This weekend I made the seven hour trip up to watch the World Cup Downhill at Fort William, only the second time I have watched one of these events (the previous one being Les Gets in 2000)! What has this got to do with Enduro you may ask, well there was one rider I had gone to see, GT Factory Racing’s Martin Maes. After having got to know Martin over the last year, through various interviews and watching his incredible pace and fitness, I was intrigued to find out how he felt about being at a World Cup DH race. Last year I remember seeing him win a stage overall at Finale, still a junior but beating all the Elite male racers! This was incredible bearing in mind he is only 17. This young lad rips and team manager Dan Brown has given him free reign to try a Downhill race, and what a race to start with, Fort William is one of the most physical on the World Cup DH circuit.
I knew this track would suit him, after hearing stories of how ridiculously fast he is when out riding his Enduro bike, chasing Gee Atherton on his DH machine. So I was enjoying blabbing onto my mates about how he is going to rip it up and take the Junior win. After jumping on a DH bike for Friday’s practice, this was his first go on one of the big hitting rigs in six months! What was even more impressive was how he had never once taken part in an international DH race.
I first caught up with a very relaxed Martin on the Saturday, whilst he was chilling after having just qualified 2nd, only one second off the top Junior time.
When exactly was the first time you rode a downhill bike then?
My first and last go on a DH bike was six months ago on a 26” GT, the old model in Belgium.
So Martin, it’s your first World Cup DH event and you’ve qualified one second off the top spot, how does that feel?
It was a good run you know, a steady ride, I had fun. My first priority is to have fun and not get injured. I can’t wait for tomorrow, to see if I can push a bit harder, but it should be alright.
I hear you had a lot of problems with hand and arm pump, were you really suffering?
Yeah, it was a big problem, because in Enduro you have some sections where you can relax your arms, but here it is really rough all the way down, so you just can’t relax your arms or your hands. Yes it’s quite different with the bigger forks and bigger bike, but I like it.
How do you think the atmosphere here compares to that at a World Enduro?
Well its very different, because here your riders are all top pros, so I’m quite excited to see just how many people turn up tomorrow for the race. I think both events have their good points and different people like different things you know.
One day later, the race had gone on with an amazing 20,000 screaming fans, the atmosphere was electric and the organization was spot on. Martin had given it his all and come down to a top spot in Juniors, unbelievable, I have to admit being friends with all at Atherton racing, it was with a serious sense of pride I met back up with Martin to congratulate him and get some final words off him before he continued on his EWS tour.
Mate, that’s amazing, so pleased for you, you put in a fantastic run, so what happens if the team boss says “that’s it, DH for you now!”?
(both Dan Brown and Martin start laughing)
(Dan Brown) I would never say that to him!
So how does it feel, your first International DH, you just pop over for a go and win it?
Its crazy for me, my first go at Fort William, it’s probably the best race on the DH circuit, it feels incredible, I never expected anything to be honest.
Some of my mates saw your run whilst going up on the gondola, they said you were inch perfect on the technical section of rocks and so fast. Some of my other friends here who are quite well established in the DH world, have jokingly given it the big piss take, saying how Enduro is for people who can’t ride DH fast, what have you got to say to them?
(Martin allows himself a quick laugh!)
I will say it’s good to ride DH sometimes to pick up your speed. I also think it’s really important to change the type of bike you ride now and then. Also Enduro is crazy, because it is so physical, it’s so different you know.
I have an idea of future mountain bike races consisting of DH and Enduro. The MTB world needs a champion who can do both disciplines, maybe we could just call it Mountain Bike Racing then!!!?. Do you think it could be possible?
I don’t think it’s possible to combine both sports, but sometimes it certainly is good to do a DH to raise you’re speed, but to make a joint championship I don’t think is possible.
Finally, how happy are you with your current position at the EWS?
I am quite happy, even after with some problems I went down to 20th last weekend. I’m going to try and stay consistent and push a bit more with my training to become more skillful and fitter.
So that was it, Martin took it all in his stride, like he had won any other race, this lad has the perfect attitude and persona to become a true champion, but I would definitely say his heart is truly Enduro and we wish him the best.
Words: Jim Buchanan Pics: Andrew Bickley