I’ve repeated this countless times, but the combination of high speeds and the relentless pursuit of perfection, made me fall in love, and essentially, become addicted to downhill racing. 2018, however, found me wrestling with a case of imposter syndrome. I was racing in World Champion stripes, while feeling the furthest thing from a champion. Sidelined, yet again, by what felt like endless injury and consequent ragged, inconsistent performance, I struggled. My body was exhausted from being hurt. I was riding with such low levels of confidence that the bigger and bigger risks I took to compensate, drained my nervous system. Offered a chance to shake things up and focus on the ‘safer’ discipline of Enduro, I embraced an opportunity for change. Unbeknownst to me, I was virtually walking away from downhill. I’ve hardly ridden any DH since. Let alone compete. And that has bummed me out.
My new partnership with SRAM has brought exciting new opportunities, and new bikes, including a freshly built DH bike. And a chance to not only ride it, but race it. I was eager to get back to the races and reconnect with the sport that I love so much. I just didn’t think I would be booking a flight to Atlanta to do so!
The Downhill Southeast series (DHSE) was created by Neko Mulally as a way to give himself, and his friends more racing opportunities before the World Cup season. Starting as a casual group armed with stopwatches, the idea has blown up into a 6-round, well-organized series offering video coverage, commentary and multiple split times. It is host to hundreds of racers, across multiple courses and categories. The excellence of the format has attracted top level riders, allowing young riders to be able to watch and learn from idols like Neko, Aaron Gwin, Dakota Norton, Chris Grice, Luca and Walker Shaw to name a few.
North Carolina and Tennessee may not be the first states that come to mind when talking downhill riding, but the terrain is an ideal combination of rolling hills, mountains, and farmland, all within close proximity to major cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Add to that a climate mild enough for year-round riding. Through this influx of riders and racers we have seen the success of bike parks and trail centers like Ride Rock Creek, Windrock and Kanuga. Their philosophy of adding riding locations rather than enlarging existing ones, increases the accessibility to more communities.
Neko’s track design at Rock Creek proves you don’t need massive mountains to build a good downhill track. With big compressions, flat turns, off cambers, high speeds, and strategic rock placement, the track is great for testing your bike, reaction times and pre season fitness. It accommodates a variety of skill levels, and while it was challenging, it was realistically, fairly low risk. Having more opportunity to not only ride DH, but to compete, has allowed more Junior and U17 riders to challenge themselves by racing up in Pro. More competition means better competitors.
Racing at Rock Creek felt really special to me. I was entering back into the sport, where I had first begun. Except this time, I had 10+ years of experience behind me and the ability to help some other riders.
The Gravity Academy Racing team is a ‘pay-to-play’ program that gives kids structure and support as they navigate their journey as cyclists and racers. Training plans, group rides, SRAM testing camps and mechanical support at events. The atmosphere was very positive, everyone helping each other.
The Gravity Academy let me hang out and pit with them all weekend and I was so impressed with these kids! We track walked together, discussed lines, race preparation, what it was like making the leap to World Cup racing. While most of them lived in different towns, and states, I loved seeing how this sport, and this program had given them their own community to excel in.
There are many things I wished that I had done differently through-out my career, and in a weird way, being back at a DH race and talking with these kids, felt like a second chance. One weekend in North Carolina was enough to inspire me to get back into the sport, that at one time, was everything to me.