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Consistent Threat - An Interview with Danny Hart 1

In describing Danny Hart, a cornucopia of superlatives may flood our mouths but to put it simply, he is fast. For 2020, he will be even faster.

Consistent Threat - An Interview with Danny Hart

“I think my riding style is quite smooth, until race run,” says two-time downhill world champion Danny Hart. “Then it starts getting a bit sketchy, a bit wild sometimes—that’s when you’re going fast. So it’s fine.”

A quintessential downhill racer, Hart is an astute student of the sport—known to study courses, test new technologies and experiment with lines—while having the ability to apply all his learnings, and ride to his fullest potential, when it counts: The final race run. “When it comes to the final race run, I know that I’ve done everything I can in my power to have the best run possible,” says Hart. This confidence has been Hart's key to success during his ten-year elite racing career.

In 2019, Hart’s consistency culminated with a win at the final round of the UCI World Cup series in Snowshoe, West Virginia. “This year, I kept getting closer and closer to the win—just being a few seconds off most of the time,” said Hart. “And then by the last race, it was good to put it all together for a win.” The victory gave fans one of the most spectacular series finales in recent memory as Hart’s speed—and course split times—continued to improve all the way to the finish.

With a proven ability to improve as the season progresses, Hart is looking to start the 2020 season more prepared than ever. Anticipating major life changes—like getting married in November and his first baby due in February—Hart is getting ready for 2020 even earlier than normal.

“I’d like to come into the first World Cup in the best shape I’ve ever been,” admits Hart. Beginning 2020 preparations in October, Hart has already been in the gym to do “a little bit of ‘pre-training,’ if you like” before his official training efforts began in early November.

If a more-prepared Danny Hart is able to enter the start house at round one of the 2020 UCI World Cup series in Portugal—and history is any indication—it will bode well for his aim to claim the overall championship, which is the only major title that has eluded him to this point in his career. “I have been able to win single races,” acknowledges the 2011 and 2016 World Champ, “But the goal is to be the best overall on the season.”

 

Interview by Derreck Delk, photography by Nathan Hughes

TRAINING

This early in the off-season, what does “training” include?

Danny Hart: A few weeks ago, I got into the gym to do some lifting—a little bit of “pre-training,” if you like. Because I’m getting married in November—going away on my honeymoon, and stuff—I had to start pre-season preparation a little sooner than normal. Which I’m quite happy to do. I’ve had long enough sitting around on my ass, having nothing to do, eating donuts and stuff, so I’m ready to get to it!

FATHERHOOD

Baby Hart is due February 2020, congratulations! So, how excited are you to become a father?

Definitely! It’s been coming through for quite a while now—you know, it doesn’t come easy for either my fiancé and me to have a baby. So we’re just hoping everything goes smoothly. We can give a child a really cool life, I think, so it’s going to be awesome. We’re having a little girl and we’ll have to see what the future brings. Life is definitely going to change in the next few months.

Your father has been a massive influence on your career—what kind of father do you hope to be?

Well, for the time being, I still need to be racing and keep my head down. So the baby girl is going to be around racing for a few years while her dad is still doing it, hopefully. When I’m done, we’ll see what happens then—if she wants to go race bikes, she can do whatever she wants really. It will be pretty cool to have a little bike in the pits.

What are your fatherhood concerns on how the new family will affect your spring training and career?

I have a really good crew with me. Obviously my wife-to-be, Sophia, knows what it takes for me to go racing. She knows I need to do my training, get my sleep and all that—but I’m sure it’s all going to change once the baby pops out. It’s a really scary time. Giving birth is a massive thing. I know I’ll have to do a little more, myself—looking after her and the baby.

A lot of couples get a dog before having a baby—do you think Ruby, your bulldog, has prepared you for fatherhood?

Haha, yeah, I think Ruby is a little bit like having a child—but, I’m sure the real thing is going to be much different!

RACE CRAFT

While there are many riders who can match your speed on the bike, your race craft sets you apart—what do you contribute to your ability to perform?

