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INTERVIEW: EWS Rider James Hall

INTERVIEW: EWS Rider James Hall

The Enduro World Series is one of the toughest and sought after mountain bike events on the planet. For many, it’s watched from the comfort of our own homes but for some, they actually race it.

We caught up with one of those riders who are in the thick of it right now…James Hall, AKA the Cannonball. It’s not often we get to chew the fat with an EWS rider, so we were thrilled that James agreed (he’s a bloody nice guy) to answer a couple of questions we threw at him. 

Thanks for sharing your time with us today James, or should we say Cannonball? We really do appreciate it. I have to admit, we are very excited to be talking to an EWS rider, so forgive us if we stumble over our words.

OK, let’s just get stuck into it and start from the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and and where the hell that nickname, Cannonball, came from?

James:  In my teens I worked at a local bike shop and one of the mechanics there nicknamed me Cannonball. We would on occasion use our lunch breaks to go cliff jumping. He said that I had a high velocity rotation like a spinning cannonball but I wonder if it was just the splash… There’s been many a tale and other suitably fitting reasons why I’m called cannonball haha so it’s seems to have stuck!

T&S: Ha OK, we’ll leave the other reasons for another time, you can spill the beans over a beer. We can keep a secret, we promise.

“Nothing ever came from pursuing the girls but I did find my passion! Funny how small decisions can make such a lasting change in your life.”

T&S: When did you first get your leg over a bike frame, when did it all start for you?

James: Haha well I was originally going to chose hiking as an extra activity in year 8 at school but two lovely girls chose to do mountain biking so I did what any other young teenage boy would do, chose mountain biking instead.

Nothing ever came from pursuing the girls but I did find my passion! Funny how small decisions can make such a lasting change in your life, I don’t know where I would be without bikes haha.

T&S: Yes, it’s funny how things can turn out, from one small change in direction. We must admit, having even a choice of hiking and biking is incredible. It was just rugby or long distance running for us, back in Wales.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: What made you decide to enter the EWS, had you done many other races in this format before?

James: I had done a fair bit of downhill racing ten years ago when I lived in whistler for two seasons and came back to Australia and only raced sporadically until recently. This is not to say I didn’t want to race it was just other life priorities got in the way.

It was September last year I was lucky enough to tag along with some rad mates Chris Johnston and Dylan Wolski who had both been racing the EWS series that year. They dragged my arse along to a BC enduro race in Revelstoke. With a last minute decision to join them, poor preparation and only a few hours sleep I managed to pull together a respectable result and got the bug to race again…

“The social aspect of cruising to the top with a bunch of new and old mates and racing to the bottom across a whole day, is what makes it special.”

T&S: What are your thoughts about the whole EWS experience so far. Has it been more or less than what you expected? Has it lived up to its hype?

James: It’s all the hype and more. The social aspect of cruising to the top with a bunch of new and old mates and racing to the bottom across a whole day  is what makes it special. That and the endurance of just getting to the end of the day brings on a sense of accomplishment felt by all. Everyone can relate and stories flow of the experiences from the day, well into the evening.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

“jostling for places amongst some big names has been quite a buzz, but what blows me away with the top riders is their consistency, hat off to them.”

T&S: You’ve been getting pretty impressive results so far; a top 10 stage result in New Zealand, a 32nd overall in Tasmania and recently a 36th overall in Whistler! These are great results, and saw you ahead of a lot of household pro rider names. How do you feel about those results?

James: I was so stoked with the top 10 single stage result in NZ and totally pumped to get 32nd in Derby. I had set myself a very high and ambitious goal for both of those races. Aiming for a top 10 in a stage and top 30 overall. I got my top 10 in NZ and got so close to a top 30 in Derby that I’m happy to claim that.

Whistler was the same, but with a stacked rider list, including many additional world cup DH racers joining in for just this race only, so a 36th was a very tidy result considering I had three off the bike moments. Yeah jostling for places amongst some big names has been quite a buzz, but what blows me away with the top riders is their consistency, hat off to them. 

