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Feature by Johan Hjord // Photos by Sven Martin, Lee Trumpore, Hoshi Yoshida, and Giant/FOX NZ

The second and last part of our article exploring the pursuit of velocity, as we delve further into the minds of those who measure themselves against the clock and come out ahead of the game. What makes you fast? What slows you down? Is there a magic ingredient that the weekend warriors can add to their riding to get closer to that holy grail of shredding a trail - speed? There is more than one answer but more importantly, there is collective wisdom, food for thought, and more than a little inspiration to be found when talking to our sport's finest. So go ahead and dig in, and don't forget to check out part 1 if you missed it!

Jerome Clementz

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Vital: Tell us about the early days of your career. When did you start riding bikes?
JC: I started riding bikes when before I can actually remember, but basically when I was 4 I was already on a bike. As for racing, it began at 12 for me. At first, it was summer training for my XC skiing season. Going even further back I started alpine skiing at 1.5 yrs of age, and I tried a lot of activities mainly outdoor.

Vital: Were you always a fast guy? Did speed come naturally to you?
JC: I was always a wild kid, definitely not a quiet one. I don't know if I was fast but I didn't mind taking risks, crashing, and coming home with bruises. Not only talking about MTB, but in general I was a daredevil. Whenever a lot of kids were around I was never the last to try something stupid. In every sport I tried I was pretty good, rarely awesome, but reasonably coordinated and always full-on. I was not afraid of getting hurt and throwing myself on the ground. I think this helps a lot to carry speed.

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Vital: If you have to name one thing only, what is the “magic ingredient” that makes someone go fast on a bike?
JC: I think fear is the main thing that slows you down. For me, I love the adrenaline and the speed. If you're not afraid of 'the speed' this will help you a lot. So based on this I'll say confidence and trust in yourself are the "magic ingredients" that will help you to ride fast.

Vital: Some guys have lots of talent for doing crazy stuff on a bike, but they never seem to deliver race results. Why is that, in your opinion?
JC: There is a lot of talent out there, and also some amazing riders who never race. Being fast and being a racer are two different things. When you race you have to optimize everything and be fast over the whole race, not just specific segments only. There is also the pressure of the result, which you don't have when you ride just with your mates. Add to that the motivation required to go over the limit of the risk and the engagement with the race track. I think when it comes to racing, the mind is the thing that separates the riders. Confidence, focus and motivation make a big difference in my opinion.

Vital: In Enduro, you have to ride a lot of different tracks, with a lot of different race formats – but you are always up there, fighting for the top spots. So speed is something universal, that has nothing to do with the terrain and the type of tracks?
JC: Adaptation is the key here. Of course there is always a race format or a specific type of terrain that you prefer but you also need to adapt to some other stuff. Either you just can get a good feeling quickly on every type of terrain or you don't like to ride always the same trail and so you move on to see something different. I always love new things, I get bored if I ride the same trail all the time, so this probably helps me to adapt quickly.

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Vital: Do you think it’s about being able to ride the gnarly stuff, take the big risk lines, or is it more about rhythm, flow, and carrying speed throughout a whole track and race?
JC: There is definitely a bit of both. A few years ago rhythm and flow was key, but now the level is so high and the field is stacked, so you need to ride some gnarly bits fully pinned and take some risks. Carrying speed and saving energy is always key for an Enduro race but you also need to add some craziness at some point and get out of your comfort zone. Some trails make this easier but on others, the limit is really hard to find.

Vital: How close to 100% do you have to ride the special stages to win in Enduro today?
JC: When it's a short one you are really close to 100% maybe sometimes even 110%, but when it's longer you need to pace yourself to minimize mistakes and keep energy and control to the end.

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Vital: Do you “roll the dice” coming into certain sections (meaning decide to take a big risk), or is it more about putting together a good run and hitting all your lines?
JC: I think during practice I tell myself where do I have a little bit of margin to take risks, and which are the spots where it is not worth it to take more risk because you have more to lose than to win. But for sure I've been riding a few lines not in total control over the last few years. It's a lot of stress sometimes but when you nail it, the feeling is amazing.

