Sam Hill Moves to Team CRC in 2013 - Interview with Team Manager Nigel Page 24
Sam Hill on CRC, that's some pretty big news! What was the genesis of this major move?
Nigel Page: Yes, it is pretty big news. Sam has a lot of fans and is a legend in our sport, so a change of team for him was huge. It came about after a meeting I had at CRC mid-season. There have been a few changes at CRC as the company grows, employee's change jobs and new people get employed to look after certain departments etc. We looked at how much the team costs, how the team had done over the last 5 years and what we thought was the direction for the future. It was decided we really needed a high-profile rider that was capable of podiums and wins but would also be a good fit for the team. I told the bosses which riders would be available at the end of 2012 and we made a list of the riders we would love to have on the team. Sam was very high up on that list obviously.
So, back at the races I spoke to some of the riders letting them know we were interested in having them on our team and to speak to me more if they were interested. There seems to be more big teams at the moment than "very top high profile riders" and some of the biggest teams have more than one. I was pleasantly surprised that quite a few of the riders I spoke to, showed real interest in the team and how our team had progressed over the last five years. Sam was one of the guys that showed interest and so after the races finished we got chatting and it all came into place, which I am stoked about.
Sam has raced DH frames by Intense, Iron Horse and Specialized, none of which work around a single pivot suspension design. How has he been getting along with the Nukeproof?
Ha, yes that is a question al lot of people will be asking! We are all pretty experienced with racing and bikes on the team. Between us all involved with the team and Nukeproof, we have had a lot of years riding bikes and know what works. I think Joe and Matt's results last year proved the bike is more than capable! I rode multi-pivot bikes for years with Intense, but for DH these days with good shocks, suspension and computers plotting exactly where we want pivot points to give an exact suspension curve and rate, I don't see any disadvantage with a single pivot design. Many other top riders have won on both single pivot and multi-pivot bikes over the years, and I don't think it is any different now.
Sam has only just recently tried out the Nukeproof, which was a deciding factor in him riding for the team. Sam wants a bike he is capable of winning on. Even though I was pretty confident he would like the bike, I was still a little nervous about what he would think of it. A lot of the internet nibblers think Sam will just give us his current bike to copy all the angles and geometry, but as I said, we all have a lot of experience and are really passionate about bikes at Nukeproof. It turned out Sam didn't want to change a single thing. But if he wanted any changes made to the bike, we would have done that for him, of course.
Have you and CRC had a vision of a championship winning squad since starting the team or is it something that has developed over the last couple years?
Yeah to be honest from the first year, 2008, I wanted the team to be one of the best and capable of winning championships. It costs CRC a lot of money and I really appreciate what they do and how they put back into the sport we all love.
In the first year we had Chris Kovarik, Julien Camellini, Matt Simmonds and at the time, the Junior World Champion, Ruaridh Cunningham. In our first world cup race in 2008, Julien qualified 1st and finished 2nd to Sam Hill. Chris was 7th (I think) Ruaridh 23rd and Matt 33rd. I couldn't believe how well we had done at our first big race, but all those guys where capable of top results, so I guess I just thought that was how it should be! That year we had a very solid year, but not quite as good as how we started out. Chris got on the podium at the Australian round that season and both Chris and Julien finished in the top 10 overall. Ruaridh was struggling with a knee injury, but that is racing and it's very hard at the top level.
In 2010 we had a big team with the addition of Matt Lehikoinen and Claire Buchar. That year we won the team Championship with everyone getting solid results, which was great for us as a team, but apart from Claire, we never earned any World Cup podiums. I still believe if Chris had focused 100% on his racing he would have still be winning World Cups, but unfortunately that didn't happen. He is one of the very best DH bike riders that there has ever been and still is. I have rode over the years with a lot of amazing riders, but he can do things on a bike I have never seen other people do!
Julien was also capable of World Cup podiums, as he has proved, but had a bit of bad luck with little injuries which I think distracted his focus and drive a little. He never found that consistency that only a few guys find, but it was great working with Julien. He is such a dedicated and genuinely nice person.
After 2011 we parted company with my long-time sponsor, Intense, to focus on developing bikes with Nukeproof, which the team is a huge part of. Matti Lehikoinen was our top rider for that year and our focus wasn't really to win a World Cup championship, but to get good results on a brand new bike and continue to try and improve the team and compete with all the big teams and bike companies.
