Exclusive Interview: Alex Willie, U.S. Junior National Downhill Champion
The U.S. finally has some momentum in the Junior downhill ranks with a flurry of talented and focused young guns looking to fulfill long-term winning goals. Alex Willie is at the head of the pack as the current Junior National Downhill Champion. With a promising start to 2012, a major crash took him to the mat in August, but that hasn't slowed him down one bit. Get to know a piece of America's downhilling future.
Resides: Boulder, CO
2012 U.S. Junior National Downhill Champion, Cat 1 17-18
Full audio interview with Alex Willie
Alex, 2012 was a pretty good season for you to start, a lot of highs and lows. Give us some background, what were some of the highs of your season.
Alex: Some of the high points for the season were that I was consistently on the podium at the ProGRT, so that was kind of my main goal throughout the season. And of course getting selected to go to the Mont Sainte Anne World Cup, that was a pretty big high point and to cap it off, I was the Junior National Champ, so that was a pretty good weekend.
What happened after that?
Alex: After that I was at the last stop of the ProGRT in Northstar, California, and I had a mistake in my last practice run. I crashed pretty good cracking my skull, breaking jaw and bruising my lung. So that wasn’t too good.
Injuries are obviously a part of this sport, especially at the Pro level. Being a younger rider, is that something you’d thought of yet or was this a smack of reality when you found yourself in the hospital, unable to ride?
Alex: It was kind of always in the back of my head, but you just can’t think of that because mountain biking, such a big part of it is mental. When I started riding, I was 13-years old and my mom wanted me to be safe when I was riding because she knew I wanted to pursue this. So she hooked me up with Lee McCormack to get my skills set really well, so that kept me safe on my bike while I was able to keep going faster and faster. We set it up pretty well from the beginning.
Obviously after that big of a crash, you missed out on Worlds, you missed on Crankworx, you missed out on Norway. How does that get in your head and effect how you approach races moving forward, and practice and riding in general?
Alex: Well, we changed a few things for next season. We’re changing my training plan for the off-season a little bit, as well as, my mindset and my approach to certain races for next year, but looking back at last season, it definitely wasn’t a failure by all means. I learned so much and I’m taking so much of that for next year. I’m just going to move on, you can’t think about that, next year should be a lot better.
Currently in the U.S. there’s a huge crop of younger riders with a ton of talent, between riders like Bubba Warren, Kevin Littlefield, Richie Rude and yourself. Do you guys all get along? Do you push each other to ride harder?
Alex: Oh absolutely. I think that’s the biggest part. We all get along so well and it’s so chill. At the end of the race you’re all buddies, but as soon as that helmet goes on, you’re all going for it. I want to be like Kevin [Littlefield] was and I want to be on the Pro podium for next year. That’s my goal for next year, I want to put a time in that will put me on the podium in the Pro class. We’re all going for that. We all want to be where Richie Rude is right now, you know? Fastest American Junior. So we’re all pushing and we definitely all push each other. We’ll ride with each other during practice and it’s just a really great atmosphere and I love it.
So you raced World Cups for the first time in 2012. Care to shed a little light on that experience?
Alex: It was an eye opening experience. It was awesome, you know? The World Cup tracks are so different from American tracks. Way wider, way faster and I actually think they’re a little safer as well because you course marshals around every corner blowing whistlers, you know where the riders are in front of you, behind you, they’re doing track work where it needs to be done. Nothing is going to pop out and surprise you. The level of the talent and absolutely flat-out speed a World Cup is mind-boggling. It’s huge. But it’s cool because you get to watch all these guys, you get to spot their lines, you can learn a ton. Last season was such a learning experience for me so I’m hoping to apply that to this year when I can get to a few more.
Do you think it’s important for U.S. Juniors, as they’re progressing through the ranks, to get them out to the World Cups?
Alex: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a huge part. Just being thrown into a World Cup experience, you don’t really know what to expect. It’s crazy to see the speed and the different tracks and the big jumps and just the technical level of these tracks, so I think it’s huge to be able to go and get a good experience when you’re young. It’ll help me out a lot, ya know, when I’m 18, 19, 20, in the prime of my career.
What are we going to see from Alex Willie in 2013?
Alex: I’ve been working with Intense. Intense has been backing me for a few years now and they’ve been treating me so well that I wanted to continue to ride for them. We’ve put together this Junior development team with Dylan Unger, Lucas Cowan and myself, which should be awesome. I think we’re the top three American Juniors coming up. It was awesome because I was able to bring all my sponsors that have been backing me for quite a few years now like MRP, Fox Racing Shox and Shimano, as well as Troy Lee Designs, Schwalbe tires. You know all these guys are going to help us out, so it’ll be huge.
Should we expect to see you at some World Cups and World Champs in South Africa this year?
Alex: That’s the plan, man. That’s what I’m going for, that’s what the season’s going to revolve around. Try to get some good, decent World Cup stops in, try to qualify for a few and World Champs. Hopefully I can do pretty well at World Champs and National Champs at Angel Fire, New Mexico.
Awesome, thanks for chatting with us and we wish you all the best in 2013.
Alex: Thank you, appreciate it.