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Interview with Tony Hillier

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done because of ‘peer pressure’? For Tony Hillier, it’s got to be the EWS80 in Whistler. I caught up with Tony this week to find out how he got on and what his plans are now he’s had a taste of EWS riding.

First of all, massive congratulations on coming 18th in your category at the EWS80 – that’s an epic result. How did you come to race it?

Basically, my Uni mates, Robbie and Freddie are over there for the summer and wanted to do it. They knew I’d been out in Whistler before and they kept poking me until I caved in and signed up! We tried to get tickets for the full EWS100, which is the same race as the EWS pros ride, but they went super quick so we got the EWS80.

What does the EWS80 consist of and how does it differ from the EWS/EWS100?

The EWS80 is 4 stages over one day, without a qualifier. The EWS100 and pro EWS are 6 stages over two days. I think there might be one or two other rounds that have that format too, but Whistler is the main one. Some of the EWS80 stages are the same as the main EWS, but not all.

You have a big practice day where you can cruise down one run of each stage; stop, practice the sketchy bits, but that’s it. Because it’s a mashup of trails in the bikepark network you can get a feel for it riding them in the days before.

Ok, so you’d practiced, you were ready to go, take us through the race – what was the start like?

Umm, well, I was a bit late so it was rather awkward! I just turned up a few mins before my start time like normal and apparently you were meant to be there about 20 mins before! But, it was ok and they slapped the stickers on my bike and sent me on my way!

After the start, it was crazy, you had to find your way through the race village and Whistler to the first lift up to Stage 1. No signs or directions so we got a bit lost and ended up with these Japanese guys following. Thankfully we made it in time as it’s all done to schedule.

Stage 1 was the one I was really scared of – it was a proper fitness test with punchy climbs, a couple of fire road sprints on an uphill gradient of about 10%. The whole Stage jumped in and out of wooded sections and was properly brutal – I knew it would kill me. The terrain was loamy like really tough UK trails. It dropped you back into the race village and then you took the chairlift up to Stage 2.

Stage 2 went on forever! It was super rough, the top was rocky, mega steep, tight, tech terrain with rock rolls and slabs like nothing I’ve ever seen in the UK or Europe. I crashed on this stage – my arms were like jelly after trying to gas it for 11 mins. I tried to hop, landed and basically rolled off the trail. Then later on I ended up shoulder barging a rock. Not my best stage.

Stage 3 was like a wet, loamy super rooty trail in Wales. It was outside the main park so you had to get lifts up to the top and then ride over to it. Even though it was boiling hot in the weeks leading up to the race, it was still so wet. Madness. There were massive sniper roots which made it really hard to carry speed. But it was quite mellow and not very steep so you had to keep off the brakes too. It was a really fun stage.

Stage 4 was the main runs in Whistler bikepark so it was really smooth and definitely my favourite stage. You just let got the brakes and smashed it, basically! Berms were where they were mean to be, massive jumps and fun drops. It spat you out into the main finish area. The last feature was a big ski jump that shot into the crowd at the finish. With Crankworx being on there was a massive crowd so there was a great atmosphere.

After the race we headed back up the mountain to watch the first stages of the full EWS. It was janky and crazy watching them come down, they were so fast!

Everyone loves a crash story – which was your biggest one?

The two I had on Stage 2 weren’t too bad to be fair. I had a massive one in practice – I was too hot into a blind section. I turned right onto a steep rock face with a super 90 degree corner at the bottom. I teased the corner at the bottom and went over the bars into woodland. Luckily a few forward rolls took the force out of the crash. On another day I landed sideways on a jump and literally ripped the tyre off the wheel… Other than that I was ok for mechanicals and crashes, so I was really relieved. One of my mates couldn’t race as he’d dislocated his elbow two weeks before.

What would you do differently if you did it again?

I wouldn’t take so much water! I knew you had to be fully self-sufficient in the race but didn’t realise they had water stations at the end of each stage. I pretty much had a lake with me in my backpack…

What was the atmosphere like?

Super friendly! In practice everyone was collaborating on line choice and it was the same in the race. Loads of nationalities – British, Japanese, Canadian, Columbian, Kiwi, Aussies – some were out doing seasons but loads had come specially for the race too. The race village was awesome and there were pros like Yoann Barrelli in the tents and just round the place. He was really funny and so full of energy.

What’s next?

A new bike bag lol! I borrowed my brother’s and it was a nightmare, kept falling over every time I tried to move it. Moving that thing was harder than racing! I reckon I’ll do another EWS – really fancy one of the European ones, you should come too, Vicky! I love local racing but have definitely got a taste for the big stuff!

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