T&S: Consistency does seem to be the key in this format, but that’s the difference between doing this as your job or just part-time. Not taking away anything from the pro riders of course. They are where they are for a reason.

 

T&SYou’ve done six of the eight rounds so far. Which ones stood out for you as the best overall experience?

JamesFor atmosphere and vibe, it would have to be Derby. I think because the town was so small it brought everyone so much closer together throughout the event. I guess that and my results certainly helped lift the experience. As for amazing destinations and travel experience it would be Madeira Portugal with 1800m of vertical finishing at the sea. What a place. Put it on your bucket list!

However my stand out experience would be the Whistler round, aptly nicknamed Crankzilla for its gnarly terrain, epic stages, and gruelling transitions. Technical and rough terrain has always been more my forte over ribbon trail and Whistler had a lot of rough terrain on offer.

This, plus having lived in Whistler for two seasons some 9 years earlier making for a familiar ride and good times catching up with old mates, made this round extra special to me.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

“By slippery, I’m talking polished cobblestone like rock gardens that had zero grip, kind of like riding on black ice.”

T&S: How do your local trails compere with EWS trails, and have they prepared you enough for those races, or did you ever feel a little “Whooaah!” on some of them?

James: Whooaah stage three in Madeira! Feeling scared and tense was a common comment from many of the riders. There was s slippery rock descent that went on for a couple of kilometres. By slippery, I’m talking polished cobblestone like rock gardens that had zero grip, kind of like riding on black ice.

Absolutely out of control haha. Our local trails are quite tight and technical which has helped for a few of the stages along the way for sure. To be honest though, you really have to get out and ride more variety of trails rain hail or shine to be totally prepared for what an EWS series will throw at you.

T&S: We couldn’t agree more James. Ride more, in all types of terrain. It’s the only way we’ll become better all round riders.

 

T&S: JetBlack Products & M2O Industries have sponsored you for flights and entry into round 8 of the Enduro World Series, in Finale Italy! We can you tell you now, there was a collective YAY! when we saw this post on your Facebook page. 

James: Such an awesome moment. I’m so grateful for all the support that JetBlack and M2O industries have given me, including sponsoring me with the Pivot Switchblade I’m riding.

NoTubes rims, JetBlack grips and JetBlack pedals which I’ve been through a few having bounced my way down many a rock garden and not always rubber side down haha. Now for JetBlack and M2O to be sending me to Finale is amazing.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

“Even still the heart rate is pumping at the start gate, I try relax have a laugh right up until thirty seconds to go, then put my game face on.”

T&S: With all the excitement and reality of being in an EWS race, has it been hard to keep those voices in check. You know the ones telling you to go faster or keep it cool. What are the voices you hear when you’re in the midst of the race itself?

James: Yeah the voices are there for sure. It’s definitely easier in this format to not get as stressed compared to downhill where you only get one chance. With the Enduro you need to dial it back just a bit to get through the day and if you make a small mistake I don’t tend to beat myself up about it as much because there is a whole day of racing to average it out over.

Even still, the heart rate is pumping at the start gate, I try to relax and have a laugh right up until thirty seconds to go, then put my game face on. I try to tell myself to keep it smooth and consistent. Smooth is fast rather than going all out which usually only ends with me in the dirt haha.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Enduro World Series 2017 – Whistler

“You’re exhausted, it’s already 4pm, so you pedal home, wash your bike, service it, shower up and cook dinner.”

T&S: The life of a privateer sounds much harder than say, a fully supported rider with a team around him/her to take care of everything apart from riding the bike. What are your opinions on this and what have you seen or experienced at the EWS events to date.

James: I came into this thinking I would have more time in the day to sort out GoPro footage edit videos relax and chill out after practice days. The reality is if you want to learn the trails the day quickly disappears.

