Team Lapierre International rider Cam Cole returns from injury with a podium finish at the second round of the 2012 UCI Downhill MTB World Cup series held at Val di Sole, Italy, at the weekend. Cam Cole, of Christchurch, New Zealand, sat out the opening round of the 2012 UCI World Cup series in March to let his badly broken fore arm heal completely - a move that seems to have paid off for the likeable Kiwi racer as proven by his performance at the second round in Italy on Sunday.
Cole raced straight into the hotseat with a superb ride, before eventually having to settle for fifth. He was the fastest Kiwi in the race and took the last spot on the podium ahead of current World Downhill Champion, Danny Hart, of Great Britain. "It's pretty surprising - I didn't expect to be that high up really. I just did my own thing and it happened for me," explains 24-year-old Cole.
This race was Cole's first ride back in UCI competition since breaking his arm in a practice run ahead of the 2011 World Championships held at Champery, Switzerland, last September. Cole, who had spent the previous week at Leogang, Austria, racing an IXS event on the course that will host the 2012 UCI Downhill World Championships in September, said he was thankful the rain held off. The course at Val Di Sole is considered one of the toughest in the dry and is feared by all in the wet. "I took my time and slowly got back into it - I did my own thing and just got comfortable on the bike again. We did some Fox testing last week with some new suspension, so I just plugged away all week," he adds. His methodical approach paid off when Cole qualified ninth. "I didn't put any more pressure on myself for the final - I wanted to build on my qualifying time, but just wanted to ride smooth and basically do the same run."
A lack of time on the bike manifested itself in the top half of the course for Cole's final run. "I rode a bit tight at the top - my subconscious wasn't working like it usually does - everything wasn't automatic, so I ended up having to think a bit and ended up pulling the brakes on a little bit up the top. I seemed to loosen up in the bottom half of the course and began to flow a bit more," he recalls. "My game plan was just to be smooth and let everyone else make the mistakes. I was aiming for a top-20 and had no real expectations all week."
Near the end of the run Cole rounded a left-hand turn on a super-fast section and drifted with both wheels over a roll in the course. The dramatic moment had onlookers gasping, but Cole remained relaxed as ever, chalking up one of the fastest final third splits. "It was a bit of a blur for me, I got a bit out of control, but I didn't get too stressed out - didn't panic at all," he laughs. "I had no idea how I was going, but I wanted to make the most of the track I had left. I didn't carry the mistake into the next corner and just kept it pinned to the finishline," he shares. "I didn't expect to be straight into the hotseat - you never really feel that good on this track. I just tried to make the most of it once I loosened up."
The few changes to the track this year meant it was a lot tighter, which didn't suit Cole on his return ride. "I felt a lot more comfortable when it opened up in the bottom section - looking ahead to next week at Fort William, I think that's a good sign for me," he asserts. Another good sign for Cole is getting down the hill faster than the current World Downhill Champion, Danny Hart, of Great Britain. "It's always good to beat a World Champion and I think it shows that anyone in the top 10 can win a race at anytime. That's going to be good later in the year at World Champs, which is a bigger goal for me," he explains.
Cole has only raced a handful of events since getting back on the downhill bike just before Easter: a Super D and a downhill race in Queenstown and then Leogang last week. Coupled with testing to optimise the new Lapierre downhill bike and Fox suspension, there hasn't been much rest. "The new bike is a little bit different to the bike we rode last year. I got it a few weeks ago and we have been working to get that set-up for me. The guys at Fox have been great in helping us to get the bike dialled," Cole said. "The [Val Di Sole] track is very rough and I did about 12 runs over the whole weekend. I usually try not to ride a track too much, but I felt like I needed a bit of bike time this weekend so I just got into it. I did four runs on Friday, then three runs on Saturday plus my qualifier and then three runs before the final today." "The track was very soft and changing quite a lot so I wanted to make sure I knew where all the rocks and roots were so I could be confident with where I was putting my wheels," Cole tells.
Cole said he was glad to get through his return ride "at a gnarly track like this one without any issues" and that the good result was just a bonus. "I've had a lot of text messages, Facebook messages and emails from everyone back home. Everyone who helps me has played a part here - my partner Amy, my mum and dad, my coach, the team and my Kiwi mechanic this year Matt Clark from Christchurch. It's good to be around like-minded people and other Kiwis - we're away from home so long, so it helps to have them here," he admits. "This result shows that bigger team that we're all going in the right direction," Cole adds.
Cole will now travel to Fort William in Scotland to prepare for Round 3 of the UCI Downhill World Cup Series. "I'm very excited going into Fort William, but I now need a couple of days off to recover and to let my body bounce back. I haven't done any racing like this for such a long time and I rode a lot here," he smiles.