Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team rider Cameron Cole, 22, has continued his rise in UCI World Cup downhill racing by finishing fifth on a wet, rough and challenging track at Leogang, Austria at the weekend.
Greg Minnaar, of South Africa, won the race in a time of 4:05.65 ahead of Gee Atherton, of Great Britain, Aaron Gwin, of USA, Sam Blenkinsop, of New Zealand, with Cole in fifth on a time of 4:11.77.
Cole finished second at the last round held at Fort William, Scotland, and this Leogang result confirms that he has arrived at the top of World Cup racing. This is also the first time in the sport's history that two Kiwis have been on the podium together with Blenkinsop finishing fourth.
"It almost feels better than in Fort William. I am more relieved this time – it's nice to have two podiums in a row as it shows Fort William was not a fluke," Cole said.
Cole admitted that he did not expect to be competing at this level this year or to be beating his hero, Steve Peat, of Great Britain.
"It was great to beat Steve Peat – there wasn't much in it, but he is like a hero to me – he is a real legend of the sport and so to beat him is a nice feeling," Cole shares.
"It was great to have Sam Blenkinsop on the podium with me. He was ahead of me in fourth – he had been looking good for the win all weekend, but made a couple of mistakes at the bottom. Then Justin Leov wasn't far off the podium either in eighth – it will be good to get all three of us on there. Maybe at the next one?" he laughs.
Cole's build up to the Leogang race was not the best. He suffered with a three-day bout of gastro in the lead-up and then crashed heavily in practice. Then, on race day, he crashed in his first two practice runs.
"In my third I just tried to get down the hill," he explains.
"It was very tough conditions, the track was changing on every run, but I managed to bounce back from the crashes, which is something I am happy with as it shows that my belief in myself is strong."
"Even though I crashed in practice I was still enjoying the riding and I rode a smart race – I just had to survive and get down the hill and I knew I would do well."
Coming into Leogang in third overall in the standings meant Cole would start his qualifying alongside Atherton and Minnaar.
"That was a lot of pressure and I was a bit stressed about it," Cole admitted.
"I didn't really feel like coming to this race – I was still enjoying the second from Fort William, but when I got here I was excited to be back at a World Cup again."
His fifth placing at Leogang puts Cole in fourth overall, but he has amassed enough UCI World Cup points to almost guarantee himself a top 10 finish for the season.
"Top 10 was my goal and to be halfway through the season and be fourth presents a tremendous opportunity for me. I am still learning and my goal is just to finish top 10 – I am not changing my goal as I know it will still be tough out there," he explained.
With two Kiwis on the podium, three in the top 10 and seven in the top 35, there is a real camaraderie emerging at the World Cup races.
"It feels like you are racing at home," Cole explained.
"I'm also lucky to have Justin Leov here – he's a good friend and Sam is cool as well – it's good to be able to share this experience with other Kiwis."
Another Kiwi heading to Europe is Cole's girlfriend, former World Cup downhill rider turned cross-country rider Amy Laird, of Christchurch. She will spend almost six weeks with Cole from the end of this week, but it will not be a break for Cole: "we will chill out together and ride bikes – it will be good R and R, but training at the same time," he laughs.
"I think she will find it hard to be here and not racing. She is not enjoying the cross-country training and she wants to enjoy riding her bike and so I think she will race downhill again next year," he conceded.
Cole will now prepare for Round 4 of the series, which will be held in Champèry, Switzerland from July 24 to 25.
Among other local races, Cole has signed up for the Mega Avalanche which will be held at Alpe d'huez, France on July 11. The Mega Avalanche is a super-sized downhill race that tests both skill and endurance.
"I am going there for fun – it seems like it is pretty gnarly, but I would be stoked with a top 15 or top 10 finish. But I will really be there just for fun and to have a bit of a laugh with a few friends," Cole smiled.
Cam Cole's 2010 Race Season
2010 UCI World Cup DHI 1 Events (6)
May 15/16: Maribor, Slovenia [9th]
June 05/06: Fort Wiliam, Scotland [2nd]
June 19/20: Leogang, Austria [3rd]
July 24/25: Champéry, Switzerland
July 31/August 1: Val di Sole, Italy
August 28/29: Windham, USA
2010 Mega Avalanche
July 11: Alpe d'huez, France