The 2017 World Cup season was one of ups and downs for the Kona Gravity team. There was much to look forward to with Connor Fearon coming off a great 2016 season, Josh Button and Tegan Molloy anticipating the World Championships on home turf, and young gun Anthony Poulson seeking to improve upon his last year’s results.
Throughout the season, the team was supported by team manager and all-star mechanic Mathieu Dupelle, keeping track of the team’s logistics and ensuring their new Operators were as perfect as could be for timed runs. A team is only as strong as their support crew, and Dupelle does a hell of a job for our team not only on race weekends but throughout the year.
With three of our four Pro DH riders hailing from Australia, the World Championships in Cairns was not only a focus for the season, but a highlight for all. Below we’ve compiled a short recap of the 2017 World Cup DH season from each of the four riders’ perspectives with photos from Boris Beyer. Enjoy.
Dupelle and the team after Mathieu’s victory at the Boxxer World Championships in Cairns.
Coming off my best World Cup season ever, I had big expectations of myself coming into 2017. My off-season was really productive, I felt fit and made a few changes with my bike setup – the biggest of which was moving up to a large size frame which felt perfect after a couple months of riding. I was riding the updated version of the Operator as well which had a few small but good improvements. Our off-season is very long so by the time Lourdes came around I was excited to go racing.
Lourdes was definitely the highlight of my season this year. The track is always fun and pretty gnarly, it was pretty much the same as the last two years apart from a couple new loam sections. I didn’t qualify very well at Lourdes. I don’t really know why but I just had a really average run. In finals I was able to put together a really good run and come away with 5th place. Being on the podium is the best feeling ever and it was awesome to come to the first race of the season with the number 5 plate and leave with the number 5 plate.
Round 2 was Fort William. It’s not my favorite track with heaps of gnarly rocks, lots of straight sections and the mud bog in the middle. That said it’s the hardest track physically and technically, and also presents a high risk of injury because it’s so fast the whole way down. I ended up 8th, my personal best result for Fort William, which I was stoked with. My time was pretty close to the podium times as well. So for a track I’ve always battled with it was definitely a boost of confidence knowing I’m improving on last year’s results.
After a 10th place at Leogang we headed to Andorra where my season would take a turn for the worst. On a really good run which should have seen me easily inside the top 10 again, I crashed in the second-to-last corner and I broke one of my fingers pretty badly. I still got 28th which was a pretty good result considering a huge crash. I tried to ride the next week at Lenzerheide but I just couldn’t deal with the pain/loss of grip strength in my hand. After Lenzerheide I got my hand checked out and actually needed to get surgery to put wires in my finger. That would put me out for the rest of the World Cups which was devastating. Injury is something that’s hard to avoid in this sport, yet I hadn’t missed a World Cup since 2011 – a pretty good run.
I made the decision to come back and try to race World Champs in Cairns. I had the best looking World Champs bike ever and racing and riding in my home country in front of a home crowd is something I’ll never forget. After 6 weeks of not riding any bikes or training properly, along with my hand not being fully healed yet, it quickly became apparent to me that I couldn’t ride anywhere near my full potential here. My goal became to just have fun and not crash and re-break my not-yet-fully-healed finger. I finished 24th which was actually better than I thought I could do considering the circumstances. I was pretty disappointed with the whole situation but apart from the result it was an awesome week back on the bike.
Another year of World Cup racing is complete. For me, it was a really tough one.
Lourdes started me off with a decent result, I was happy, and I was ready to build off of that. Unfortunately, a knee injury during my time at home before Fort William, left me having an arthroscopy, 4 days before flying out. So I was sidelined for round 2.
The next 3 rounds, I felt like I was playing catch up, my mentality wasn’t there. I felt OK in practice, but come race run, I just couldn’t find that intensity that you need. I had a really good break in Bromont before the next few races. I put flat pedals on, rode my bike every day, and just tried to get back to basics.
Mont Sainte Anne rolled around, and I felt much, much better. I was pushing myself in practice, trying lines, and being a whole lot more playful on my bike. Race run though, I was still having these “average” runs, and I knew it was all my race mentality and confidence.
We decided to sit out the final World Cup Round after Connor’s injury, which I was happy with, considering I had more time to prepare for World Champs in Cairns. Cairns rolled around, I really enjoy that track. I felt very comfortable all weekend, I felt I had a good result in me for sure. All my practices went really well, I was ready. Unfortunately, a little off track excursion up the top, and a small crash at the bottom, prevented any result from me. I was gutted!
I’m assuming I am just putting too much pressure on myself, because these stupid mistakes are happening even when I’m not pushing hard. I will spend the next few months reflecting on my season, working out what I need to do to sort myself out, and hopefully plan some races for next season.
Thanks again to Kona and all our supporters, you guys rock!
There are lots of highs and lows as this season draws to a close. This season has been a tough one for me. With a new UCI rule change that now only allows the top 15 women to qualify for racing I had my work cut out for me. After not qualifying in the first couple of World Cups I struggled mentally to be able to put together a qualifying run decent enough to even be allowed to race. I had a solid training regime over the southern summer so I knew I could do it, although my results did not reflect this.
Changing things up a bit this year I took on a few EWS rounds including New Zealand, Tasmania and Whistler, this was a new challenge. I had lots of fun practicing as a team, getting lost, and riding some sweet new trails. Crankworx Les Gets was one of my favorite races this season. I hadn’t been to Morzine/ Les Gets before but the track used for the downhill race was really good. With fast open grass turns, a super fun woods section and a few jumps in the mix, it was a super fun track to ride and race. I would jump at the opportunity to race there again.
I really enjoyed riding my DH bike in Bromont in between races, and not having to travel back to Australia was beneficial as riding back home is not an option due to the winter season. Mont Saint Anne was my best World Cup result this year as it was the only race where I qualified and had the chance to throw down a race run. I only wish I could have done this consistently throughout the season.
Being selected to race World Champs at home in Australia was definitely a highlight for me this season. Racing a World Championship is pretty special and is quickly made even more special on home turf. The crowd was ecstatic and having lots of friends and family there to support me was awesome. I didn’t produce the run I had in my head but at the end of the day I gave it 100% and came away with 12th. The atmosphere at this race was electric and something that I will not forget in my racing career.
A big thank you to everyone who has continued to support me; I appreciate being a part of the Kona Family and the experiences it has given me.
The 2017 season surely had some good highs and good lows but overall I’m happy with how it went. I didn’t get all the results written on paper but became a way better rider than I was before. I got my best ever World Cup result at my home race in Mont Sainte Anne, where I finished in 14th. I also had a podium finish at Crankworx Whistler.
My World Championships race run was going well too with top 20 splits but I went down near the end. Still one of my best races this season, the track was good and the weather was perfect. I was bummed to leave Cairns with no results but it definitely gave me some good motivation for next season and my move into the Elite category knowing the speed is there.
I’ll be making sure I will be the best I can be mentally and physically coming into the first race next season. I’m happy with my results this year but feel like I could have done it more often and even better – I just need to figure everything out to be the racer I want to be and to be consistent. Really happy to have the Junior years behind me and excited to go race against the big guys next year.
Keep up with Connor, Josh, Tegan, and Anthony on Instagram.