Interview: Matt Walker, MTB Downhill national champion
27 May 2014
Matt Walker is one of the most exciting young MTB Downhill riders in the UK. After winning the National Championship as a Juvenile in 2013 and a string of top performances, he joined the Madison Saracen Development Team. Here he tells us about DH, how he approaches racing, and his ambitions for 2014 having moved up to the Youth category.
What makes Downhill MTB racing such a great sport?
To me, downhill racing is great because of the people that are involved in it. Everyone you speak to is easy going and willing to help out if you have a problem. It’s like a relief for me: I have more friends at the racing than at school, because everyone has something in common that you can talk about for hours. I absolutely love it.
Why does DH particularly suit you?
I think DH suits me so well because it’s so easy going and relaxed. Even the national events are not very stressful and, to me, it’s all about riding my bike and having fun with my mates. That’s the way it should be.
How did you get into DH racing?
My dad is to blame for getting me into riding. I was amazed when I first watched a video of the Athertons riding – that inspired me. I went up to a local race at Moelfre and was really keen to give it a go. One Christmas morning I woke up to a Giant Glory 1. I started at Forest of Dean on one of the mini DH rounds. I entered the Pearce Cycles series that year as well, in 2012.
What led to you gaining a place on the Madison-Saracen development team?
I trained hard off the back of the 2012 season, and going into the 2013 season I felt much more prepared. I raced all the BDS (British Downhill Series) rounds that year and I gained some very consistent results throughout. My best result was definitely winning the National Champs, and this could have helped my case towards gaining a place on Madison Saracen Development Team for the 2014 season.
What kind of opportunities does it give you, and what do you bring to the team yourself?
The Team is brilliant in many ways. I have a great opportunity to ride with the some of the top riders in the world, including Manon Carpenter, Matt Simmonds and Sam Dale. At the National Series rounds my bike is maintained to an impeccable standard throughout the weekend. I am training hard throughout the year so I can represent the team in a very good way by trying to get on the box week-in week-out.
Which events or courses do you like most, and why?
One of my favourites is the Bala National Champs track because it’s got everything in it, and on the day of the championships it was dusty so the top section was absolutely flat out. Innerleithen is another one of my favourites – that’s also another track that has everything.
What kind of training do you do?
I just ride my bike as much as possible trying to ride three out of the four weekends in a month. I ride XC (cross-country MTB) twice a week too and I do a lot of turbo work and interval training. I do lots of core body exercises in aid of increasing my strength and fitness for the races.
Do you do anything particular to look after general health & fitness?
I just make sure that I’m doing as much as I can to improve my performance at the races. I make sure that I eat well between races and drink a lot throughout.
What does a typical race weekend look like for you?
I normally turn up at the race venue on Friday night after school, and get my kit set up that night ready for the morning. Saturday comes around and I practise all day making sure I don’t tire myself for race day though. Race day comes and I’ll lay down one fast run early in the morning and one slower run getting my lines sorted later on in the session. My seeding is generally at around 11:00 a.m. and my race run at 2:15 p.m.. I make sure that I eat well and prepare early for my finals run.
How does training & racing fit with your school & social life?
My school is very generous in the fact that they let me have time off to enable me to get to National Series races on the Thursday night. Training is good as I have turbo trainer at home, so if I don’t have time to go out for a ride because of homework, I go for a spin on the turbo instead, to de-stress. As for my social life, the racing is my social life – my mates are all at the racing more or less so we have a whale of a time!
Is there anyone who has particularly helped you in your racing career?
Well, for one, my dad (Ed. owner of Matt’s supporter RockGuardZ) has played a huge part in getting me to the races and my whole family are a great support. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am.
Do you have a coach? What do they do for you, and how do you work together?
Outside of the events I don’t have a coach for fitness purposes, but at the races my team manager Will Longden makes sure he follows us down the hill a few times to tell us how were going, and if he thinks there are any lines that are potentially quicker.
What are your ambitions for 2014 and beyond?
This year, I want to stay consistent at the national events and try to mix it up with the older lads. For the future, I would love to continue to ride for Madison Saracen and hopefully continue to impress. My ultimate ambition is to make it to World Cups and race with the fastest riders in the world.
What advice do you have for younger DH riders who might look up to you?
Ride because it’s fun. If you ever find that it’s feeling like work or a chore, stop. If you focus and set your eyes on what you want, if you work hard at it, you generally will succeed. Word.