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Interview: Steve Peat

Pinkbike Interview

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Matt Wragg / Pinkbike

Sheffield Steel, Old School or simply Peaty. Call Steve Peat what you will, but after twenty years on the World Cup circuit he's showing little sign of slowing down. 2012 was a troubled year for him though, scattered with injuries, crashes and flashes of raw pace. We caught up with him at the Santa Cruz V10c launch at Massa Vecchia in Tuscany to talk about the past season, how he prepares to go racing and how tough it is for young riders trying to break into the sport's top ranks.

How was last season?
Last season sucked for me... I felt good. I was really busy through the winter, so training didn't go to plan. I came into the season not as fit as I wanted to be, but rode into my season. By Fort William I felt really good. And then I had some freaky, little crash in Fort William. Saved the crash, ok, but dragged my leg behind me, it got caught on a rock and I ripped my hamstring. Really, I should have just took bloody six weeks off to fix it, but I carried on riding through it. So I went to Mont St Anne and couldn't ride that well. I ended up having a crash in my final run. I went to Windham and I had a mechanical. So I just struggled all year with crashes, then I crashed at World Champs. Flew off the track in Norway... But in all those races I had really good speed, I had good splits at Worlds, really good speed in Norway. I was stoked at that track, I think it's the best track we've raced on for years... All season there were just freaky little incidents for me.

Do you think the speed is there?
Yeah, definitely. I had flashes of brilliance at certain races, I felt up to speed. Norway, I love that track, it's awesome. I felt like I was up to speed for a top five, even, but it didn't turn out...

You said you had a couple of injuries, but they didn't keep you away from the race track?
I'm pretty good dealing with pain and stuff like that, and I love racing and I love riding my bike. So for me to carry on through that injury... I feel better about myself being able to do it, to carry on through it. But when I look back, I should have just taken a couple of months off, gone home, got some really good physio and got strong for the end of the season.

After twenty years, you've kept that hunger to be there?
Yeah, I enjoy it.

How much has your training changed over the years?
I'm one of those people, I like to mix my training up. So long as I'm having fun, but I'm training hard, I benefit from all different types of training. One year I'll do something different to the next, but so long as I know I'm training hard I feel good about myself. I did quite a bit of boxing and circuit training in a boxing gym. I steered away from lifting weights and did more circuit training instead. In hindsight, I struggled a little bit with the strength and conditioning to keep me strong through the whole year, but it was different training and I enjoyed it, it was fun. I definitely got fit, and I got lean through it before the season.

Do you feel you're in better shape now than when you were younger?
No. I feel like I'm too busy to have a proper structure. When I was young I could just wake up and do whatever I wanted, now I have a few more business commitments, family, a lot more shit to do in the sport. It's definitely harder now to get the same amount of training, I have to fit my sessions in shorter periods and make them pay.

So, what does your average off-season day look like?
I don't think I have an average day!

Haha, but how does the off-season work for you then?
A few years ago, when the season finished that was it, you'd have a couple of months at home, take a little time off, do a few photoshoots and get into your training schedule. Since I've finished the season this year, I've been in Thailand for a week, came home for almost a week, had a few days away with the family, now I'm in Tuscany... I get home for one day, then I'm gone to Mexico for a week for sponsors. It's quite a fun trip, but it's still away from home for a week and it's quite hard. After Mexico I have a couple of days at home, then I have two training days in a row down in Dorset at a UK bikepark, then I've got an SPS weekend, as season-ender, after that I have various photoshoots booked in here and there, I'm filming for This is Peaty. And around all that I have to fit training in. It's weird, obviously, December/January is the time I can focus more on training. An average day would be get up, go to the gym, do an early morning session, I usually get up at 6, to the gym for 6:45... Then I get back, breakfast, a few emails, help Adele get the kids ready for school, or have the kids while the wife does something else, and try to fit a ride in the afternoon if I'm not too busy. I don't know, every day is different if I'm honest... Every day is different, but I do sit down with Dr. Rob Copeland, who's my sports psychologist from Sheffield Hallam University, and we try and set out what I want to achieve for that winter, what I need to get in place, how much family time I can allow, how many sessions a week I want to train. I have to sit down and plan it all big time, because it's so easy to get wrapped up in other stuff.

