Hannah has been out in France with Lapierre Bikes to see and ride their new range for 2017. It’s all hush hush and she won’t tell you about it until after 1st July, even if you ply her with very nice wine and cheese. However, we can tell you about her chat with new team member Rae Morrison. She’s riding the EWS this year having made the leap form Privateer to Pro – so read on and find out how she did it.
So, Rae, let’s rewind a couple of years. You’re in New Zealand, you’ve got a day job and racing is a hobby – what happened to change that?
I always wanted to go and see the world, but it’s hard – you get stuck into the routine of everyday life, you go to uni, you get a job, you have bills, a flat…so after that there’s not much money left over. But it was actually a big crash that sort of pushed me to sort of think ‘OK yeah, life’s short, I’ve got to go now’.
Some people might have a big crash and think they’d better back off a bit?
I think it’s the little crashes that get you. But I did have to back off – I had to work very hard to get back into it [racing]. I broke my hip and my pelvis…
OK yes, that’s a big crash!
…yeah, I had a couple of weeks in hospital, 6 months off the bike, a year to fully recover – going back to learning to walk again, learning to cycle, learning skills from scratch again. I’d lost everything and you just start from the bottom and keep going going going. I got to the level that I was previously, and I thought ‘I’m going for it’.
Then a year after I crashed, I was recovered, and a Canadian girl came to stay with me, and she was doing what I wanted to be doing: travelling round, living the life that I wanted for myself. So after her visit I thought ‘I’m going to do this’. I quit my job, sold my car, moved out of my flat, sold everything I could, did a lot of fundraising doing things like pub quizzes, skills lessons – everything I could to get the funds to be able to chase a whole season.
So, then you came over here and you bought a van. And you followed the EWS round. So, living in a van…what’s good about living in a van? I’d like to spend a weekend in a van, but possibly not my life in a van!
It’s a great way to see the landscape of each country, and meet the people and see the culture because you’re right in the midst of it. You’re driving these tiny mountain roads, living by the road, so you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally see if you were staying in hotels. It’s good character building!
Presumably then you did really well in the EWS that year and attracted the attention of some sponsors. Tell us, how do you live the dream and get from being somebody with a day job to being a pro rider? Do you just cross the finish line and go ‘Tah dah! Look at me, sponsor me!’ – do they come to you, or is it a lot of work to get someone to sponsor you?
It’s a lot of work. Last year was really stressful. You’re living in a van, so not the best conditions! Not showering that often, you’re living off canned food, not much sleep at night…and you’re unsupported as well, so at the races you’re facing pro riders….they have mechanics, they get meals cooked for them. They just have to go out and train, then they hand their bikes to the mechanics and go for a shower, go sleep…
Go and put thei feet up!
Yes, whereas you’re living on scraps, your bike is falling to pieces because you’ve got the same bike, same gear. I was running half the season a cracked wheel! You’re like ‘I can’t really afford a new wheel, I’m sure it’ll hold one more race. I’m sure it’s going to hold a little bit longer!’.
For some of the races, you finish training at five or six o’clock, you do maintenance on your bike, you have food, then by the time you get to bed it’s 1 o’clock before you get everything sorted for the next race day, which is tomorrow when you get up early in the morning. So, it’s very stressful, and it’s hard work, and I think that you have to mentally prepare yourself that it is going to be tough, but it’s only going to be for a short while.
I guess you either make it or you don’t, you can’t live like that for too long?
Yeah, and it’s a good way to really prepare you mentally, emotionally and physically for the toughness of all the racing and travelling you’re doing.
And then becoming a sponsored rider you really appreciate what you’ve got?
Yeah, I’m still thinking to myself ‘Is this for real?’ – it’s so good!
So was there one sponsor that came first, or did they all come as a package?