Vital: Speed in Enduro is different to speed in DH (as many DH guys have found out). There are special skills needed to manage a whole Enduro race, not to mention fitness requirements. But also, a guy like Martin Maes kills it in DH too. How fast do you think you could be on a World Cup DH track?
JC: I rode some DH World Cup in the past, I was still a junior and was finishing around 40th at the races (2001-2002). The main difference for me is the way you ride your bike. It's not the same with a DH rig or an Enduro weapon. I know the level is really high in DH. I did some National races in New Zealand in 2011 and was still fighting for a top 5 (4th in Queenstown and 7th in Dunedin) with McDonald, Masters, Graves, Leov, Blenki and others, so I wasn’t too far back. I'm a big fan of DH and over the last few years the races are really tight.

Vital: Would you qualify for a Sunday final at a World Cup?
JC: I believe with a bit of training I should be able to qualify in WC race. But now the level is so high that in just a few seconds you go from top 20 to 80th so there is no place for mistakes.

Vital: You’ve had a few injuries – do they slow you down at all? Do you hesitate more today, does it stop you from riding loose?
JC: It take time to commit at the same level as before but at some point you let your brakes go and ride the line. It's a good feeling when you're loose so you always tend to go look for this limit. I'll say that the difference is that you apply more intelligence in doing so, and you pick the right time instead of being loose all the time ahahaha. A bit like a drinking game, you still want to do it but not like when you were a student...

Vital: The season is about to kick off – what can we expect from Jerome Clementz in 2015?
JC: You can expect to see me at the top of my game. I've been serious this winter and I'm really motivated to do well. I feel good, my partners are the best ones you can imagine and there is no reason that I will not enjoy this season. I don't know if I will be able to be back on the podium because a lot of people have raised their game but you can be sure that I'll do my best. Other than that, you can expect to see a lot of smiles from me all year long, traveling, riding and racing, why would I not be happy!!?? (Editor's note: Not only did Jerome get back on the podium at the first EWS race of the season in Rotorua, but he won too!)

Vital: Good luck, we’ll be watching as always. Thanks for taking the time to chat to us – any last words?
JC: Thanks -  I'll be waiting for the Vital Slideshows all year long!!

Cam Cole

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Vital: Tell us about how you got into riding and racing. Where you always one of the fast ones?
CC: I started out racing BMX from the age of 3. I was pretty good I guess and getting better all the time. When I was 11 I got 2nd at the National Champs for the first time and I also made the NZ team to go and race in Australia. 4 Kiwis vs. 4 Aussies over a race weekend in Australia so I had that international experience from a young age. I got 2nd in the NZ BMX nationals about 3 or 4 times before I actually won a title. I think that’s what gave me a lot of the grit and mental strength later on. From about the age of 12-13 I was already transitioning over to mountain bike racing. Once I won a BMX title I won two more the last was in the Junior Men’s the same year I won the world DH champs in Rotorua.

Vital: 2006, and you’re Junior World Champion in Rotorua, beating Sam Blenkinsop by just over 1 second. Speed was a natural thing for you?
CC: I love speed and anything that throws a bit of dirt up off the back wheel really. I am a racer and a really competitive person. I think downhill was more alluring to me as there were more variables and it was just you on the track against the clock. That was really exciting for me at the time I started to cross over.

Vital: 2010 sees you arrive pretty much at the top of the sport, a 2nd place in Fort William and 5th in Leogang for your first World Cup podiums. It took you a few seasons to get up to speed in the Elite category, but you got there. Looking back, what do you feel was the “magic ingredient” to going that fast? What is the difference between a top-20 and 2nd place?
CC: I was a bit lost for a year or so when I entered the men’s pro circuit. I got injured in Deer Valley at a NORBA (I think they were still NORBAs at the time anyway) a week before the Mount Sainte Anne World Cup which was my first World Cup since Willingen, Germany in 2006 and I really wanted to prove myself against the big boys after being Junior World Champ. I was off the bike for about 6 months and went back in 2008 to race most of the World Cups. I was pretty unfit and half way through the year I decided I really wanted to get back to the top. After 2008 I got a proper trainer and Team Maxxis also started working with Rocky Mountain Bicycles on the design of a new race frame. In 2009 I was fit, strong and feeling good on the new bike but I was pretty inconsistent with my results so I knew I needed something else. My trainer and I really got stuck into the mental approach stuff, which was a key ingredient in the 2010 season. Most of that was about knowing why I was going racing. The main reason for it was that it was fun and I loved the social side of it as well. I just rode my bike a lot and did enough of the strength and interval training to get me to a good level but most of it was just about having fun on the bike. The Rocky Mountain Flatline was amazing and the suspension I had that year worked really well with that frame and all the main parts we were using. Everything just really came together and it gave me a lot of confidence. The difference between 20th and 5th is nothing. I don’t think you notice the difference until you compare 20th to 1st or 2nd.

