Josh Carlson has found his groove. For the second week in a row, the Chief Frother on the Giant Factory Racing Enduro team nabbed a career best result, this time taking ninth at the 3rd round of the EWS series in Scotland. Back in his adopted hometown of Vancouver, we got Josh on the dog 'n bone to chat about his career, taking risks, riding in the wet and more.
Throughout the 2015 Enduro World Series we’ll be bringing you an insider’s perspective of Josh’s performance. For this unique series, we’ve teamed up with Today’s Plan, an Australian training tools provider, who work with Josh to analyse his training and monitor his performance. (Check out our first impressions of Today’s Plan here).
Congratulations! You’re racking up good results like a mad man!
Thanks, it was good. Yeah, there’s always stuff to improve on. I definitely put together more good stages than in the last race, but when I look back at the GoPro footage all I can see is me bleeding seconds! Wrong gear here, or where I stuffed up a corner here, I was a bit disappointed. But to come away with ninth is great, and it’s good be competitive, it’s good to be consistent.
And those are bad habits that I’ve got, bad habits that have cost me a lot more in the past than just a few thorns in my arse.
I guess hindsight is a miserable bitch. When you see how tight the times are and you look at the little mistakes, you just realise what your result could have been. Especially if I look back to Ireland – the stupid little things cost you so much time. I mean, there was no reason in Ireland for me to have that first crash, I didn’t need to go 67km/h down that goat track, I could have wiped off two seconds on that straight and made up 15 seconds on the whole stage. And those are bad habits that I’ve got, bad habits that have cost me a lot more in the past than just a few thorns in my arse.
But at least now I feel like I know the speed it takes to be up there. And my plan this year isn’t to go out there and smoke everyone, it’s to be consistent and smooth, and be sustainably competitive.
Weather came into play in Scotland – what’s it like racing in those horrible conditions?
You’ve got to relax. You can’t get stressed about it because you can’t control it – all you can control is what you’re doing, your attitude. Being wet is definitely annoying, but focusing on it achieves nothing.
And man, there was shit flying everywhere! It was like raining from the ground up, it was hilarious.
Stage 5 in Scotland was absolutely diabolical. It was one of the gnarliest, wettest, most rutted riding I’ve ever done. Further down the stage the ruts were bottom bracket deep, you couldn’t take a foot out of your pedal, because as soon as your other foot dropped down it would jam into the rut and it was like a rodeo, like you’d slapped that bull on the arse and it was go time! Your wheels are stuck, your foot’s full of mud, you’re sliding down the hill… it was actually pretty funny, fishing the stage you’re like ‘what the hell just happened?’
It was so muddy on that stage that we took off our mud guards. A few amateurs who’d been down ahead of us said ‘take that mud guard off or your wheels won’t turn in stage 5’, but usually the trails are vastly different when we ride them because another 200 riders have been down the track. But then when we saw Brosnan and Ropelato and Curtis Keene all saying the same thing, and it was like this weird panic going around the top 20 riders, everyone was ripping their fenders off! And man, there was shit flying everywhere! It was like raining from the ground up, it was hilarious.
Take a closer look at Josh’s performance, stage by stage, in Scotland. Use the menus on the right to switch between the various stages and to control playback speed. Keep an eye on his heart rate throughout – he might be primarily descending, but his efforts are through the roof. Powered by Today’s Plan.
Now in most of the photos I see of you, you’re riding without a pack. What gear do you carry, and how do you stash it?
Yep, I try to get away without a pack if it’s at all possible. Normally I’ll wear a cross-country jersey under my race jersey, and just stash everything in the pockets. It all comes down to water; if you’re never more than an hour or two from a feed station, I can get by with one bottle and a few bars and stuff. And then I’ll take a tube, pump, two CO2 canisters, a multi-tool with a quick-link, a hanger, some tape and a cable attached to it. And for Scotland, because of the mud, I took a little pack of rags and a spare pair of gloves too.
Sometimes you’re in an open face, sometimes a full face. Are there rules, or is it up to you?
Unless the rules stipulate you have to wear a full face, I’ll make a call and commit to one helmet or the other for the whole day. The times that I have tried taking both, I’ve ended up getting my helmet caugh on trees. So as much of an annoyance as it is, if I’m running a full face, I’ll run it all day. I’ll take the cheek pads out on the climbs and even if it’s a bit annoying, I just deal with it. A full face definitely gives you more confidence to go fast.
In Scotland, the second day lent itself to a lighter setup, so I ran an open face helmet. I also changed my tyres to lighter casings (Snake Skins, not Super Gravity tyres), ran an air shock not the coil shock, and changed my shoes to a stiffer more XC style shoe. Pretty simple changes, but they made a big difference.