So, the first EWS was in Rotura last year, and right from the beginning I was going from team to team because I was new, I was from New Zealand, no one really knew who I was – no one really knows what’s happening in New Zealand – the race results and stuff! And so I was going round, not saying ‘sponsor me’, but just trying to make a relationship and make connections. Just at every race, you just talk to people, have a chat, make it known that you’re a Privateer and that you’re looking for a team. But I’m not a pushy sort of person, and I am quite shy, so I found that bit quite mentally draining as well. Throughout the season, as your results start coming, people already know who you are so having built my profile up by the final two rounds I had a few offers. I was very lucky.
You’re sponsored by Lapierre now, so with Nico [Nico Vouilloz 10xDH World Champion] also being sponsored by Lapierre, do you get to train with him?
It’s a whole team, so we’ve got a whole bunch of sponsors that support the team: 661 Protection, One Industries, Ride 100%, Michelin Tyres, SRAM, Rockshox. So everyone had the same gear, we’ve all got the same coach, the same training, and we all live in the same part of the south of France. So it’s a team environment, we do training together, we do riding together, we travel as a team, we have our own mechanic and team manager. It’s a little family – it’s my French family.
We saw out on the trails today, Nico was giving you little pointers. Does he like to tell you what to do and how to do stuff better – is it useful?
Extremely! I’m very new to the scene and to the sport, so I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can, and who’s better to tutor you than Nico?!
– Ten time Downhill World Champion –
You don’t get much better than that, so I’m very lucky!
What are you hoping to achieve in the season ahead – is it get through it and not get injured, or have you got some races that you want to win?
All my focus is on the EWS. What’s better than racing against the best in the world? My absolute goal this year is to try and get on the podium.
Will you be happy if you acheive that just once – will that be a tick in the box?
For this year, yes, absolutely. I’m trying to consistently get at least a top fives – which I haven’t quite got yet this year. But hopefully a podium further down the track.
Is there a particular course that you think is going to suit you or is the kind of trail that you like?
I’m not sure because I’ve only done 2 rounds and I’ve got 5 to go, so there’s a lot of new tracks coming up that I’m not familiar with.
Do you have a perfect trail, or perfect conditions? What’s your thing?
If it’s dry, I’m good. No matter what it is – rocks, dirt, roots – as long as it’s dry, I’m happy and I’m comfortable. When it gets a bit slippery, I haven’t done much – going from summer to summer and living in the South of France, it doesn’t rain there all that much. So I’m working on my mud riding.
I think with all the bruises I’m covered in we can safely say I need to work on my mud riding too!
[laughs] It’s a different style of riding. I enjoy it, but I think when you get to that race mode, it’s a lot harder to push in the mud.
Embrace the slither?
We’ve eaten a phenomenal amount of unhealthy food this week! Lots of meat, lots of cheese, and I know Nico was saying that you two were like ‘No, we’re not going to eat the desserts! Step away from the dessert!’. [Rae actually got up and left the table before the dessert arrived so she wouldn’t be tempted!] But when you’ve done a big ride, you’ve done the training, what are you thinking about eating when you get back, what’s your treat?
Since being in France it’s cheese, chocolate, croissants…anything French, particularly from the bakeries. Bakeries are my weakness. But I like healthy food, I like veggies and fruit and the natural unprocessed food.
– And I guess anything that’s not in a tin has got be to be good?
Absolutely! Even staying at hotels before races, having a mechanic, having good food – it’s a massive turnaround.
So the final question then. What’s the best thing about not living in a van?
Showers. [This is said VERY decisively!] Being clean. Yeah, it was pretty miserable in the UK when I first started. It was only April, I think I had a month of constant rain. I had a van that was uninsulated, like a tin refrigerator-
-At least you wouldn’t be too sweaty! –
– But you’d get back from a muddy ride, no way of cleaning clothes, no way of showering except for baby wipes, it was too cold to go into rivers then. So it was just horrible, I all these dirty muddy clothes…the van just stank for a whole month.
Did you manage to sell the van to somebody or have you still got it?!
Yes, I sold it to someone doing similar to what I’d done.
Maybe it’ll bring the next person luck then! Thank you very much for talking to us!
(Some of the photos in this story are here courtesy of Damian McArthur and Lapierre Bicycles).