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Vital: 2011 and 2012, racing for Lapierre, you’re regularly on the podium and more often than not in the Top 10. We’re used to seeing you contend by then, and everybody’s wondering when you will win your first race. What do you think stood in the way of that? Do you feel like the pressure got to you? Or were you just not able to put together the clean run needed for the win?
CC: I had some really good bikes and equipment and really good teammates and that fun just kept rolling on from 2010. It was awesome to be teammates with Blinky and Loic and it was good for all of us at the time, pushing on to improve.

2011 was a lot easier for me than 2012 as far as racing on the edge week in and week out. I was in a really good groove of punching out solid race runs, hitting lines anywhere I wanted and just executing my plan really well. I think the bikes were super fast and the tires and suspension were all super dialed. Again it was just a really good package that I found easy to ride on the edge with. For 2011 I'm not sure there was anything else I could have done to win a race perhaps I was at my limit of potential that year.

In 2012 they changed the frame quite a bit and we went to Schwalbe tires at Lapierre. Blinky and myself really struggled on the flatter tracks as the leverage rate felt a bit soft and forgiving in the rear when you pushed to try and generate speed or wanted to get aggressive. That was a step back from 2011 in terms of set up which really affected the bike and the balance front to rear and it hindered our confidence. These traits did seem to make the bike more suited to the steeper tracks and you could see that in my results. I was 5th in Val di Sole first World Cup back after missing round 1 in South Africa due to an injury at the end of 2011 and I qualified 1st in Val d’Isere. Val d’Isere is one that I really think I could have won. In my finals run I came over the jump into the second turn and there were 3 rocks sitting in the only rut in the corner. You couldn't cut inside or go wide, just one rut and I washed my front in the turn and lost all my speed. I was way down at the 1st split and got back to 8th so, yeah that was one that really got away but nothing I could have done about it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be for the Horse.

Vital: Looking at the guys who dominated during those years, did you see something they were doing that others weren’t? Where do those final precious seconds and tenths of seconds come from?
CC: I don't think it was anything huge. Downhill is won and lost by small percentages. Everything you do from the moment you start your training to getting a new bike or starting the design of a new bike for the year dictates what kind of racer you will be for that season. It’s why I love the sport - there are so many variables you really have to do all of it right while still keeping it fun to win those races. That’s where it becomes difficult the balance between being ruthless and just loving riding bikes.

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Vital: You broke your back racing in Andorra in 2013. Was it hard to come back from that?
CC: Getting back from the injury itself took pretty long and a lot of work in the gym, at the pool, and building back up to speed on the trail. The racing was awesome to get back to. The feeling of being at the start line in South Africa 8 months later was amazing, getting 12th was even better especially after all the team stuff with Yeti going on as well that off season. I was just happy to have a supported ride and a team manager at the races. I was still looking for support on the 1st of January and Thibaut Ruffin did a lot of hard work to get me on the team so late in the game. I think mentally and physically my broken wrist in 2007 was the hardest for me to get back from. Once you have a recipe for recovery and getting back up to speed after injuries you can get back to your best from anything.

