Words by Flow | Images by Flowtographer, Damian Macarthur, Colin Meagher, Nicolas Joly, Lapierre

Nico Vouilloz, the ten-time World Downhill Champion from Nice, France has cemented himself in the history books of mountain biking for his unrivalled talent and a remarkably dominant racing career. After retiring from the mountain bike scene in 2002, Nico tried his hand at World Rally, and didn’t do too bad at all. But he’s well and truly back into the mountain biking since with strong involvement with product testing for Lapierre, and racing the World Enduro Series.

Special Stages 1-3 of the Val d'Allos Eduro World Series

Flow was so incredibly fortunate not to just meet the legend, but to ride with, dine with, share a few chairlift rides, do this interview and get to know the enigmatic character a little more. Riding behind Nico was like watching a movie with special effects, slightly sped up. There is no reason or explanation or words to describe what we saw. In the tight, slippery and steep trails of the French Alps, Morzine and Les Gets we valiantly followed Nico for as long as we could. The subtle weight shifts and direction changes he made as he played with the super-technical terrain was hard to believe.

Nico’s recovering from a couple knee surgeries and a wrist injury sustained earlier this year, but he’s still motivated to school the younger racers in the Enduro World Series. We sat down with him over a delicious aperitif, here is what he had to say.

Nicolas VOUILLOZ - Valloire - EWS #3 - 2014

Flow:

How does it make you feel to know that you’ve inspired many people, myself included? I did have posters of you on my bedroom wall as a kid.

Nico:

It feels good. I’ve met many people who were fans and now we are friends, so it feels good.

F:

What are you up to these days?

N:

I’ve got a great life. I travel with Lapierre, race and do a lot of product testing. I like this, I’ve always liked playing with my bike setup even when I was racing.

F:

You haven’t been back to Australia since 1996?

N:

I loved Australia! The reason I haven’t been back is because I’m always travelling, so I don’t have any time for actual ‘holidays’. I would love to come back though, in the future. I still remember the race and especially the party after (laughs) in 96.

F:

Do you still have the same passion for racing that you had at the height of your career?

N:

I still love to race, but I don’t think that I’m as serious as I used to be. I’ll keep racing though, I still enjoy the feeling of practice, the atmosphere of competition, but maybe not the pressure of the podium (laughs).

F:

You haven’t raced in a while, how do you think your results will be when you return?

N:

I need to get some fitness back (laughs), but about the results I’m not really sure. Sometimes I feel good racing, I hit the lines well, and other times I don’t.

Test Lapierre Spicy Team 6

 

F:

So you seem like you’re more relaxed about your racing?

N:

Yes definitely. Now that I’m not as focused on the podium I can ride and see what happens. If I come tenth or fifteenth it doesn’t matter. When I was racing in the past for the podium I was focused on every little thing- the bike, the track, the settings.

F:

You won an EWS race last year though- you’re still pretty quick!

N:

I was so happy when I won that race. I had had some crashes and mechanicals in the previous races, and I arrived super fit. When I saw that I had beaten Jerome that old feeling came back to me- like I was young again.

Test Lapierre Spicy Team 4

F:

Had you done many enduro races before the international rise and the Enduro World Series began last year?

N:

I had done some- local races here in France, like our special endure series. I had also ridden the megavalanche, so I knew to an extent what the races would be like.

F:

Does it make you feel good knowing that you were a pioneer of downhill racing and seeing how far the sport has evolved today?

N:

Yes definitely. The progression has been amazing, from bikes with no suspension, to today’s bikes which have features like adjustable geometry and the amazing suspension. Another thing I’ve seen is now you have to start the sport early today, whereas I started the sport at 15. These days you would never make it from that age.

F:

Are there any younger riders on the scene today that remind you of yourself?

N:

I think Troy Brosnan is very like myself. He is very light, and the way he moves around the bike reminds me of myself. He tucks and pumps and weaves. On the other side of things, Loic Bruni amazes me. He looks so effortless on the bike- he looks still and not like he is fighting the bike at all.

