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11.06.04
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Stevie Smith
On Sunday, September 5, 2010, Steve Smith came within a cat’s whisker of the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Monte St Anne, setting the racing world on fire when he put the Maple Leaf 2.63 seconds off the highest accolade in the sport.
Stevie Smith
On Sunday, September 5, 2010, Steve Smith came within a cat’s whisker of the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Monte St Anne, setting the racing world on fire when he put the Maple Leaf 2.63 seconds off the highest accolade in the sport.
All over it
Stevie Smith & VitalMTB | Coming from a country famed for its epic landscapes, chairlift accessed mountain bike trails and one of the richest scenes in the sport, there is bizarrely only one top Canadian in the upper ranks of World Cup downhill racing.

On Sunday, September 5, 2010, Steve Smith came within a cat’s whisker of the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Monte St Anne, setting the racing world on fire when he put the Maple Leaf 2.63 seconds off the highest accolade in the sport. At only 21 years old and against a stacked field on a ‘mans’ track, Steve showed everyone that day he means business.

At the top of every sport there are always some inflated egos and downhill is no exception, but Steve is approachable, humble and down to earth. A guy who just enjoys riding and racing his bike and can hang it with the best of them, on and off the track. With his unique style of making the tracks go where he wants them to, Steve lets his riding do the talking and has proved that he has what it takes to reach the top of the sport he loves. Nothing will be holding the young Canadian back in 2011.

Olly: So, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Not a bad place to grow up and not a bad place to live when you’re a mountain biker. The lay of the land, the strong bike scene and some of the best bike parks in the world. What was it like growing up there and did your location help develop your skills and ability on a bike?

Steve: Living where I do has been a big help, that’s for sure. The local trails I ride all the time are unreal and have everything to make a rider get fast on the bike. Being able to ride whenever and wherever I want always keeps things fun and helps me to never get bored. At the end of the day, having fun makes me go faster!

Olly: You raced BMX before mountain bikes and you were ranked 7th in the World when you were 11! How did you get into BMX and what got you into the big bikes?

Steve: One of my Grandma's friends was a BMX collector and he agreed to give me a BMX for a year's worth of apple pie. I rode my first 2-wheel bike when I was only two years old, and we all know that BMX is a good place to start for a young guy or gal who loves riding bikes.

When I was about 14, I was getting bored of the repetitiveness in BMX, which is what made me want to get a mountain bike. The same guy who sold me the BMX for pies owned a bike shop by this stage, with lots of mountain bikes to choose from, so one day I just upright told my mom I was quitting BMX to get a mountain bike and in no time at all I found myself racing.

Olly: Having your own section in the movie Seasons, one the best selling bike movies ever, must have been an amazing opportunity. I helped transform you from being relatively unknown to a name everyone knew. Did you notice things were different for you after that or are you just not fazed by media hype?

Steve: It helped my image for sure. Not everyone pays attention to racing, especially the Canadian juniors, so yeah, coming in to my first pro season I was already on the map because of that movie.

Olly: On to the 2010 season, a good year for you especially at Val di Sole and your first World Cup podium. Was it something you were hungry for and did you think 2010 was the year you were going to get it?

Steve: I was very hungry coming in to 2010 and getting a podium was my main goal. I was hoping for more than one and ended up getting my second podium at World champs so I was happy. As the year went on I was worried, especially with a 6th place in Maribor and a few crummy races in between.

Olly: Val di Sole made you the first Canadian on a World Cup podium since Andrew Shandro. That’s pretty nuts when Canada has some of the best free riders in the game and disproportionately only one top downhill racer. Why do you think there aren’t more top downhill racers out of Canada?

Steve: I’ve been asked this a million times and I still can’t figure it out. We have the hills, the weather, and an amazing riding scene everywhere you go. I think it’s just been a long time coming and there will be more rippers in the near future.

It seems like racing is being taken more seriously now, but one of the problems with the sport's development is the local races (or lack of them) in Canada. Places like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand all have tons of local and national races, whereas I think last year there were only 3 Canada Cups and pretty minimal stuff here in BC. It’s important to have time actually racing. More races at home would help develop faster Canadian racers. Thanks to sponsors like Redbull, I was lucky early on in my career to travel around, doing lots of races at a young age.

Olly: You’re a top rider in the world now and surely going to be an inspirational figure to kids worldwide, especially back home in Canada. The UK didn’t have an international presence on the race circuit until Peaty started doing well at the end of the 90’s, and look at it now! Do you think your success could have a positive impact on guys coming up through the ranks?

Steve: I have no idea, but I’d love it to have that impact on people, so I hope so. Even when I was young I had no idea if I could make it to where I am today, mostly because it was difficult comparing the Canadians at the time to other top racers. Maybe having a guy at the World Cup level can pump some younger guys to work harder and achieve big things.

Olly: Moving on to that weekend in Quebec - every athlete dreams of success in front of a home crowd, and there must have been a few emotions going around in your head leading up to the race. How did you feel leading up to the World Champs and representing your country on home soil?

Steve: It was weird, but for some reason it was the least amount of stress I’ve felt at a race for some time. I felt very comfortable on the track and I knew that if I stayed calm I would ride a lot better. I felt that I pushed myself there only a little more than I would do at any World Cup. I would rather have had a really good result at Worlds regardless of injury, than play it safe and just have an "okay" run.

Olly: It must have crossed your mind coming into the World Champs race that you had the speed through 2010 and you could win this?

