Manon Carpenter is having a very good 2014 so far. After spending a lot of time in the second and third spots on the World Cup MTB podium in 2013, this year an excellent performance saw her take a long awaited (and long anticipated) World Cup win in Pietermaritzburg.
The crazy wet conditions at Round 2 in Cairns didn’t deter her either, and she placed second behind Rachel Atherton. With the Fort William World Cup imminent, and a win at the British Downhill Series at Ae Forest just behind her, Carpenter is surely in contention for the win.
We caught up with her to talk about her season so far and her ambitions for the races ahead.
Do you feel different coming into this season compared to the 2013 season?
I feel more prepared this season. I’ve been on a few training camps with the team, did some races out in Portugal. I’m also stronger again this year. They’re minor improvements I think but it gives you more confidence coming in.
You got your first World Cup win in Pietermaritzburg in the first round of the season. How did that feel?
It was a funny one! I got second there in 2012, which was really close, and I crashed in the World Champs there last year, so I’ve been eyeing up a win there for some time now. Because I know I can go well on that track, I put a fair bit of pressure on myself to do well there.
When I won, it was almost like a relief – I’d managed it! I guess that was the initial feeling. The importance of it shows up later on, once you’ve got over that initial ‘thank god I stayed on my bike’ part of it, especially when you’re standing on top of the podium!
What did it feel like to stand on the top spot?
It was quite scary! I guess I’m quite a shy person, so being stood on top of the podium, I was like ‘oh my god, all the attention is on me this time, not on the person next to me!’ I was grinning ear to ear.
I probably could have downed a bottle of champagne at that point.
We didn’t have any champagne though, which was a shame! I probably could have downed a bottle of champagne at that point.
I want to take each race as it comes this year. Now I know it’s possible and I can do it, I need to take that confidence into the other races.
The race in Cairns looked incredibly tricky. It was wet, slippery and tough. How did you find it?
When I first came down the track in practice, I wasn’t exactly enjoying it. Will (Longden, the team manager) was trying to make me feel more positive, but it was really hard. The boys came down after me and they said the same, and I thought ‘thank god, it’s not just me!’
Then it rained and then it was awesome – so much fun! I was like ‘I can ride my bike, it’s okay. It’s just really hard conditions’. Everyone was struggling, and it could have been quicker to walk in some bits! It was good to have a race that was that challenging.
What about the local flora and fauna? We heard talk of stinging trees?
There were a lot of stories, and in the uplifts the locals like telling you how bad it was if you did get stung by a tree, saying things like ‘you’ve gotta put a bag on your hand when you shower for a year’ because the temperature change really hurts. But it was okay really.
I think they did have to stop practice once because they had to take a python off the track.
I think they did have to stop practice once because they had to take a python off the track. Luckily I managed to avoid any big crashes into the bushes, so I avoided the big spiders. I think.
How do you feel coming into Fort William?
I feel good. I really enjoyed riding the track at the National event, though I had a few issues on race day. Saying that, I haven’t had the best luck the last few years. I had a broken collarbone and then food poisoning last year. This year, I’m looking forward to being fit and healthy on race day.
Fort William is known as one of the best events on the circuit in terms of its atmosphere. What is it like from the rider’s perspective – do you notice the crowds?
Last year, just before the Deer Gate, I had a bit of a moment when my foot came out of the cleat and I nearly took out half of the crowd. I definitely noticed them then! When I regained the pedal they were all shouting and cheering me down the track, which was pretty cool.
I also seem to hear the commentary when I’m coming down, which is probably not the best thing to be listening to when you are coming down the track. I can’t make out what they are saying but I can hear the speakers – are they good excited or bad excited?
What are your aims for Fort William, and for the season ahead?
At the start of the year when I was picking out goals that I’d like to achieve this year, wins at South Africa and Fort William were my two goals.
Wins at South Africa and Fort William were my two goals
Obviously I’d like to win all the others as well, but those two in particular would be pretty cool.
I’d even just like it to be a good battle. That makes it exciting for race day, when you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’d like to have a really close racing, to have an exciting year for women’s racing.
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Manon is sponsored by Animal