There are obviously a lot of different ways that Enduro races can be run, with plenty of different formats. Do you see any consolidation happening there, and do you have a preference?
My preference is definitely for the Ireland and Scotland style format where you get to practice the tracks. If I can get a couple of runs in, I feel a lot more confident. I guess the blind racing is a skill I’ve never really encountered but I’m having to learn it! I don’t think they will consolidate to one particular format; I think one of things that makes the EWS so appealing is that it’s not just catered to one style of rider – racing those French races, the blind races, is so different because you have to be so sharp and aware.
Do you get at least some kind of look at the track?
Yes, you get one roll down, but it’s a once-over look at a 15-17 minute track, and then you literally have 20 minutes till you go up to race it. So the amount you’re going to remember of a 15 minute track with one roll down is not much. And you don’t even get a chance to really think about it or watch back your GoPro footage, because you normally have only 15 or 20 minutes till you’re heading back up, and if you’ve got a mechanical, or you’ve got to eat or something, that 20 minutes evaporates pretty fast.
As I said, my preference is for the races where you get a couple of days practice, and I like to try to get two runs on each stage, even though it does mean they’re very big days. In the two weeks that we raced over there, I had almost 40 hours of riding within 12 days, which is a lot to deal with. My team mate Yoann, he went for a different approach, he did only one practice run of each stage so he’d be fresher for race day, because he think he’s faster that way.
When you do hit a piece of singletrack it’s some skinny goat herder track littered with loose rock – it feels like you’re riding a tightrope.
But when we head to France, it’s a different world over there. A lot of time there aren’t even trails – it’s just a bunted section through the grass and shrubs and woods down a 2500 metre high alp. At the end of the weekend it’s the sickest track you’ll ever ride, but at the start of the weekend it’s just wild grass. And when you do hit a piece of singletrack it’s some skinny goat herder track littered with loose rock – it feels like you’re riding a tightrope. I mean, it’s nothing like we do in Australia, and the first time I rode in France like that, I went away in an ambulance.
How are you going to approach it then so you don’t overcook it?
You just can’t go 100%. Every time you think, ‘it’s just a grassy slope, I’m not going to touch the brakes,’ you need to say ‘hold on a second – why do that?’. The two seconds you might possibly gain by taking that huge risk aren’t going to make the real difference over 15 minutes, what makes a difference is your raw skill, the tools in your tool box, the basics. You see the guys like Jared and Jerome, it’s all about the full skill set – Jared will win in Whistler, and he’ll win in France, Jerome’s the same, winning in Chile and then in Rotorua, completely different conditions.
Then you’ve got a guy like Nico Voullioz who has won 14 World Championships – I haven’t even done 14 international races yet, let alone win one!
Enduro isn’t like downhill – lots of guys in their 30s, even their late 30s, are doing seriously well – that must give you a lot of confidence still being young that you can have a healthy, long career in the sport.
It does make me feel good to see that the guys who are winning a lot now, like Graves, Leov and Clementz are a few years older. At the same time, compared to those guys, I still feel like I’m a 21 year old rookie! They’ve got so much experience. I remember taking a chairlift was Graves in Whistler last year and he was talking about winning his first National Championship when he turned to downhill after racing XC, and he was 19. That was like 12 or 13 years ago, and he was racing and winning National Champs! Then you’ve got a guy like Nico Voullioz who has won 14 World Championships – I haven’t even done 14 international races yet, let alone win one! 14 World Championships! So on one hand it forces me to realise where I am and what I’ve come to, and that’s a good feeling, but on the other hand it’s a little bit daunting. These guys are winning Enduros for a reason. But on the other hand you’ve got guys like Greg Callaghan who is killing it, first year pro getting podiums. But it does give me confidence to know that I’ve got time to make this happen, and the faith that I’ve got Giant behind me and that they believe in me too, that I can climb up onto that top step.
Do you have a particular rider on the circuit who you most look up to?
Hmm, it’s kind of funny because I don’t know that much mountain bike history. But I do look at those really experienced riders and learn from what they do; the way Fabien Barel attacks a race track for instance, the work they put in, why they’re so skilful. I guess I look up to them all, because you can’t win one of these races as a fluke. You can’t pull together seven great stages over a whole day of racing by accident. So I definitely respect and admire them all.
We’ll have to lend you a copy of Headliners 2, mate, so you can brush up on your history of downhill. I think we’ve still got one on VHS. Cheers once again.