Matti has had the worst luck with injuries, but getting 8th place on a Nukeoproof at the World Cup finals in 2011 was a huge achievement for us all! Matt, Joe and Lewis Buchanan also had some great results on the new Nukeproofs that season both internationally and at the UK races. Matt had a hard year breaking his kneecap in half at the start of the season and Lewis dislocating his shoulder the same weekend. After Matti's 8th place at Val Di Sole it was looking like 2012 would be a great year with four fast, young, hungry guys. Matt Simmonds, Joe Smith, Lewis Buchanan, Al Bond and Matti back on track to being a top contender. Then Matti's bad luck struck once again and he had the horrific crash at the Scandinavian Championships, completely smashing his face to pieces. I don't think many people understand how bad Matti's injuries were and what he had to go through. I can't believe he got back on a bike and raced this year, but that just showed how strong a guy Matti is and his love for what he does. Matti is one of the very best friends I have ever had the privilege to work and spend time with. I am really going to miss having him on the team and spending time with him.
In the end 2012 ended up being a pretty good season, especially for Matt and Joe who finished 16th and 19th overall in the World Cup and both made the UK worlds team (which is bloody hard to do). Matt won the British DH series title, too which was fantastic! The new Nukeproof Pulse launch was also a huge success and got many great comments from top racers from other teams.
But after all that, going back to your question, we have always had a vision of winning championships and with Sam being on board for the next two years, that is a goal of ours if things go well.
Sam has been plagued by injury, he's a new dad and hasn't seen the success he once had in some previous seasons. Do you think he's capable of returning to his past form to become a serious podium contender?
Yes a lot of things have happened in Sam's life since he was pretty much dominating the sport. Injuries happen, family comes along, which result in your focus changing for a while, but with all that and the amount of traveling Sam had to do last year, finishing 5th overall in the World Cup proves he is not past his best! Sam is one of the best DH bike riders and racers that will ever come out of our sport. He has that 'something extra special' that most people don't have and most of us will probably never understand. If things go well for Sam (we all need a bit of luck to stay healthy) and his focus is a strong as it seems to me, I have no doubt Sam will be a Championship contender once again.
What are your expectations of Sam in 2013?
At this point I am not expecting anything in particular from Sam in 2013. I want him to stay healthy, enjoy being on a new team, enjoy his racing and then I believe he will achieve his goals.
The official press release announcing Sam on CRC
I'm pleased to bring you some Team CRC/Nukeproof news, which is embargoed until 12am (GMT) on Tuesday 1st January 2013.
Team CRC/Nukeproof are proud to welcome legendary Australian rider Sam Hill onto the roster, joining Matt Simmonds and Joe Smith as they look forward to success in the upcoming 2013 RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup season.
A five time downhill World Champion and with numerous World Cup podiums under his belt, Sam Hill is widely regarded as one of the most skilful riders on the circuit, often showing disregard for and picking apart the most loose, steep or gnarly courses in the world.
The decision to join Team CRC/Nukeproof wasn't difficult for Sam, who said: "I'm very excited about riding for team Chain Reaction Cycles/Nukeproof. They are very positive towards downhill racing and I know they are going to put in 100% just like me.
"I'm really looking forward to getting to the races under the Chain Reaction Cycles tents and hanging with the team. 2013 is going to be a good year."
Matt Simmonds and Joe Smith, who both had their most successful professional season in 2012, are hoping to push themselves even further this year with the help of their new teammate. Matt said: "To have a rider of Sam's calibre on the team will be awesome for us! Placing 16th overall in last year's World Cup was great for me and gives me the perfect platform to improve my times this year and get closer to podium finishes."
Joe Smith, who took 19th overall in last year's World Cup rankings, is stoked on what the future holds for the team, saying: "Finishing seventh at Fort Bill last year was a definite highlight, and to end up in the top-20 overall was fantastic. With the help of the team and some tweaks to my riding, this year should be amazing for us all."
Team Manager Nigel Page said: "I'm delighted Sam has decided to join our team! I have been a big fan of Sam throughout his successful downhill career. He's had amazing results in the past winning five World Championship titles and is a fantastic ambassador for any company involved in downhill and mountain biking in general.
"We have worked hard on developing a great team and great bikes over the last five seasons and I believe having a rider of Sam's pedigree will step the team up to that next level and also bring on the results of Matt and Joe, who had very promising seasons in 2012.
"We are all really looking forward to having Sam on board helping the development of new Nukeproof products and hopefully helping Sam achieve his goals in racing in the next stage of his career. I can't wait for the 2013 season to begin!"