Ben Oliver’s first year in elite ranks
The 2019 season was the start of me racing against the Top dogs of Mountain Biking. After 4 years in the U23 category to some success, I was now having to work my way up the ranks of full on Elite racing.
The Goals for the year were pretty simple, points, points, points. I needed UCI points to increase my World ranking so I could start races further up the grid, but also the extra incentive was points for New Zealand’s Olympic ranking to try and qualify spots for the Olympics.
This was a different plan of attack to other years where I really focused on a few races and results. I liked the idea of changing up the 2019 season and going to new places and varied races on the calendar in the search of points.
The year started off with a Points hunting trip to South Africa with some Cross country racing and my first ever MTB Stage race the Tankwa Trek. This was a pair’s race and joining up with Eden Cruise we got through the 4 days finishing 10th overall with some solid points in the bag. Stage racing was a good way to get points and also great training for the approaching Cross Country season. The NZ season was over in a flash then on to Europe.
It’s a fine line between racing enough and also having enough time to rest and train. I started my European campaign in May and was all but nonstop racing 6 weeks or so. I got a taste of Elite World Cups and was happy with a 37th in Nove Mesto Czech Republic. The next Block was a bit hectic with 6 days of racing in 9 days but was some of the best times of the year. I raced to a 4th place in Poland the week after Nove Mesto on a tight funky track. Last minute plans to Greece meant it was a quick pack up and off to start a Stage race a couple of days later. Joining fellow point hunter and good bugger Cam Ivory of Aussie, we travelled to Molyvos on the Island Lesvos, Greece. It was a wicked spot for some racing, swimming and eating. The racing was tough and hot, I got better as the race went on gaining some time later in the week to narrowly miss the podium. I managed to win the final stage and to top off the week I won the Cross County race 2 days later around the streets and stairs of Molyvos.
Rest, recover and back to racing was the next plan but this is where the season started to turn pear shaped. I had a nice wee break in Switzerland and then a few training weeks in Andorra. Unfortunately just starting training again I got a stomach bug and even when I felt better again my training was messy and recovery not flash. This lead to some subpar performances in the following World Cups. On better news I moved my World Ranking to 45th from around the 90’s at the start of the year. This meant the World Cup Short tracks were now a possibility. 20 mins of full gas tight racing, pretty savage but good fun. My best was a 29th but I knew I wasn’t riding great and still trying to get back in form.
By July my body was needing a proper break but the need to hold my ranking meant I didn’t want to miss any races. Racing sucks when you are battling but I tried to make the most of it and prepared as well as I could for Worlds in Mont Saint Anne, Canada. It is a favourite course of mine because of its hard technical nature so I wanted to put together a good result for NZ. Everything was looking good until the week of the race where I got a fever that drained all my energy, resulting in a race with on strong start followed by a lot of going backwards.
I flew home after that to get myself sorted and so missed the last World Cup of the year. For an Up and Down season I was happy to see I can be competitive in the Elite field and have contributed a fair amount of points to the NZ Olympic qualification tally. 2020 will involve some more point chasing, bigger goals and some more adventures. Definitely learnt lots and I am now enjoying the NZ summer. So far I have had a large rest, got back on the roady to race Tour of Southland, studied a bit, will start working again and I can’t wait to jump back on the Enduro bike.
Ben’s top products this year
Camelbak Chase Bike Vest is the ideal training and stage race companion, I wouldn’t travel anywhere without it.
Lezyne Tubeless kit – these tyre plugs have saved me big time on training rides and would be a quick option in a race to fix a cut tyre.
Abus Airbreaker is the lightest and comfiest helmet I have used and looks good while protecting yournoggin.
Banner Photo Credit: Cullen Browne