An interview with Steve Peat, August 24, 2006
Steve Peat is one of the favourites for the downhill gold medal at the world championships in Rotorua, New Zealand. Mikkeli Godfree caught up with the Englishman to find out how his preparation is going for his pet event.
Less than a week remains before Peat's world title race but he seems far from tense. "[I'm feeling] pretty good, just been walking the track, checking it out. We've been here a while. We got here last Wednesday and have just been chilling out, soaking up what the town has to offer and just getting used to being here. I'm feeling alright," said Peat.
Peat's preparation has been going according to plan, "It's been good actually. We've had a big break since the last World Cup. It was nice to be home and actually have a base to train from. There's enough good riding there to help me stay sharp. I've got everything I need there. We've got small hills but good tracks I can ride there. That's how I prepare in the winter," he said. In fact, his preparation has actually been better than in previous years, "the season's been good, the new Santa Cruz bike is awesome so I think I'm pretty well prepared."
"It's a one day race and you become World Champion... That tends to make people crazy." -Steve Peat is aware that he needs to stay composed on the downhill course in Rotorua.
This year has been a bit different for Peat in that he has had more time to prepare for the Worlds, "I've had a lot more time to focus on this event - usually I don't focus on the World Championships, I just take it like any other race but this year it's different," he said. The situation is the same for most of the top downhill contenders so it's possible that his competition will be more keyed up this year. "Everyone's had a bit of a gap. There are some exceptions, [Greg] Minaar has been doing the NORBA races in the US and so has Sam [Hill]," said Peat.
Consistency is the key
The world championships is a special event and some strange results have been thrown up in the past. "It's a one day race and you become World Champion. After that you get to wear those colours. That tends to make people crazy," said Peat. "Actually, I wouldn't say 'crazy' but everybody looks at this race as the race and if you win you are the World Champion and you get to wear those stripes for the rest of your life - that means a lot to people. Personally I think the World Cup Series is a better test of a rider because you have to be consistent. The World Championships are just one day - everyone can just pin one run and be lucky or unlucky."
Peat has won the World Cup series before and might again this year - arguably the better test of consistency - but because he hasn't won a World Championship, "Well, I've been riding long enough, I've had second places, and fourths…I've had enough podiums at World Cups but I've also had my fair share of bad luck," he said. "Now, I've definitely done enough work to win a World Championship, now I'm ready to have the luck on my side on the day."
Leading the World Cup has an impact on the way Peat has approached this World Championship, "It definitely gives me a bit of confidence knowing that [I'm leading the World Cup], but as far as it helping me on the day…you can't make your own luck," he said.
Peat has finished second in World Championship downhill three times so far and crashed within sight of the finish line when leading eventual winner Fabien Barel in 2004, but coming so close has increased his desire to win. "I definitely would say that I want it more, it's the one race I've never won and everybody tells me I should have won it an I deserve to win it," he said. "I want to win it for myself, I want to win it for all the fans that support me and all the sponsors who have supported me over the years…I want to win it for them too."
In several instances this year (and also in the 2004 World Championships) Peat had the fastest split time at the mid-point but lost the race in the second part of the course. It's not something that particularly concerns Peat, "I only did that at Mont St, Anne and Brazil [led at the mid-point before losing]. In both circumstances I made a couple of mistakes at on the bottom parts of the course. At Mont St Anne I crashed in qualifying that put me in 13th and in the final I made a few big mistakes and that cost me.
"It's not something that usually happens to me, so I'm not conscious of it. I know I made mistakes in those races. I don't come to a race like this and tell myself to slow down for the second half of the course though, definitely not."
The pressure from the riding public and sponsors is something that affects riders, but Peat tries to turn it into a positive, "On race day I'm not really aware of that pressure but definitely coming into this sort of race I put more effort in and prepare myself as best as I can [to be] ready for the race. I want to do it to please myself but also for everyone who's supported me throughout the years," he said.
The World's course
The course in Rotorua is unusual in that it hasn't seen much racing, and it looks like the type of course that will suit the Yorkshireman, "I like look of it. It's really fast, wide open and not too technical. It's got a steep section in the woods and some tricky sections. It seems more about carrying speed into next section. But I quite like it.
"There are a lot of wide-open sections on the grass where it is important to carry speed into and through corners…just carrying speed down the whole thing really - that's the important thing.
"We've had courses which vary a little bit, but I think this one is worthy of the World Championships. The only thing is that if it does rain, it will just be a slog. It will be a real shame if it does rain too much." There is, however, a 60 percent chance of rain predicted, which should make the Englishman feel at home. "I think [the weather] should be good, I'm a big heavy fat dude so I should carry speed well," he said.
"We get a lot of mud at home, we are used to it. We are used to getting dirty, cleaning our bikes, maintaining them. Other people get pissed off with it and get negative but we just take it as normal. We're used to it and we can ride it and deal with it. If you're confident riding in the wet you just carry on as normal. If the confidence is there, you just drift a bit more and stay relaxed.
