June 17 2022
When Matt Walker rode his Saracen Myst to World Cup victory in Leogang, it wasn’t by chance. Hours of testing, suspension setup and bike time all add up.
But what was Matt’s approach to Leogang and how did that translate into the fastest time?
We spoke to Matt and started by asking about the reason for his strong start to the 2022 season (tenth at Lourdes, fifth at Fort William, first at Leogang) – and the role getting his bike setup had in that.
Looking back I think one slip-up that I made in 2021 was that I didn’t go away enough to ride my downhill bike.
So in 2022 I made a concerted effort to get out to Europe more.
I always put a lot of time into getting my suspension setup but this year I did put quite a bit of effort in to my bike setup.
Why did you want to head out to Europe more to set the bike up?
The UK is great for riding and having a laugh. But at the same time, riding Revolution Bike Park in the snow doesn’t set you up for racing on tracks where it’s 30 degrees, sunny and dusty.
This year I took some week-long trips to Europe and because of this, I started the season in a much better place and one of the biggest things that got me there was this quality bike time.
What is quality bike time for you?
Riding my downhill bike on a big track in good conditions.
When you’re from the UK, you’ve had loads of experience riding in the wet and besides, when conditions are like that the suspension doesn’t work like it would in the dry.
The speed of the UK tracks is much slower, you’re weaving between tight trees. You can still set fast times, but the average speed is lower and the peak speed is lower.
A long, rough track, physically demanding and hard on the bike is what you need to refine your setup for the season ahead. It takes time to tune not only the bike for those higher speeds, but also the body.
Maybe 10 years ago you could get away without exposing yourself to that but you can’t any more.
What are you looking for most in your setup?
An easy bike is a fast bike. If it’s easy to ride, you go fast on it. If it’s hard to ride you won’t.
For your race win in Leogang, conditions went from horrendous mud in practice, to dusty in places for your race run. How did you manage your bike setup through the weekend?
I think I speak for everyone in the paddock in saying that when it’s wet you don’t touch your setup at all.
In those conditions there is so much going on with the track, you just ride the bike as it is.
On day one of practice and qualifying I rode my base settings with mud tyres but on race day the track was drying up loads.
How did you make the decision on your bike setup for finals, so close to leaving the gate?
There was a lot to think about and it was mentally challenging.
I made a plan with Will and Harry. On my final practice run I used a dry tyre on the rear and the spike on the front. It went well and from that moment I was debating using dry tyres for the race.
When we went up the gondola, Ewan my mechanic took a front wheel with a dry tyre just in case I made that decision. He was great with the whole thing and would have been happy whatever decision I made.
Around half an hour before the start, Harry was running down the track taking pictures of every bit of the track and sending them up to me and I had to make the call off the back of the pictures.
How did you make that decision?
When Harry sent the pictures, I could see it was a lot dryer, I felt confident and I just thought let’s just do it and have a go.
The dry tyre would be way better at the top for sure – that was the perfect choice. If I could get away with it in the trees – which was only 30-seconds of a three-minute run – I was going to do that.
You qualified third. In finals and with a safe tyre choice you probably would have backed up your podium in Fort William, which would have been a great result. Did you ever think of playing the percentages, rather than going all out for the win?
If I got to the finish and it was dry enough than I knew I would regret it. Besides, the track was only getting dryer.
For a long time now I’ve been going to every World Cup with the aim of winning and it’s been a goal for a long time.
I can’t tell you what it was that led me to make the call, but I was confident. I knew it would be dry and I had confirmation from the pictures.
I knew what it was and I made a decision based on my experience and knowledge of the tyre.
It was a total mindset thing. I was in a good place. I knew I had decent pace, I’d had a strong practice session.
It’s funny how when you’re in that place, you get this feeling. I had it when I did well in 2020 as well.
It feels like supreme confidence. Not cocky, just safe in the knowledge of my ability and doing my job right.
How did you feel about that tyre choice when you got wild on that first corner into the woods?!
I knew you were going to ask that! It all happens so fast, there’s a moment when half of you thinks you’re going down and then you save it.
Then it’s onto the next thing, you just glaze over it. It’s only then at the finish you remember that stuff.
And when you crossed the line you were leading with two riders to go. What were you thinking?
I was well happy to get third – that’s my first thought. Especially as in the past I’ve never done well here. I fell off at the World Champs in 2020 and in 2021 I had a disaster. It wasn’t damage limitation here, but I was happy with getting third at worst.
Third was also an improvement on my last race in Fort William (fifth) and another podium.
I was also happy with my run. Yes, there were a couple of mistakes but they were from going fast and pushing the limit rather than errors.