Joe Smiths best result of the year in Austria. Here’s how it all went down.

We arrived late Tuesday night and after a long sleep in our apartment right at the bottom of the track it was straight into course walk on Wednesday afternoon. The start of the track was the same as it’s been since I started racing here 3 years ago. It’s really fast and you are straight into the rough stuff right off the start. The top has some really fast chopped up corners split up with a couple of cool jumps and some small root sections. The track continues to take the same route down the mountain as normal with a few little changes this year where they have been making new forestry roads across the track which makes the track a little faster than before.

About half way down the track you hit the step up jump which has been photographed more than anything else on the world cup circuit before pinning a couple of corners and entering the forest section. This is where the track changes from the previous year and takes a route similar to 2007 instead of following the switch backs under the gondola. The track continues into the forest across the hill before dropping steeply down the hill and hitting Corner after Corner with a couple of drops thrown in and covered in roots every where. The course joins onto the original track just before entering the bottom field section of the track. Here they started the famous corners in the same way as the finals last year going across the long off camber straight before dropping down and turning on the small compression before it changes and stays higher up the field with another long off camber then turns to the left and has three long corners straight down the hill. The track then continues along the original track with the roughest part of the track into the last switch backs before going under the tunnel of the xc track and some more grassy corners before the jump into the finish area.

We had a different schedule to normal and practice started on Thursday. After a little rain during the night the track was a little drifty at the top and really drifty on the bottom grassy corners during the first few practices in the morning. The track was drying out nicely by the afternoon and by timed practice started I had a lot of my lines down and was feeling really good on the bike. I only did 1 timed run as I didn’t want to tire myself out, I ended up with a 4.22 which was good enough for 13th which I was happy with as it was my first full run and I had a few mistakes. Friday was qualifying day and I was having fun on the track doing some whips for the crowd and really enjoying the steep tech section during practice. I had most of my lines dialled by the time qualifying runs started; I put some strong pedals off the start on my run and hit the first couple of corners really smooth and was keeping my speed well. As I went to hop onto a bank to set up for some roots I slipped and ended up loosing all of my speed and had to pedal down the next straight to make the jump. I managed to get back into my run and made a few little mistakes loosing speed and not flowing too well, but mostly a good run. As I crossed the line I went into 10th which surprised me a little considering my run, but I knew I was capable of a high result on this track. I ended up Qualifying in 11th after only Ben Reid, who had the fastest timed practice knocked me down the results list. I was happy and knew I could pull a good run out come Sunday.

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Saturday was a relaxed day with only a small amount of practice during the morning with most riders only doing 2 or 3 runs. I was getting really loose on the track but felt like I was still in control which was good on this type of track. I had a couple of crashes during practice, but nothing to major. The rest of the day I was just relaxing before watching a little bit of 4x practice and then getting an early night for race day. I had a good sleep and didn’t have to wake up too early as practice started at 9.30. I had a couple of practice runs just to make sure my current lines were still feeling good and my new ones worked out well. After practice I had a long wait and it was good to be able to chill out before my run. It was good to see ex Kona rider Tracy Moseley win the women’s race after having a bit of an off season.

As I was heading up on the gondola I could see the track was getting really dry and a bit blown out in places. I had a good warm up at the top and was looking forward to getting onto the track; it was weird being up the top and watching riders like Greg Minnaar and Justin Leov setting off while I was still on the trainer bike warming up. As I was sitting in the gate I was feeling a little nervous but confident that I could pull something good out of the bag. I set off strong and was hitting all the corners good and pedalling as much as I could. By the time I got to the half way point I was starting to get a little sketchy and dabbing a little on some of the corners, I managed to put a clean strong run in through the forest section and was holding good speed. I got really loose and had a big moment coming into the last switch backs but managed to pull it back together and held on to the finish. I ended up in 17th which was a little disappointing but a strong finish to the season and this pulled me up to 26th in the overall. This season was full of ups and downs but a couple of consistent finishes managed to put me into a good overall position for my first year in the elite category.