreal there were around 500 riders and 120 Elites. The track was short but full on European style with the roots and off cambers, practice went well for me but the finals was a surprise that no one liked, it raced 4 mins before I dropped in and it was fine until the start but as soon as I hit the woods I realised the Top layer of the mud was still very sticky and it all stuck to my tyres. Mud stuck on tyres + wet roots is definitely something I wasn’t prepared for and I went down hard on my hip and continued shortly after, just to finish the race. In the meantime I met legends such as David Trummer, Ben Deakin and Fabio Wibmer. Racing alongside them on the same track was super awesome.
On a better note – Rishabh finished 18th in the Open Junior U-19 category, which is definitely a boost he needed to start of his international season. With an extremely high number of riders racing, Ruturaj was on the waiting list and couldn’t get the spot for race day. He did really enjoy all the trails in the Bike park though, when we were just riding the race track constantly.
Next stop was Willingen – the three of us were registered and were racing on a track that was used for the World Cup in 2005. It was fast and short, with lots of tricky sections, one had to hit everything perfectly to really make it count. We were also staying with two Vikings (Norwegians) Simen Smestad and Atle. These guys were ridiculously fun and Simen has been racing in the World Cups so it was great to share some knowledge with him.
Due to the high winds the track was cut short for race day and my run was going well until I hit a tree. I admit, racing at this level did make me quite nervous and I constantly felt I wasn’t pushing enough. Although this wasn’t the end of this trip halfway across the world.
The main reason, why we decided to come to Europe was to ride Shladming and get faster. But the days ahead got even better than we had imagined. I had been in touch with Matej Charvat, a former World Cup racer, who was keen to train us. He happened to be free at the time and decided to give us a three day coaching lesson to better our skills.
Since we found out that the Shaldming bike park was closed for 24th and 25th of May, he made us drive to Leogang – a historical World Cup venue where the greats of our sports have raced, including the likes of the late Stevie Smith, Rachael Atherton and not to mention Aaron Gwin’s chainless run on this notoriously fast track.
We were in for a treat and some falls and some mechanicals, but on top of that there was heaps of improvement in confidence, skill and technique.
Matej corrected my body position on the bike which I involuntarily had and it just blew my mind over how much better I was able to shift my weight and move the bike around better. Following him down the World Cup track was a surreal experience.
Rishabh and Ruturaj were also pretty stoked to have trained under this guy and I never saw Ruturaj sitting and taking a break for once, which is very unlikely for him, trust me.
After two days of riding in Leogang, we made to Shaldming!!!
The Planai bike park and the WC track there is known by the entire mountain bike community worldwide as the BEST TRACK EVER! As also shown in Brendan Fairclough’s ‘Deathgrip’ movie, we were flying in our senses to be riding the same track we saw in the movie.
The day was surreal for all of us and our hands were about to drop off after riding 18 minutes of Downhill non-stop!
Just at the finishing area of the tracks, the bike park had introduced a new double jump. I was super keen on hitting it and I went for it in the first try and landed smooth. Though there was a bit of a change in store for me and I decided to do it again after hammering down DH runs. I was tired and misjudged the speed ending up overshooting the jump, which resulted in landing on my face and shoulders from a height of 30ft.
I was knocked out cold and couldn’t breathe. I suffered a concussion and was taken to the local Hospital. Four X-Rays and 283 Euros later they told me I was safe and had (thankfully) not broken any bones, I was really happy and smiling which was a huge contrast to the pain I was in a little while earlier. I guess the European painkillers are just Killer! They freakin work…
I felt lucky that I had my two downhill monkeys, Rishabh and Ruturaj with me to carry my bags around for their injured little friend and, trust me, they were great company throughout the trip and helped me reach home safely. Except for the fact that I cooked for the three of us the entire trip.
Sadly, I couldn’t be there on the 17th of June in Bangalore for the downhill event as I was still healing from my injury and making my plans to move to New Zealand mainly to study a course in Adventure tourism that can aid my lifestyle of riding bikes and travelling in the future.
Europe, you were amazing. I hope to greet you again with great freaking enthusiasm and make sure I have twice the fun I had this time.
Until next time, cheers!
The writer is an elite Downhill Mountain Biker from Pune. Currently based in New Zealand, he started learning how to ride in 2007 with some local riders from Pune and now races in the Asia circuit. The founder of Indian Shredder, Piyush is working towards getting more kids interested in the sport and often conducts workshops and events locally.