Vital: Did you feel like you had something to prove – maybe to yourself? Did you feel you still had the speed to contend? Were you riding with your injury still in your head?
CC: Yeah for sure I had something to prove to myself. I really enjoy the personal challenge of it all and I still wanted to win a World Cup if not be back on the podium again at the very minimum. I think all the stuff from the year before was still in my head. As a rider I know I had the speed. At Fort William and Leogang I had really great runs. I think that due to the late switch over I was a bit behind on testing and frame set up and I paid the price. I was consistently in the top 20 but only just and about 5 seconds back from where I know I could have been with some more testing and better suspension. Bottom line, I was behind all year and once the season gets going there’s not much else you can do but ride it out. I didn't really get along with the BOS products either. After being on a really solid factory program at FOX it’s hard to compare anything else.

Vital: You’re 15th at the 2014 World Champs, by no means a bad result. But then you decide to retire. Take us through that decision?
CC: I was really happy with that race, I had a really, really good run. Two weeks before I didn't qualify at the Meribel World Cup only my second ever DNQ. I was stoked to turn that around in such a short time. Commencal got me a new frame with a few geometry tweaks and Steve at Vorsprung suspension built me a new shock and I never worked so hard for two weeks of my life before as I did for the Norway World Champs to get back up there. I knew a good result would make getting a contract a lot easier. Initially I was in talks with Rocky Mountain who I was hoping could fund a team where I would manage and ride. It was really close actually but there was a holdup with their first preproduction models and they couldn't commit to the 2015 season with me. Commencal couldn't get the money to keep me so that wasn't an option. I then drew a line and basically I wasn't going back racing for pennies or to ride equipment that was going to hold me back from racing at my potential again.

Vital: How close to 100% do you have to go to contend at a World Cup these days? 100%? 105%? How “crazy” is it out there?
CC: I guess it depends who you are. I personally think that the 100% you talk about involves a couple of key components before the other elements even come into the equation. The key for me in this equation is the product you are using that’s, frame, tires, suspension, brakes, rims, all the elements that can give a rider either extreme confidence or lack of it on the track. After that the second element is confidence, not in being comfortable on the bike but from a mental point of view. Then the last 20% is physical. I would say that the team culture also has to come into it as well. This is where the feel-good factor for the rider comes in. I have seen average staff members in teams negatively affect a rider who would have otherwise performed very well.

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Vital: You’re obviously still involved with the sport you love, racing a regional program for Giant. What else does the future hold for Cam Cole?
CC: I am currently studying at University here in Christchurch. I’ll see how that goes for this year as I do want a higher level of education but, after that who knows? For the rest of this year I am off the bikes again with an injury - not to worry I’ll be back riding in the near future that’s for sure.

Vital: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Cam! Any last-minute predictions for the 2015 World Cup season? Who’s the dark horse in this year’s campaign?
CC: It would be hard to pick one. I think that Connor Fearon is one who everyone is waiting for to crack a top 5. There are a couple of juniors coming up who will be fast and mixing it up with the top 10 men. Greg Williamson and all the Trek boys are on good gear and they will be hungry after last year, being up there but not that consistent. Guillaume Cauvin is on really good stuff this year and he should be back around where he left off in 2013 banging about the top 10. I think Joe Smith and Mike Jones will be able to push for top 5 results this year. The CRC team has had plenty of time over the past year or two to develop the bikes as a complete and competitive package. Team Lapierre will be ready on the old new bike with a more experienced Bruni as well.

Martin Whiteley - Team Manager, Trek World Racing

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Vital: You’ve been around racing and fast racers for a long time, what in your opinion is the one factor that stands out when it comes to winning races?
MW: Firstly, I want to quantify the answers you’re about to get. I’m not a Sports Psychologist nor have I had any training in that area. These are merely my observations after being around these types of race winning athletes for a long time and are totally subjective and not scientific. It’s not any one thing, unless you call the perfect combination of several things a ‘thing’. All of the top riders I’ve worked with have had the required talent and support needed to win, and they have done the training and for the most part eaten well and so forth. I often use the word ‘racecraft’ which for me is the appreciation of what it takes to race a bike fast as opposed to ride a bike fast. Your competitor is Mr. Tissot, and no-one else. You are racing time and how you do that is reflected on a result sheet where your effort is compared to everyone else’s. Once you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing on the mountain and focus on what it is that you need to do with what you have at your disposal, then you will start getting the results you deserve. Sitting in the start house knowing you’ve done everything you possibly can to get the best time out of that track is a big confidence boost. Confidence is exactly like a snowball, pointed in the right direction with the right momentum, it will effect maximum damage to your opposition, the clock. Left standing without attention, it will melt and leave you with nothing.

