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A favorite of the people and no stranger to the podium, France's Fabien Barel retired from World Cup-level racing in 2011. Half-way through the decade, Fabien stacked up back-to-back World Championship wins among some of the decade's heaviest competitors.

Fabien, no stranger to keeping his bike low to the ground, taking the gold at Livigno, 2005. photos by Gary Perkin
As a multiple Elite Men's DH World Champion, which victory meant the most to you?
The World Title in Les Gets was definitively the race of my career. The emotion of winning a World Championship Title in your home country in front of your own croud is simply unreal. I was elated for a full 6 months.

Which World Champs victory do you feel was the most difficult to earn?
It was not the World Championship Titles that were the hardest for me. Getting the 2nd place with a broken foot in 2007 in Fort William was like a victory to me. My 4th place in Canberra, Australia with no ligaments on my knee was so well calculated. 10th place in Champéry this year with four
broken ribs was an unreal challenge. I was dedicated to all the Worlds races in my career. The ones that went well were the easy ones. The others were a really big challenge for myself and the bike...

Preparation
Was winning World Championships a specific goal for you the years you won?
It has been a goal every single year. For me there is nothing better than being World Champion. You can win the World Cup with consistency, but when it's the Worlds you have to be the best on that special day. It is an incredible emotion and intensity. It is why I love the sport and racing, and it is what drove my motivation over the years.

Once you had a World Championship victory, did you stick to the same strategy for following World Champ victories?
No, every World Champs race was different. The bike was changing, the physical preparation was different, the mental approach and focus on specifics points... That is what makes Worlds so interesting. You cannot only play on your good points. I loved preparing for every one of those.
The taste of success in 2004. Fabien's first Elite World Champs DH victory. photo courtesy of Fabien BarelWhat is one piece of your preparation that you feel is unique to you and no one else?
There is probably plenty. For example, for Fort William, as I am living in a fairly hot place of the World, I mentally prepared myself for the rain and the cold at the start of the race.
If you are not used to the cold it can very quickly increase the stress on your body as it tenses all your nerves, so I did all of my track visualization with rain noises on my MP3 player at nights, outside, with my shirt off to control my focus on the start and the race run.

Did you work closely with your National team and coaches during the years you won?
No, not at all. Paul, my mechanic, and JB, my coach, have been my wing men for nearly 10 years. It has been a huge amount of teamwork and I can never thank them enough for their commitment during those challenges. Alone, you are nothing in life. Sharing with others makes it 10 times more meaningful and 10 times more fun.

How important was your preparation in securing a victory the years you won? Do you feel like some years it mattered more than others?
That year in Les Gets was crucial for me. I knew that this opportunity was unique to all riders and it was mine. This is why my determination for it was unreal. At the end, I remember one important thing - when I was in the start gate I was thinking, no regrets. I gave my best and calculated everything. Now let's take what life wants to give me...

2004 World Champs in Les Gets, France
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Your Victory
As a World Champion, I imagine you think about your winning runs often. Choose your favorite World Champs race run and let's break down the experience a bit...How did you feel the night before your race run?
Confident... ready to have fun and enjoy the moment.

How did you feel riding up the lift?
There is always a doubting moment where you are thinking about if you missed anything, but during warm up, you realize it is too late and it is not right to think the past, to focus and start to look ahead at your run.

What was it like rolling into the start gate?
While the start gate beeps, you leave all your thoughts and let your body take over.

Recount your run in detail.
The timing of your movements is behind the anticipation of your brain and vision. There is no time for thinking. If you think, it means you are doing something else than riding and so you lose time. Your mental commitment needs to be fully there to pick up every tenth of a second. This is part of how I won.

When did you realize you had the winning run?
You normally don't until the last man down. In my case, the winning run did not have anything exceptional. During my best performances, I always have good timing and precision, but normally feel slow on the bike. Those are normally not the runs I prefer, as I like to be on the edge, but those are the winning ones.

What do you remember most about the day?
The satisfaction to have given my best. World Champ or not, for me, the most important is to always be able to give 100% of myself, and I am proud to say that I have done it for the last 16 years.

Fabien's winning run, 2005 World Champs in Livigno, Italy...HAULING THE MAIL!!!
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The Payoff
Did winning a World Championship effect how raced after the victory?
Yes, it does in some cases. You can have more pressure on your shoulders as you feel that you need to prove that you deserve it, or you feel released knowing you have done it once in your life. In my case, it did not change much. It could be a regional race or World Champs - when there is a start and a finish I always gave all I could.
     This is why my career has been so full of ups and downs with my injuries, but this is also how I managed to stay among the top riders of World Cup Circuit for 11 years.

Was there more pressure to win additional World Champs with at least one victory under your belt?
Pressure is always on, at least that's the case for me. That is what makes racing interesting. Being able to put yourself as close as possible to your riding limits is what racing is about...

How did your victory effect your career and your future with mountain biking?
I believe that when you become World Champ, you deserve the right to talk, but also the responsibility of your words. There are very few DH World Champs today, and all have brought something different to the sport. I believe DH racing is unique as we have a lots of different characters that are humble, approachable, and have a good attitude. This is why I enjoyed so much of my career - I met so many different people that were very inspiring within the sport and industry.
Fabien on the top as a junior at Mont Sainte Anne, 1998. Recognize the Aussie next to him?
In General
Not including the World Champ races you've won, which World Championship is most memorable to you?
As mentioned, Fort William in 2007 and Champéry in 2011 was a big challenge for me to stay on the bike. In both cases, I had to forget the pain and focus 100% on a perfectly dialed run. Breathing at the right moment on my run in Champéry was crucial. I was not allowed to fall as my ribs would have poked my lungs... and believe me, the pressure was on all weekend at Champéry.

As downhill mountain biking racing grows, do you think the World Championships will always be the ultimate title?
Being World Champion was unique, is unique today, and will always be...
Fabien is a mad-scientist. Click the pic to check out this feature on his mega-tweaked bike for the 2009 World Champs in Canberra.
Are you bummed that Fabien has retired from the World Cup circuit? Share your thoughts on his career in the comments.

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