In his return to racing after he sustained a broken wrist in the 2010 Downhill World Cup season, Cameron Cole (22), of Christchurch, New Zealand, proved that he is still on the pace with the world's best with a second to friend and fellow downhill World Cup racer, Justin Leov, of Dunedin, at the NZ Open, which was held in Christchurch on Sunday [December 12].
"It felt really good to be back racing again and it is very motivating for me to lose – I know that feeling again of wanting to win," Cole smiled.
"The NZ Open track was tough – there were a few technical corners that required some precision."
Cole said he knew he was riding fast and was happy with his form.
"I made a mistake and lost some time in one of those tough corners. I didn't get into the corner properly and fell out of it about halfway around and my bike went off the side of the track," he explained.
"I lost a few seconds, but I felt I rode well at the top and felt very aggressive and strong at the bottom of the course."
Not long after recovering from his broken wrist Cole injured his shoulder in a crash resulting in very little time being spent on the bike before the NZ Open.
"I only really rode the bike again on Thursday on some different tracks, but they weren't really rough or fast. This track was fast and rough and it took me some time to get the hang of that. Everything comes at you very fast and you have to process it very quickly and having not ridden for a while I did not feel I was on my game in practice."
Practice was held in 30°C temperatures on the Saturday and the heat took its toll on the riders.
"Most guys rode in the afternoon when it was cooler, or early in the morning," he said.
"I did three runs in practice and made the call to just turn up to try to ride it as fast as I could."
Cole finished second to good friend Justin Leov and was happy to share the podium.
"It is good to see Justin take the win – we rode together this weekend and we help each other out a lot – he is very genuine – when he talks about lines you know he is not just trying to mess with your head, he is trying to help and I share my thoughts with him as well," offered Cole.
"There are not many people you can have that type of relationship with – especially at this high end of the sport. Not many riders are prepared to tell their competitors their secrets. We are good friends and we both want to see each other do well and hopefully get on the World Cup podium together in 2011."
The New Zealand Open marks Cole's last ride with the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team before he takes on his new ride with Lapierre International in 2011.
"This is my last big ride on the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team and I wanted to go out with a good result instead of being injured," he explained.
"I have been with Maxxis since I left school in 2007 – it has been like my apprenticeship and I have learned a lot and developed a lot. They have supported me through the ups and the downs over the past four years and I hope I have paid them back with my good results from this year," Cole said.
"Hulen King, Rob Perkins and Gary Wolf – these guys have been great to work with and Rocky Mountain has been amazing, too. They let us develop a downhill race frame and they took our feedback and made a great race bike in the Flatline World Cup."
Cole, who was crowned Junior World Downhill Champion in 2006, began his relationship with Maxxis in the Norba competitions and grew with the brand into the European-based World Cup series.
"They took a gamble on me and it has been cool to have been involved in the development of that bike and great to see people enjoying a bike I have helped to develop. That is something I am looking forward to with Lapierre as well."
Cole will begin to ride the new bike with Lapierre at the end of December and hopes to get that "dialled in for next year" and to build on his very successful 2010 season in the World Cup series.
He feels he is on track to do just that.
"To win the first round of Gravity Canterbury in my first race back from my wrist injury and then to pull a second today makes me feel I am not far off where I was before I hurt myself," he said.
"I feel that if I can keep improving and heading in the direction I was going at the start of this year then I will be strong again in 2011. I feel fit, I feel strong and I am on good food – I feel I am on track."
Cole's New Zealand race season with Lapierre will begin in Rotorua at the end of January for a National Series round, then head to the Red Bull Rock Drop at a Waihi mine, before the South Island Cup in February and then the National Championships in Dunedin at the end of February.
But results in these races are not the total focus for Cole.
"I just hope to get comfortable on the bike – it seems like it takes me about three months to be fully comfortable on a new bike. I will be racing, but I want to make sure I am working on the bike and preparing for the bigger picture. If I can do well at the National Championships in Dunedin then I will be happy – I have never been national champ in elite men's before, so I would like to get that one," he laughed.
The New Zealand Open is regarded as the money race of the year in New Zealand.
"It pays some bills – we are doing this for a living and at this stage of the year we are not doing many races that pay, so this is a good one," Cole smiled.
In 2010 Cole posted three top-10 World Cup finishes with the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team – including two podiums – and finished the season at eighth in the UCI rankings.
His success did not go unnoticed with French team Lapierre jumping at the chance to take him on board for 2011.