Last season, I got beat by my teammate several times in a few pre-season races—quite convincingly. They were just national races. I am able to bring my A-game to the World Cup races—and I think it’s just a subconscious thing, really. I don’t consciously rein it back for smaller races and then push harder for the big races. I think that it’s just through years of experience and knowing what to do—I think that’s the main thing, experience. Having the experience of racing at the highest level. So I know when to turn it on. Sometimes it looks like I’m not trying, but I really am. And then there are other times that I really am trying and it looks like I’m out of control—and in one split second it looks like I’m a bit sketchy—and I get a bit loose. But I’m willing to take that risk in the final race run.

What advice would you give to a strong rider struggling to get results when it counts?

I do a lot of GoPro runs where I’ll time myself. There’s a lot to do when it comes to preparation. When it comes to the final race run, I know that I’ve done everything I can in my power to have the best run possible. Preparation is the main thing—and it’s not just doing run after run and thinking that you’re going fast. You really need to know, 100-percent, that this line is better than that line.

TESTING

How often are you actually timing runs?

When it gets to Christmas and the new year is when I pretty much stop riding just for fun and start really concentrating on timing, pushing myself and trying different things on the bike. And we’ll go away to a couple of places to test—ride some bigger, longer tracks—and that’s when we’ll be doing timing. I have my own timing system. It all works really well for me and is really efficient. After the new year and getting closer to the season, it’s pretty much all on-the-clock riding.

How much are complete runs or just sections?

Ideally, if it’s a long track then I’ll split the track into four sections. I’ll do alternate lines in each section. And at the end of the run, I’ll do a couple of full runs and try to match the sections. But not every run is a full-timed run.

At World Cups are you timing by yourself or do you work with your Madison Saracen teammates?

My teammate, Matt Walker, will work together every now and then. In the end, we have to ride our own race. For the most part, I’m working with my fiancé, team manager and we’ll figure out where they need to be on the track to time sections. I pretty much like to work with the same people week-in and week-out, so we know what we’re working with. I generally try not to worry about what other riders are doing. But when I need to, I will speak to my teammates about lines and where we should be on the track.

Being independent in your approach to World Cups, what’s your take on Worlds—specifically how the French riders all seem to work together and combine intel at that race?

That’s difficult—because I’m very competitive and I want to do my own thing. I’m working extremely hard myself and I feel like I have a lot to give other people, but there are a lot of guys that can win at the end of the day. So you don’t want to give too much away. And I think when you watch the Frenchies at the end of the year, I don’t think they’re working “together” as hard as you think.

So you like holding some cards close to your chest?

Yeah, I like to do my own thing and earn my own results.

EQUIPMENT

The mixed-wheel bike has become a hot topic lately, and you were one of the very first riders to adopt the 29-inch front wheel and 27.5-inch rear wheel setup—how did you come into running it?

At the end of the 2018 World Cup season, we went to Portugal for testing. We were finished testing but still had some time on the track so my team manager asked if I’d try a 27.5-inch rear wheel. The track had lots of corners—tight corners and wide-open corners—and we ended up doing some timing. And the 27.5-inch rear wheel ended up being faster, so it became part of my race setup.

So are you content to remain on mixed wheels or would you consider mounting a 29-inch rear wheel on certain courses?

Last summer, I went to Fort William before the World Cup and tried the 29er in the back. I kept thinking, “It’s gonna be faster, it’s gonna be faster,” but for me, it wasn’t faster. So that was enough said there for me to decide to carry on for the rest of the season with the 27.5-inch rear wheel in the back.

OFF-SEASON

Are there any changes you’ll make to your setup for next season?

Saracen is working on a few things for next season that I’m waiting to hear on, but we’ll be on the same suspension and all the same sponsors—they have a really good package and I don’t think I’d make any changes, even if given the choice. We have had all the best parts, the best bike, so there’s no need to change.

During the off-season, without access to your mechanic, do you handle all bike maintenance between rides?

Leading up to Christmas, I’ll just be riding one day a week and on the weekend so I’ll handle keeping the bike running. And even my team manager and mechanic would I agree, I do keep the bike clean and I do look after my stuff. Like, at the moment, the weather has been poor so I feel like I’m always washing bikes. So I’ll wash the bike between rides, lube the chain, handle tire and suspension pressure and keep the bike running—but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, I’ll hand over for the team to handle. But I keep the bike running all week.