Steve: I knew I could pull a decent result there, but I never knew until times started getting thrown down. After seeing that I could put a decent time down it gave me the confidence I needed to get it done.

Olly: Your splits in timed practice were fast - pretty much the fastest guy on course. How did you deal with the pressure leading to finals?

Steve: I suck when I get nervous, the best thing for me is to try and relax. Coming in to the race, I knew that if I had done everything right and gotten my lines sorted in practice it should work out. Before any race, if I’m thinking about lines and stressing, it’s not going to be good. I like to enter races with a clean brain and that’s what I did at Worlds.

Olly: You made a little mistake in your race run, but you held it together and stormed through your run. Second place in the world, you must’ve been over the moon on that podium, getting that Maple Leaf up there for the second time?

Steve: I was very happy crossing the finish line. The mistake I made was a simple one. As I was getting close I thought I was home free because the tough stuff was over. When I actually crossed the line and I was almost 5 seconds ahead of 2nd place, with some fast riders before me, I knew that I had a good run, but I had no idea it was good enough to put me where it did.

Olly: Val di Sole and Mont St Anne are two different tracks, but they share common traits. Both are rough as hell and physically demanding. Do you find the tougher courses suit your riding style more or do you just prefer them?

Steve: I like a bit of everything really, but I tend to do better on the rough ones, when things get a little sketchy. It pumps me up and I can feed off of it and go faster instead of slowing down which is the normal thing to do.

Olly: People are comparing your style to Chris Kovarik’s. That’s a pretty cool accolade. I can definitely see a similarity to your riding style. You don’t seem to worry too much about slowing down for obstacles in your way, do you?

Steve: My main goal is the same as every racer - make the bike go forward and carry speed, which is the most important thing, so I do what I have to I guess. Haha!

Olly: Who did you look up to when you were younger, and who inspires you now?

Steve: The guys I looked up to when I was younger still inspire me today. Seeing how long Peaty has been able to race world cups and continues to do as well as he does blows my mind. Sam has always been an inspiration because of his effortless style and focus to win. Pretty much every top racer gives me motivation and seeing their accomplishments makes me want to do the same.

Olly: Flat pedals then - you were originally a clips rider and then made the switch. What triggered the change, and do you think we’ll see fewer people on clips in the future?

Steve: I still ride clips, here and there, depending on the track. Flats make me feel more comfortable in the corners, but clips give me confidence on the straights, rough sptos, and pedally sections. I just find my ‘in-between’ and decide what option would let me go faster. In the future, I think there will be more people on flats simply because they are the easiest way to learn to ride DH.

Olly: I think a lot of people were surprised to see your section on the hardtail with Semenuk in Follow Me, but you'rer handy at the dirt jumps and you’re a keen MX rider too. What kind of riding do you do back home and who do you ride with away from the race circuit?

Steve: I pretty much just like having fun and switching it up. Doing everything keeps it enjoyable all the time. I ride a lot of Enduro while I’m home with a bit of regular MX as well. Keeping things fresh makes me more comfortable on the DH bike.

Olly: Being a World Cup racer takes you away from home for months on end with hotels and airports being a part of every day life. Does constantly moving around get you down or do you enjoy the adventure?

Steve: If its going smooth, then its always enjoyable, but when you start missing flights and things don’t go as planned, it becomes a lot easier to want to be back home. I’d say the worst time traveling is when you’ve had a bad race and have a long trip home afterwards.

Olly: The 2011 World Cup series is a bit more of a ‘world’ series than it was in 2010. Which races are you looking forward to this year?

Steve: Riding wise, I’m looking forward to Val di Sole. Cool trip wise, I’m really looking forward to going back to South Africa. It’s so different there than anywhere else which always makes for a fun event.

Olly: Downhill racing seems to be on an upward spiral right now, where do you see the sport going over the next few years?

Steve: I'd like to see more people riding DH and I’d like to see more Canadian’s racing. There are more and more people getting in to it and I think more races would help get more people pumped on the sport.

Olly: 2011 also represents a new look and feel for both you personally and your race program. Was the switch to new sponsors circumstantial or were you looking for fresh start across the board?

Steve: Every racer’s goal is to be on a team that is on the same page as them so they can help each other and supply the tools they need to do as well as they can. This is how I feel with Devinci. They are a strong Canadian brand with amazing bikes and really cool people. I think it’s a great fit for me and I’m looking forward to contributing what I can and growing with the brand.

Olly: Back home, away from the races, what do you do to relax and what else, away from bikes, does Steve Smith get up to?

Steve: Life pretty much revolves around 2 wheels. When I’m not riding MTB, moto, BMX or at the gym, I like to chill with my friends, go fishing and just keep myself busy. My buddies and I bowl almost every Monday too, haha!

Olly: After a great year in 2010, you must have your eyes set pretty high on more podiums and advancing in the rankings. What are your plans and goals for 2011?

Steve: My main goal is consistency. I know that I’ve got the speed and I just want to have more "good" races in the future. Last year I had some decent races, but I also threw two World Cups away with crashes that put me in the 50's to 70's range. I was able to finish 10th over all and would love to beat that next year with a couple of podiums.

Olly: Thanks Steve and all the best from everyone at Vital MTB, its time for those obligatory interview shout outs!

Steve: Thanks to all of my sponsors for backing me like they have. I’d also like to thank my trainer Todd from Perform-X for helping me get strong and where I need to be to do well. Also Gabe Fox for helping me with everything, all the time! He's a great friend and awesome to work with. Thanks Vital!
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