Vital: There are some very, very talented riders out there, who look like they can do absolutely anything on a bike, yet against the clock, they are not able to challenge for the top spots. Why is that? What’s missing?
MW: It’s not always for the exact same reasons, but often what looks fast and dramatic, isn’t. Efficient and fast can sometimes look boring or effortless. There were some runs last year by Ratboy where it looked like he’d given up, he wasn’t pedaling, but actually he was conserving where pedaling made no difference, using his confidence, skill and momentum to gain time where it mattered. Being able to understand the relationship between your bike, the terrain and time is key. Some people have a lot of talent, but lack that racecraft.

Vital: It’s obviously not about who has the biggest balls or can take the gnarliest lines, it’s about top to bottom speed. Riders like Sam Hill and Steve Peat are very different in how they ride a track, yet they have both won a lot of races and both have dominated the field at times. So is it more about what we CAN’T see, than the obvious line choices etc?
MW: Again, both of these riders may have different styles, but you can bring a different set of weapons to a battle and still end up winning. It’s all about how they combine their confidence, skill and preparation to arrive at the line fastest.

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Vital: How do you explain the “streakiness”? I.e. riders dominate for a season or two, then suddenly, they are not immortal anymore? We’ve seen it with Hill, Gee, Minnaar, Gwin, we don’t know if Stevie would have continued to this day without his injury, or whether Ratboy will come back as strong yet…but you get the picture. Is it just not possible to ride that close to the edge (or even beyond it sometimes) for that long?
MW: It’s the confidence snowball I mentioned before. Once you’ve had that first big win, you have to not see it as an anomaly but as an affirmation of your ‘arrival’, and that you have done everything you need in order to deserve that result, and that you are more than capable of doing that again. Don’t feel daunted by that top step, feel at home there.

Vital: Does there come a point where a dominant rider will back off just a tiny bit, or not take as many risks? Or are there physical or other mental reasons that somebody “slows down”?
MW: That for me is a very complicated question. It’s been said many times that getting to the top is not nearly as hard as staying at the top. Some riders get affected by big crashes or injuries when a little safety switch gets turned on in their subconscious, others have equipment doubts and issues, but I feel for most this is mainly a mental issue. Age will catch up with a rider (reflexes, recovery etc) and if that happens when the passion is waning or the confidence is not as high, it can all add up.

Vital: How do you help a rider get to that “zone”? To take the talent and turn it into winning races? What is the number one aspect of their “game” that you work on?
MW: Each rider is different and has their own needs from a Team Manager, I have never met 2 that are identical in this way. Some only seek confirmation that all is on track, some need real confidence boosts, and others like to evaluate and strategize a race. My job is to recognize what’s needed, what I can provide and when, and do so without creating distractions.

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Vital: People moan a lot about some of the World Cup tracks, but if you look through the results sheets, the cream always rises to the top. That seems to validate the theory that there is a magical ingredient that goes beyond the tech and the gnar when it comes to speed?
MW: Absolutely, and it’s the reason why guys like Vouilloz, Minnaar, Peat and Hill are multiple World Cup champions, because you need to have that consistency across all tracks in order to be truly great. Not just fast on a steep, rainy track, but also on a dusty, flatter one. I would moan if the racing was boring, or races were getting won by unknown riders because the tracks had lost the ‘gnar’, and while we could have some better tracks, the fact remains, the best riders deal with what they’re handed and find a way to beat the clock.

Vital: Good luck to you and your team for 2015! Anything to add just before the season kicks off?
MW: We’re really looking forward to the 23rd World Cup Downhill season, where Mont-Sainte-Anne will be hosting the 150th World Cup Downhill race. There are so many great riders that can do well these days so it will be an exciting season as always, and we’ll be doing our best to add to the 40 World Cup podiums the Session has taken since 2009!

Check out Part 1 of this article HERE if you missed it.

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