Has your mentality changed?
I don't think the mentality has changed, as in racing...

You're not mellowing with age?
I would say I definitely mellowed in certain areas, but I've been doing it that long that I can say "yeah, I'll chill out today, rather than put a hard training session today, I'm experienced so can miss one." Which leads on to missing a few more through the winter, and these days that's no good because eighty people qualify for a world cup... and the seconds between qualifying and not qualifying these days are a lot tighter than they were a few years ago. So it's not just your top ten, your top twenty guys that are fit and focused these days, it's 200 guys that come and race World Cups. Everybody's got a personal trainer.

How much do you think the level has changed?
I think Gwinny coming in definitely opened a few eyes. He's been so consistently fast and no-one has done that for a long time. Consistently winning, he won five World Cups this year.

The last guy to do that was surely Vouilloz?
I'd say so really, yeah. Greg's been sort of dominant, but never had a run of winning. Nobody has really, because you're racing the fastest guys in the world. But Gwin has definitely brought a new approach to it. I think everybody is just way more pro now. Everybody keeps their cards close to their chest because they have their own training programmes and personal trainers and all that sort of stuff.

Do you think it's harder for young guys coming through?
It's tough. I get a lot of people coming to me saying "I'm thinking of starting racing, how do I get sponsored?" I tell them, "You don't get sponsored until you've done good at racing, then you have to prove yourself, do well before anyone will consider sponsoring you." It's the wrong mentality, there are lot of people coming to the sport with the wrong mentality. You've got to put your time in and earn your sponsorship and earn your dues. Now it's going a lot deeper, because everyone wants to be sponsored, everyone wants to be at World Cups, be at that kind of level and, yeah, it's getting tougher and tougher.

As the World Cup schedule gets more international, rather than just the European cup, do you think that makes it harder for up-and-coming riders?
It's the World Cup series, you need to race all over the world. If you need to go to Japan, or South Africa, or Peru, or wherever. I think that's better for the sport, it gets it to more places, more people get to see it. You're not going to those places to see where the guys in 70th-80th position are finishing, or the guys that don't qualify, you don't go there for those guys, you go there for the creme-de-la-creme. To showboat the fastest 20, 30... Really, the exposure that you get from the race is top five guys, probably. It's a showboat sport and there are plenty of other places for those guys to race in, other than World Cups.

Do there need to be tighter criteria for people to get to the World Cups?
You need to get 20 UCI points before you get into a World Cup anyway, so you have to do good at some races, somewhere, but then that opens it up for the people in Russia, for instance, if you had a local race that's UCI accredited, you could get the top five people in that race with enough points to race a World Cup, but they're not racing at a high standard of competition. So yeah, you do get people like that at World Cups.

Would the sport benefit from a MotoGP-style feeding system, where riders move up through the categories?
We've got that in our sport, but it's harder to police it because of all the rankings around the world. Moto GP has 20 guys on the grid, so they have to pick the 20 guys. Whereas in downhill mountain biking you can have more people on the start line. I think it's at a pretty good level now. You've got to be pretty shit-hot to qualify for a World Cup, it is the creme-de-la-creme. With that, you've got some nations that are really strong: England, Australia, New Zealand. There are a lot of strong nations. For England, we've got so many good top ten World Cup guys, that if there's a national race with UCI points, it's hard for the guys that are ten to fifteen, or twentieth to fiftieth position to get points in the UK, so they have to travel to get points to even be allowed to be accepted at a World Cup race. For me, that's wrong somehow. They have to go to Bulgaria or Peru to find a UCI category one race to find enough points to be accepted into the world Cup because it's so hard for them get points in their own country as the nation is so strong.

What are your plans for this year?
Crack on, World Cups, nationals. I enjoy doing nationals as I'm there with my SPS team, I've raced nationals for years, so it's good. The best series we have in our country and I'm proud of where I come from, so I like racing nationals. I might try and do a couple of enduro races where I can fit them in. Have fun with it all riding bikes.
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