F:

Do you reflect on your rivals much? Does anyone stand out?

N:

Steve Peat. Our rivalry went for so long. I never felt like I had any other rivals for more than a season!

F:

Do you have any negatives, looking back on the racing scene?

N:

I wish they changed up the tracks more. Even if you love a track, it gets boring and repetitive coming back there year after year.

Test Lapierre Spicy Team 3

F:

What do you think the differences between you and Steve were?

N:

I was the straight guy. I trained and raced. He was the cool guy and didn’t mind to party a bit…sometimes a lot.

F:

So you were the straight guy?

N:

Yes (laughs). When I’m racing I’m racing. I don’t need time to drink beers, I just stick to my goals with my team and my bike.

F:

Do you think everyone needs to have that attitude these days, seeing as the top level racers are all so close to one another?

N:

Yes. I think when Sam Hill was racing it was cool to just ride with talent, but now you definitely need to be training hard and be focused to be at the top. Also, it’s not possible now to be so far in front. Everything needs to go right for you to win a World Cup as there are ten or so riders all so close to one another.

Damian McArthur 2014 Lapierre-91

F:

Lapierre Gravity Republic rider Loic Bruni and Loris Vergier are from the Nice region where you’re living, have you had much to do with their development?

N:

Not really during the race season. They have all the support they need. I help them during the off season, doing testing and discussing their riding.

F:

You said you’ve seen the development of the bikes, could you outline what you think of the modern equipment?

N:

These days the bikes are more like a motocross bike without the engine! (laughs). Everyone has a longer bike these days as well. Here at Lapierre every year we change up the bikes a little bit. This year we had ten different linkage configurations to trial on the new Supra Link downhill race bike, to get the best suspension curve possible. We had to try every one, and then we had to evaluate if the front and rear worked well together. The new bike is a single pivot, we have been able to achieve the best curve without the use of an axle path design. This testing, like all of our testing, takes a long time. 

F:

So the testing is very important!

N:

Yes, I think that the testing with Rockshox over the winter has resulted in the better results this year. The bikes have been set up so perfectly through this testing. The bikes will keep getting better as we keep testing as well…

F:

What is the number one most important thing with testing for you?

N:

With testing, when you win a race you know why you’ve run the race, whether that be through your suspension, tire pressure. When you evaluate these features, you can use them in the future knowing that they work well.

Test Lapierre Spicy Team 2

F:

You ride a Lapierre Spicy with e:i Shock, what do you see as the future for the e:i Shock system?

N:

I think it is the future. The product can still to be developed, so there are no detrimental effects to the suspension.

F:

What do you like most about the e:i suspension?

N:

Probably just that you don’t have to think. It’s so simple.

Test Lapierre Spicy Team 1

F:

We heard Lapierre were testing e:i Shock in conjunction with a GPS tracking system for the World Downhill Champs in Pietermaritzburg?

N:

Who told you about that?…

F:

What were some experiments you did back in the day when you were trialing things to improve your performance?

N:

I was doing some crazy things with the aerodynamics, wearing skinsuits…I was also doing some stuff with spoke tension. For example four crossing spokes and low tensions- so flexible but still supportive.

F:

Were any of your methods ahead of your time?

N:

At the World Championships we used to have a screen that could show video of two riders at the same time, so you could see the different line choices. This was good. We used a lot of video with French Cycling Federation.

F:

Who has been your longest sponsor?

N:

Lapierre! They’re a great brand.

F:

What can you see for the future?

N:

I know I’ll be testing and doing a bit of racing with Lapierre for the next couple of years, but after this, who knows?

F:

Nico, thanks a lot for your time today, and good luck with the return to racing!

N:

Thanks Mick, anytime!

Nico bike check

Nico had his Lapierre Spicy at Les Gets, in its exact spec from the Valloire Enduro World Series. Check out some of the finer details here, click the photos for info: 

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