The Dutch junior downhill racer claiming elite podiums


Imagine being a young and ambitious racer. You’re on a winning run in a series you’re leading and the overall title is within reach. You can almost taste the next victory when, suddenly, a red flag pops up in the last corner. You hit the brakes and roll down slowly, just to find an empty track.

It happened to Tristan Botteram, a young Dutch downhill racer who killed his last season as a junior. He won the iXS Downhill Cup, finished second overall in the iXS European Cup, ended 4th at his first ever World Cup in La Bresse and 9th at World Champs in Lenzerheide, despite injuring his hand in practice.

His results are even more amazing considering he lives in the Netherlands. With roughly 35% of the country being reclaimed from the sea and below sea level, it's one of the flattest countries in the world. Flat roads equal easy pedaling so bicycles are a widely used mode of transport, but other than our rowdy commutes the Netherlands has nothing to offer for a downhill mountain biker.

As a result, Tristan hardly spends any time on his downhill bike outside the races. "It’s a three-hour drive to the closest downhill track in Winterberg (Germany), but because I don’t own a driver license yet I hardly ever go there. Besides, you can’t compare those tracks with a World Cup", he says.

The Netherlands is the third flattest country in the world.

Tristan’s dream of becoming a professional downhill racer started a few years ago. He originally wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and race motocross, but it was considered too expensive and dangerous for him at a young age and so he started racing BMX.

While on vacation in Austria with his parents and older brother in August 2016 Tristan enrolled in two nearby downhill races, the IXS Rookies Cup and the International Rookies Championships, and ended 5th out of 105 participants in both events. Tristan: "I instantly loved it and that's when I knew, I want to race downhill bikes."

While Tristan used the offseason to get fitter and better, his dad bought a camper van and converted it into a fully equipped mobile garage to escort his son to the races. By the time the new season began they were fully prepared and as soon as they set off, medals came pouring in.

Tristan Botteram at the eighth round of the iXS Downhill Cup in Thale, Germany.

Red flag

Back to the incident with the red flag. It happened at the second last race of the IXS Downhill Cup in Thale, Germany. Tristan was leading the series, but the overall outcome was far from decided yet. A win that day would put him firmly in the driver's seat. 

The rider in front of Tristan had crashed on the wall ride just before the finish, but got straight up and was already over the finish line when Tristan was stopped by the red flag. Of course, safety first, but when you get stopped on "a really good run" and find an empty track, you're going to be a little frustrated either way.

Technically the track in Thale is not really demanding, but physically it is. About two thirds in there's a nasty uphill section that had been killing riders all weekend. With his legs still burning from his first run, Tristan feared he might not have the leg power to do it again.

With hardly any time to regroup Tristan had to go straight back to the top and start immediately. While his mom and dad were anxiously watching the clock hoping he could pull it off, the commentators were pondering if a second run should be considered a pro or a con. They settled on it being a bit of both. 

The fastest time of the day was a run of 3:40:004 and Tristan was in touch when he popped up on the screen that showed the last few turns of the track. His mother was cheering loudly as he blasted through the wall ride and sprinted towards the finish. "Look. At.The.Time!" downhill's favorite commentator would have shouted. Tristan beat the best run by a half second, which did not only earn him the top step in the Pro U19 class but also the second place in elite. 

The first time Tristan crossed the finish line...

...and the second time.

World Cups

Tristan's result is a big confidence boost as he just turned 18 and will move from juniors to men this season. "It definitely gives me a bit of extra hope to get more podiums", he says. 

He will start the season riding the European cup, "but if it goes well and I'm blown away by my own riding like this year, I'll try to race the World Cup mid-season and see if I can qualify. I think that will be the biggest challenge because it's a new class and the speed is way different, but we'll see how it goes. There are other riders who just came from juniors and now ride top-20 in their race runs. I think it's all about your game plan and, of course, you have to be strong mentally as well."

Tristan's ultimate goal is to secure a spot on a factory team. "I'm always thinking of the bigger picture. Ever since I rode my first European Cup it's been my dream to win a race like that and this year I did that. Looking ahead, it would be amazing if I can race for a team and do this for a living, so I can hang out with my teammates and move to the mountains in like, Austria, or something."

Will we see a Dutchie win a World Cup in the future? We just might.

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