What are you most critical about with your setup?

Every time I ride, I’ll check tire and suspension pressure—those are the main things because even sitting in the garage, things can change. And I am picky about my brakes—they need to feel just right. I’m not as bad as some riders who are changing brake pads every time they go out. My needs are quite simple really: I just need a nice clean bike that runs smoothly.

After winning the final World Cup race in West Virginia, you were vocal about wanting to get to Whistler to “ride for yourself”—how was it?

This year I was only able to be there for a week, so it wasn’t ideal. But it was still good to be there. We didn’t have fair weather, but the trails are really good when they’re wet—to look on the bright side. I try to go there after every season. I go there to ride just to have fun. Sophia also got to ride. And, obviously, being pregnant she wasn’t able to do too much. I really enjoy being there. Everybody is happy and it’s just a good place to be.

Favorite trail in Whistler Bike Park?

I do like the tech stuff. I get a little bit bored riding A-Line and Dirt Merchant every lap, so I enjoy French Connection and Whistler Downhill.

Being in Whistler does it pique your interest to be involved with Crankworx series?

Yeah, previously, I did Crankworx when I was with Giant Factory Racing—it was in our contract. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really cool, it’s just that you can end up being on the road for a long time and the chance of hurting yourself and ending your season can increase by a lot—that’s the main reason I don’t do it. I like to stay in Europe and be riding proper tracks that I should be preparing for, so I like to go home.

SPLIT TIMES

At MSA there was a turning point in your race runs—your split times began to decrease for the first time in the season. And you were able to do it again at World Cup finals. What can you attribute to this? Was it something you specifically addressed?

No. I wasn’t too aware of that, to be honest. But I do find I can get in better shape as the season gets long—more so than most can. They get tired at the end of the year. But I seem to get stronger. When I’m traveling, I think I potentially lead a healthier lifestyle than when I’m at home. We’re away from home for half the year, but I wish we had more races. This year, I kept getting closer and closer to the win—just being a few seconds off most of the time. And then by the last race, it was good to put it all together for a win.

2020 GOALS

In order to achieve a solid year of racing, what does your seasonal trajectory look like—what do you want to achieve in the spring to ensure you’re ready for the summer?

I’d like to come into the first World Cup in the best shape I’ve ever been. In today’s racing, you can’t expect to win if you’re not in your absolute best condition. I want to have a good winter training. The season starts really early in 2020. It’s going to be sort of touch and go with a lot of the early-season races and obviously having a baby soon means I need to put my head down and get serious about my training now. Ideally, though, I’ll try to get one or two races in before the first World Cup so we know where we are and what we need to work on. But hopefully, I’ll stay injury-free throughout the winter, which can be quite difficult when you’re pushing hard in testing and the speeds increase.

What are your thoughts on the 2020 World Championship course in Worlds in Leogang, Austria?

Well, Leogang isn’t my favorite track and I haven’t had my best results there over the years. But the course has changed. It used to be a pedally track, but now the speeds are so high that the pedaling isn’t really the issue anymore. Leogang is hitting every little line and executing it to the best of your ability. Last season, I got on the podium there—I was really surprised because Leogang is potentially my worst track of the year. Hopefully, I can build on that going into 2020.

Is your focus more on the World Cup Series overall since you’ve never won the title versus Worlds which you’ve won twice before?

Yeah, it’s a goal. The 2019 season was odd for me because I was more consistent than I was in 2018, but I ended the year in a lesser position [5th overall] than the year before. But it was because everyone else was so consistent. I have been able to win single races, but the goal is to be the best overall on the season—you just need to take each race one at a time. So the approach is the same.

What is your favorite World Cup track?

To be honest, I really enjoyed Mont-Sainte-Anne this year—although it was World Champs, it will be back on the World Cup series schedule for 2020. With the rainfall that we had, it always seemed to be at the right times, so the track was always really good—Mont-Sainte-Anne was my favorite.

Any changes you’d like to see to the World Cup series? 

I would like to see more rounds. Just to have some different tracks, as well. In 2018, I went to Champery and Schladming to ride last year and it would be cool to see them back on the schedule. 


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