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We arrived at the launch of Nukeproof's new Mega in Dolceacqua, Italy, only to find our favorite World Cup rider was joining in the fun too. We took the opportunity to catch up with the Thunder from Down Under and ask him a few questions. From the World Cup to the off-season, Sam is generally a man of few words but a lot on his mind, so we were stoked to have a chance to chat and find out how he's doing coming into 2016.

Sam taking in the amazing mountains around Dolceacqua.

Vital: The “old Sam Hill” was back in 2014, we were stoked to see it and you looked pretty stoked when it happened – how hard was it to come back?
SH: Definitely tough. I had a few big injuries pretty close together, I lost a lot of motivation and it took a lot of the fun out of racing which is the main reason why I do it.

Serious Sam.

Vital: Was that the main thing? Not really motivated to put in the work and all the training?
SH: Nah I was still putting in the work, I just wasn’t enjoying being at the races to be honest. Then I signed with Chain Reaction and it sort of renewed things for me, and brought a lot more fun back to it for whatever reason. Nigel [Page, team manager] is an awesome guy and the whole team is like a little family – I couldn’t imagine being somewhere else. Now every year I train harder than the year before. It’s like if you don’t get the results you want you put in even more work to get there.

Sam and Nigel sampling a little local produce.

Vital: It’s much harder now? With the level of riding out there the margins for error are that much slimmer, not even talking about getting injured but just getting results?
SH: Yeah, the sports changed a lot over the year, you have to be a different kind of bike rider and you actually have to be an athlete now.

Vital: Yeah, people always assume that you’re not really an athlete, but you’re actually just playing your cards close to your chest there, eh?
SH: I dunno. People can think what they want to think. If you want to put the work in, it shows. [ED: we spent two days riding “enduro” with Sam, and if there’s any doubt as to the fitness level of this guy these days, one look at how he took on the climbs told us everything we needed to know about that - and we're early in the post-season.]

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Vital: 2015, obviously a big letdown for you, but just take us through it again?
SH: I had an awesome off-season, training was going really well, and then two or three days before I was due to fly to the first World Cup I was just doing some runs on my local track and my front end washed out and I went down hard on my shoulder. Didn’t think too much of it, went to Lourdes figuring with a week of rest it might be alright and I could still get some points, but it didn’t get any better. I then found out that I’d done some serious damage to it, and that was pretty much the season gone.

Vital: You tried to come back at the end of the season, but the shoulder wasn’t quite there, was it?
SH: What I’d done to my shoulder was pretty much a six month injury, but I wanted to go racing anyway and try to come back to Worlds and see what I could do there. But even now [November], with however long it’s been, my shoulder is still giving me trouble and it’s still weak. I kinda felt I had gained some momentum back through the races, but then I had another crash in Windham and knocked myself back again, so it’s been kind of a roller coaster throughout the year. At Worlds I was feeling a lot better on the bike and had a bit of speed going, but crashed again – so yeah, tough season but more motivation for next year. When you have an injury at the start of the year, especially when the doctor tells you it’s six months, you know that you’re not in the best place, so…

Sam practicing his Italian.

Vital: Looking in from the outside, 2015 seemed like it offered a good selection of tracks for the World Cup. Even the tracks that usually take some criticism, like Leogang for example, looked at least more interesting this time around, and in general, the series presented a good, coherent set of challenging tracks. Do you agree? Do you think the World Cup is headed in the right direction?
SH: Yeah, I think David Vasquez is doing a great job in guiding the tracks to be challenging, natural, and kinda steer them away from just being bike parks.

Vital: It’s looking pretty good for 2016 as well then?
SH: Yeah, I think all the tracks they raced on this year looked good, Lourdes looked awesome, Val di Sole and Andorra are amazing tracks, MSA and Fort William you can never really go wrong with. Switzerland looked like it was a good track, seemed like it was a bit different, it was a bike park track but as it broke down a bit it turned loose and sketchy, so it wasn’t like a typical bike park in the end. It’s a bit frustrating though when you look just to the side of that track and you see the steep woods just there…hopefully they can bring some of that in for this year.

Who let the Mad Dog out?

Vital: Do you think there could be a place for more races like the Hardline? Could there be a “Super Elite Series” of say three or four of those types of events?
SH: I think there definitely could be something like that, yeah. Something to further raise the level of the sport. You wouldn’t get everybody there, because not everybody could race it, but it could be viable. They could always also put more of those big jumps into World Cup tracks, since they want to make tracks shorter and faster and draw spectators and TV audiences anyway.

Vital: So now you’re headed into the off-season, except it’s really the on-season back home?
SH: Yeah, I’ve had like six to eight weeks off the bike since World Champs, just to give my body a rest, and then over the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting out on a few trail rides to get back into it. It’s been awesome having a bit of family time, waking up and doing stuff with the kids. I’ve also begun some light gym work to build the strength back in my shoulder.

There's always something to sign when you're Sam Hill.

Vital: Do you have anything out of the ordinary lined up, any specific races you plan on doing?
SH: Not really, I’ll do a couple National races here and there, National Champs, leading into the World Cup. Other than that, I’ll be out in the woods by myself, sweating. Mike Jones is going to come down for a couple of months. That’ll be good too.

Vital: What does Sam Hill’s routine look like back home? Do you do anything wildly Australian while you’re out there?
SH: Not really, kids keep me pretty busy and I try to help the wife out with stuff, other than that, it’s just about training.

Sam in his element, always stoked to ride his bike.

Vital: You had probably the world’s least-active Facebook account with the highest amount of followers at one point [ED: it has improved a bit since then ;)], but you hardly seemed to actually use the thing. Now you’re on Instagram and you seem a bit more active there?
SH: Yeah, Instagram is easy, you just take a picture and put it up there, and I’m not a big media person and I’m not really into all the technology, so it suits me. Instagram is actually quite interesting though, you can follow the people that you like to keep up with, and a picture is worth a thousand words, so yeah.

Vital: Do you read stuff people say about you? Any wild comments you remember?
SH: Not much, but there always seems to be people about who have no clue what they’re talking about. If you don’t know someone and what they’re about, I don’t know how you can have all these opinions, but there’s always people who want to be ballbags, so, no point reading that stuff and getting angry. [ED: we always thought “ballbags” was a Scottish expression but Sam claims it for Australia.]

Vital: Sam, thanks for talking to us, we hope you get the season you deserve – we here at Vital will be rooting for you as always!
SH: Thanks, yeah, I hope to stay healthy and get on a few more podiums!

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Catch our 2015 pre-season interview for more from Sam!



Interview and photos by Johan Hjord

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