To give you a run down of a typical day of a privateer:

  • You get up 6:30am and make breakfast get ready, get bike and gear sorted so you can be self sufficient all day.
  • Get to trail head by 8:15 so you can ride to the top for a 9am start.
  • Then ride for the next seven hours straight and only get one run in of each trail…
  • You’re exhausted, it’s already 4pm, so you pedal home, wash your bike, service it, shower up and cook dinner.
  • Followed by trying to remember the trails, so you watch some of your GoPro footage, maybe try to make a couple of posts to social media etc and suddenly it’s 10pm!
  • Rinse and repeat for three to four days straight. Repeating for practice day two and same again for race day.

It certainly helps if you have some support but I guess that’s part of it. It’s not just the bike and the rider, it’s logistics, planing and the experience that all need to come together.

T&S: Wow! We’re exhausted just reading that. That really puts it into perspective.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: What sport of physical training have you been doing for the races?

James: Above all else lots on time on the trails is key. I’ve found the best for me is a flexible plan but to be disciplined about it. I do a high intensity high heart rate day then two to three days rest and repeat. Rest days can include rides as long as I keep my heart rate low.

For building strength and boosting my cardio nothing beats getting on my JetBlack trainer and doing specific audio coaching sessions. For full body conditioning I like to get out the TRX straps and incorporate them into a mixed gym circuit once a week.

All of that keeps me pretty busy, but nothing beats time on the bike out on the trails.

james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: Have you had to change your bike setup much from race to race and the variety in formats?

James: Bike setup has remained pretty consistent but tyre choice plays a big role. I wish I had more checked baggage allowance heading to Madeira and Portugal. An extra Maxxis shorty or full spike would have come in handy and helped out a lot in Ireland.

The guys running cut spikes or similar were the guys that placed well. You just don’t know what the conditions will be like, that’s something I have learnt along the way.

“by many accounts, it’s one of the best destinations to ride a bike so how could I not be excited!”

T&S: We can’t tell you how excited we are to see you heading to Finale and we know you have a lot of people here all gunning for you, but how are you feeling coming up to the final?

JamesI’m feeling strong for Finale, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been all season. So again it’s going to be mind games of calming my mind just enough to keep it smooth to go fast and rubber side down. We will see what Finale has to offer but by many accounts, it’s one of the best destinations to ride a bike so how could I not be excited!

 

T&S: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking with you James and all of us at Tyres and Soles are gunning for you. Are there any final words or thanks you’d like to share with our readers?

JamesIt can’t go without saying, how incredibly thankful for the amazing support from my friends that chipped in together without me knowing, to get me to the Madeira and Ireland rounds. That blew me away.

I also can’t forget to thank Rick for Maxxis tyres from Bikecorp.  An even bigger thank you too DHaRCO for their awesome riding kits and without them, the awesome video video content of me that Matt Staggs has been producing probably, would never have eventuated.

And my newest and exciting thank you goes out to the awesome team at Shimano Australia who offered to help me out with a much needed new drivetrain and brakes components for Finale!
james hall
Photo credit: ©Richard McGibbon

Final words…

Be sure to tune in and watch the final of the 2017 EWS round at the beautiful Finale Ligure. There’s a reason the series always finishes in this beautiful town in the Italian Riviera – Finale Outdoor Resort’s ever growing network of world class trails, huge crowds and the obligatory swim in the sea for whoever is crowned World Champion at this end of season extravaganza.

Go get em Cannonball!

Jason Lorch

Author: Jason Lorch

Born and grew up in Wales but now a fully fledged Aussie. A passionate mountain biker, hiker and general nature addict. I’m also a bit of a muso and enjoy a good craft beer every now and again (probably too often).

I hope what we do here at Tyres and Soles will inspire people to get out there and experience first hand, the natural wonders that surround them.

So, pump up those tyres, don your favourite boots. Grab a mate, a partner, a pet… and head out into nature. But tell us all about it when you get back.

Editor at Tyres and Soles.

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