I was really excited about doing this interview with Manon Carpenter, not only is she a welsh born local girl, but she's a constant inspiration for me with her fun attitude to riding and her keen perseverance. Unlike many other riders I look up to, something about Manon stands out. Perhaps it's because she's so lovely and unassuming. To an outsider, you'd never ever guess that she's a real badass, and downhill world champ!
With her Dad being the driving force behind her career, Manon is a well versed rider of BMX, Dirt, Cyclocross... ok, anything with two wheels! She's grown up in a nurturing biking environment and has taken it all within her stride to becoming a regular face on the National and International podiums.
Riding for Madison Saracen since 2011, Manon has acclimated a fair few titles under her belt, notably her World Championship and World Cup win in 2014, beating Rachel Atherton to the top spot. I have been gripped this year with Manon's riding, defending her title and rainbow stripes, we've seen her miss the World Cup top spot by seconds, and yet seen her claim the BDS overall win.
Hi Manon, thank you so much for chatting with Velo Me. Let's kick this off by going back to 2014 when you won the World Cup, how did you feel winning your rainbow stripes last year?
Winning the World Champs last year was amazing. I actually couldn’t stop laughing for quite a while; elation is probably a good word to describe the feeling. It was such a good way to win, I felt like I’d given it everything I could and was sat in the hot seat waiting for Rach to come down. It was so tense! When she crossed the line and I had won, it didn’t sink in for a few seconds until Tahnee bombarded me with congratulations. It was a good day.
How’s the atmosphere and reception been this year, and was there an added pressure to defend your title?
Everyone’s been so lovely this year, it’s amazing how much more attention the World Champs stripes bring to you. At the last World Cup in Val Di Sole the attention was actually a bit overwhelming! I’m not sure about added pressure, I think the fact that my season didn’t start off great took the spotlight off me a little bit. I think the main thing I struggled with was that I didn’t feel the way I did on my bike last year, I couldn’t get comfortable or find the aggression I needed, which was frustrating.
Now that the races are over this year, what's been the best race/track you've ridden, and why?
I love the World Champs track at Vallnord, Andorra. I can’t get down that track without grinning. There is always something going on and I’m so at home in the steep sections, it’s just like our local tracks! I was a bit gutted it rained because I like how that track doesn’t usually get rough, but after constant changing from wet to dry it did start to cut up quite a lot, so you had to deal with different conditions each run.
You spend a lot of time on the road travelling the world for competitions, does it get tough when you’re trying to physically and mentally prepare for races?
Yes, I find the mental part the hardest. When I’m racing I need as much mental energy as possible to concentrate and find the aggression I need to attack a race track. I’ve been learning a lot about that this year, so I’m trying to make sure I feel fresh heading into each race now. If not you’ll think you’re fine until race day and then all of a sudden you're in the start hut and something is missing... which is when things go wrong!
With many athletes competing at World level, we hear about all these diets and crazy training programmes they have in place. Can you walk us through a typical day in race season for you: how do you train, and are you on any crazy racer diets?
No crazy diets, just a good healthy balanced diet and I try my best to control chocolate intake! During a race season I try to spend the most time on my mountain bike but I could be doing a gym session, road ride, XC intervals or laps on the DH bike. Honestly, no day is ever the same!
Women’s participation in riding is growing which is fantastic! As a pro-rider and a huge inspiration to us women, do you feel it is important for you, and fellow athletes, to help nurture the next generation of women’s riders?
It’s great to see! I love heading to an uplift day or being at a bike park and seeing loads of girls riding. Some days this summer I’d see an almost equal ratio of girls to guys riding which was awesome. Women’s only events are really useful I think, I love getting the chance to ride with other girls and I think a lot of women feel the same. It’s great riding with someone of a similar ability to you and taking it in turns to push each other, or just have fun on the trail. Be it racing, coaching or just a group ride I think creating a comfortable and relaxed environment is the best way to get girls loving riding bikes. Katy Curd, Tracy Moseley and myself held a 12-18 year old girls day a while back at the Forest of Dean and it was really successful. I’d love to organise some more when I get the chance, it was great this year to see some of the girls who had come along turning up to races this year.
In all your years of riding and competitive racing, what’s the best lesson you’ve learnt, and what advice can you give to aspiring female racers?
I think the biggest break through I made was that braking less making life a lot easier! Or maybe, braking in the right places and letting the bike go in others. If you can stay off your brakes in rough sections it makes everything so much smoother, I still comfort brake and it’s the most annoying thing ever – trying to tell your brain that actually it’s okay. Avoid braking in corners as well, carrying speed instead of having to pedal saves a lot of energy as well. And as far as racing goes, just ride your bike lots! Ride in-between races to get up to speed so you can turn up to a race feeling good and fit. Wishing you'd come more prepared is the worst feeling!
A common misconception about female riders is that we’re all tomboys, wearing baggies and covered in mud. We’re not all like this though and many of us have our feminine side as well. I love muddy riding and I get covered in bruises, but I also love baking cakes, wearing dresses and girly chats about cats and tea. We all know you as a badass racer, shredding hard and showing up the boys on the track! But what’s the feminine side of Manon Carpenter like, and what does she enjoy doing?
Haha yeah I definitely have a girly side as well. One of the first things I’ll do when I get home after the season is organise a night out with the girls and cocktails. It’s nice to dress up and put a pair of heels on, even if it’s a shock after wearing trainers or flip flops all summer! Coffee stops are good, along with trips to the beach and anything outdoors really. To be fair, I would choose an afternoon gorge walking or our out on the motorbike over walking around the shops!!
What are your plans for the winter off-season?
I’d like to go to New Zealand this winter. The last few years I’ve enjoyed spending the winter at home but I would like some warmth this year. I want to make sure I spend as much time riding bikes as possible this time, last year I go a little caught up with media and events etc... so I want to go back to the things I find most fun.
Finally, what do you miss most when you’re away from home?
I’d say my friends and the calming influence that is my mum! She’s good at making me do nothing haha. I was away all summer this year and would see some of the stuff my friends were up and wish I was there. But to be honest living the life I do at the moment I love being away in the mountains, I was in Chamonix for the summer and when the sun is out on the glacier Caerphilly doesn’t really compare!
I'm excited heading into next year's race season, and I hope that Manon finds the aggression she needs to really attack those trails, and remind the world what she's made of! It's great to hear her keen enthusiasm for women in riding, and getting involved with events and coaching days to share and nurture up and coming racers.
Since this interview, Manon Carpenter has been announced as the new ambassador for Strongher, a campaign to bring female riders together, all ages, skill and discipline. Promoting women's riding is important to Manon, and Velo Me so I'm personally very interested in seeing this flourish and I anticipate exciting times ahead... stay tuned!