"Only the weather man can tell us [how the weather will impact on the results]. I think it will be a shame that it will rain a lot. I hear that rain is forecast on Thursday for downhill qualifying. There will be people playing tactical games but it's just how you cope with it."
Peat has been preparing out in the Redwoods forest and has enjoyed the pristine trails of New Zealand's north island, "I like it - that forest is cool! I've done three or four XC rides out there - the trails are so fun," he said. "I've experienced them elsewhere but only in little sections. Here they go on forever and they're even fun in the rain because of the forest cover, that's pretty unique."
A new team
A switch to the Santa Cruz team after years with Orange has been a welcome change. "It's been good for me," said Peat. "All my sponsors I've been with for ages. I had been with GT for five years, Orange for four and now I've signed a three year deal with Santa Cruz. It's good for me to have a change, to be on a new bike, to have a new focus. At the same time, I know I have a three year deal and that I'm secure and can just concentrate on riding my bike.
"When I was riding for Orange I used to deal with the whole setting up of the team itself. I dealt with all the sponsors, organised all the flights, sorted everything out myself. It took me a few months to get back into the swing of things, being on a bigger team, but now I'm definitely noticing the benefits of it and having Kathy Sessler looking after us at races is great and I can really concentrate on racing my bike."
The change in team set-up has had an impact on Peat's racing, "I started noticing it [in the] last couple of months. Before that I was just too busy. I've learned to rely on the team around me a lot more and things have gotten a lot easier…. When I made decision to do my own team I loved it, it was best thing ever. At the end of those four years I had more commitments with a wife and kid, which meant I needed a team like Santa Cruz behind me," he said.
A new team means a new bike and Peat has been force to adapt quickly, "Getting on a different bike - that was the biggest adjustment to overcome. I got my first one in January and as soon as I got on it I liked it. I got used to it really fast actually," he said.
Moving to a more complex suspension linkage had an impact on his results. "It has helped a little on some of the tracks but just getting used to new bike, having that drive that comes along with having a new bike, wanting to please new sponsors and stuff - that helps out a little bit for sure," he said. "[The bike] is probably more [suited to] the rougher tracks. The ones where you just get beaten up. The Santa Cruz definitely takes that better than a single-pivot bike."
Peat has fitted it quickly with team-mate Nathan Rennie, "Yeah, Renoir Rennie is good guy, we always talk about lines - even in the pub at night. We both work that way - beer and kick back after good guy's training," he said. So is it a prerequisite to be over 6 feet tall and a powerhouse to be on Santa Cruz? "Yes! Power on bar and on bike." Said Peat.
Fabien Barel has stood in Peat's way of a World Title for the last two years, setting the time which pushed his limits two years ago, and also cleaned up last year, but he isn't here this year. "I think it sucks for whoever wins World's this year because they haven't beaten the current World Champion. It's a shame for him not to be here. But, the person who wins it will still soak it up and milk it!" said Peat.
There are plenty of other riders to beat in the absence of Barel. Greg Minaar and Sam Hill are two names that spring to mind, "Those two are biggest threats really. Sam will go well on a track like this, he carries speed and is super focused and motivated to win a World Championship. Greg is the same, he's good on any track and this will suit him too. They are the key players for sure.
Parenthood has a massive impact on the working lives of most people but Peat is careful to keep work and home separate, "I don't think it has changed me really. Now, I've just got a kid… I like to spend more time at home to be with him. But my actual goals are the same, I've chased them for years and they are still there and I'll still put in as much effort as possible. I just have to organise the effort in a different way - to make time for other things.
Peat has taken on the role as mentor/trainer/guru for some riders, namely Brendan Fairclough, is this an intermediate step away from the sport - making sure there is someone around to keep the flame alight - or just you giving something back while you're still around? "Kind of, my first idea was just to take some of the younger riders in the UK who weren't being looked after and give them good deals, but mainly to give them some of my experience - to put something back into the sport.
"I didn't necessarily pick the fastest guys but the nice guys who will be good for sport in future. Marc Beaumont, I looked after for quite a few years. Neil Donahue was one of the first ones too. Now Brendan Fairclough is coming up…there have been quite a few who we have run through Royal Racing squad. It's been really good - to see them come up and get faster and hopefully getting to a point where they can take medals for the country. It's already starting to happen. Marc Beaumont beat me at Mont St. Anne this year - the first time he's beaten me - so, it's coming!" said Peat.
Peat is a fan of the informal mentoring system having not been a beneficiary himself, "One of the people I looked up to was Jason McRoy. He was the first guy from England to come to America and get a pro deal and ride for a big American team. He was one of the guys I definitely looked up to.
As for what is required to win on Saturday, "A Bit of luck, bit of power, bit of skill, bit of going fast." He said.