Team Lapierre International rider Cam Cole takes top-10 finish at the sixth round of the 2012 UCI Downhill MTB World Cup series held at Val d'Isére, France, at the weekend – just over two seconds behind race winner and fellow Kiwi Brook MacDonald.
Cam Cole, of Christchurch, New Zealand, went into the final run at Val d'Isére as the hot favourite for the win after qualifying fastest on the short, steep and intense course in France. His eighth place puts him into 12th overall in the series.
Just over two seconds separated him from eventual race winner Brook MacDonald, of Napier, New Zealand, but as Cole confesses his three or four small mistakes add up to that difference. Aaron Gwin, of USA, finished fifth to extend his lead in the series beyond attack, taking the 2012 World Cup title with one round to go.
"My qualifier was nothing amazing it was just a smooth run. This track was tough – some parts of it were very fast and other parts you had to slow right down and be very precise. I think in my quali I judged my speed quite well, but not today," he confesses.
Cole said he made some mistakes for his final run. The course was made up of a lot of loose rocks and through the week the rocks got cleaned off the main lines and revealed some grippy dirt underneath, but the rain from Saturday changed those lines again.
"The third corner I came into had heaps of rocks sitting in the mainline – it had started to fall to bits. There was a lot of debris in the lines I was using and that part of the track is quite narrow" he explains.
"There were probably two other corners like that so I expected the course to be blown out in more places and slowed down a bit, but the course wasn't as bad as those few corners suggested. I opened it up a bit more once I got into the track, but it was too late – the course is too short to make those kind of mistakes."
MacDonald's winning time of 2:19.478 shows a course that is brutally punishing of mistakes as Cole discovered.
"I lost that time early on at the first split, which was 40 seconds of track. I lost 1.3 seconds there – that's a lot to lose straight away."
Cole accumulated 50 points for qualifying first and 85 for finishing eighth bumping him up to 12th overall, despite having missed the opening round of the series due to an injury.
"I think there is only Danny Hart ahead of me who has missed one round as well. If I had been ready for that first round then it might be a little bit different."
Cole said he was just making the most of every race as a bigger goal loomed: the UCI World Championships, which would take place in Leogang, Austria, from August 31 to September 2.
"Qualifying first this weekend is a good stepping stone to the World Champs, which has been a goal of mine since I started training in November last year. I know I have the speed, we just need to keep working on the bike, my strength, my fitness and conditioning," he considers.
"I have 3-4 weeks now to get those things in line so when I get there I will have the best chance that I can."
Cole said the Leogang track suited him despite having knocked himself out at last year's World Cup race there.
"The first year I raced there, in 2010, I finished fifth, then had the two crashes last year, but I raced there again at the start of the season before we dialled in our bikes. It was a warm-up, then we tested there with Fox. Leogang is where I set up my bike for the season. They've changed it a bit from last year and so I just have to come in positive."
Cole will be based in Morzine, France, in the lead-up to the 2012 World Championships.
"It's similar dirt and riding conditions. It's at 800m so it's good for training and you can ride up to 1000m. It's going to be good for the body and it's like a second home for me – I know where the good food is and it is comfortable. I am looking forward to building on my preparation from there," he offers.
Cole said he felt like he had done a lot of racing in a short space of time and was looking forward to taking a week off and coming into the World Championships "fresh".
While Cole was really happy to see fellow Kiwi MacDonald take New Zealand's second-ever World Cup victory, he had hoped it might have been him on that winner's dais.
"It was good to see him win – when I crossed the line I had a lot of things going through my head – I am stoked for him winning, of course. There are a bunch of Kiwis here who supported us in France, which is always nice."
Cole said he had trained to win races this year, which he said was quite a different approach to training to finish top five.
"When I started training in November I really had a desire to win races. I was training to win races and I was determined to do that," he said.
"Every day I went training that was the goal. I was a little bit behind in the beginning as my arm healed, but after I finished fifth in that first race I thought it would not be long before I won. Qualifying first was a boost in confidence for me, but I don't think it was meant to be for me today," conceded Cole, who has been battling with a throat infection throughout the weekend.
"Hopefully another time, with a little bit of luck, it will work out better for me."
Cole admitted that the competition was tough at the top of the sport, but was more determined than ever.
"The level is so high, but when you do perform well at this level it feels great."
Cole will next race at the 2012 UCI World Downhill Championships to be held at Leogang, Austria, from August 31 to September 2, 2012.