Swiss marathon downhill star, René Wildhaber has won his sport’s defining event, the Alpe d’Huez Mega Avalanche, six times, yet he still sees himself as much a humble carpenter and farmer as an iconic athlete.
In fact, he identifies better with the former descriptions and prides himself in making at least part of his living working the farm, wood and on the ski slopes of Switzerland.
It’s humbling, actually, to see such a talented rider, so humble himself.
BikeRadar sat down with the 33-year-old Wildhaber this spring in Durango, Colorado at SRAM’s RockShox 2011 product launch to hear how the enduro star has been so successful on Alpe d’Huez and what else he has on tap for the 2010 season.
Wildhaber is a working man's champion, mainly because he's a working man himself
BikeRadar: Being the six-time Alpe d’Huez Mega Avalanche champion, you know what it takes to win that race — can you tell us how you do it?
René Wildhaber: You have to be motivated and be able to put all of your energy into the hour-long race. Fitness is very important, but also are your technical skills. The first part is pretty fast and there are some technical switchbacks later on, so you have to be an overall good rider.
The start seems so chaotic, what is the tactic when you go off in a wave of 1000?
You need to have a good qualification so that you end up on the first start row. Yes, the start is important, but it’s an hour-long race so you can make up time.
Is there adequate passing on the course?
In some spots you can pass. On the glacier it’s pretty wide, but it’s hard to find a good line there. In the lower parts there are singletrack sections, but there are also wider spots to pass in.
What type of bike do you ride on Alpe d’Huez? Does it require really robust equipment or do you try to use lightweight parts?
I think weight is pretty important there. In 2009 I used a Trek Remedy with a 160mm RockShox Lyric and this year I think I will do the same. I’m thinking that the Scratch might also be good, though.
What other events are you targeting this season?
This year I have a lot going on with Red Bull, their races and photo trips. First, I’ll go to Peru and then Vancouver, British Columbia for Trek. We are starting this new C3 project with Brandon [Semenuk], [Andrew] Shandro, [Cam] McCaul and me. Then I’ll go to Russia for a photo shoot, plus I’ll do some adventure trips and racing.
How does your time break down percentage wise between photo shoots and competition?
It’s about half and half. I’m a racer, but I also like to explore. So it ends up being a good mix for me.
You were on the podium of Fabien Barel’s 2010 Urge Nepal and you won the event in 2009. What is the feeling like at his events? It seems that they are as much a humanitarian event as they are a competition?
This year, we were trying to raise money for a school renovation project and they put the money that we brought directly towards building a new school. The whole point of the project was to start a mountain bike school, which will also benefit the community by creating work and jobs.
Sometimes I ask myself does racing make sense for me; what’s the sense of life, but when you do something that helps other people by visiting or racing then things make perfect sense.
We imagine you’ll continue participating in Fabien’s Urge events then?
Yeah, I like to explore new places and to make contact with other people and it’s for benefit.
What was it like riding in Nepal, had you been there before?
I’ve been to northern India and it was similar, but Nepal was really nice. I had never before seen 8,000-meter peaks, so it was pretty impressive.
What does an average training day look like for these events?
In Switzerland it’s a little bit more difficult to have good training days because I have so much going on. I have to organize a lot because I’m my own manager. When I go out riding in Switzerland, there’s more good uphill riding than downhill training, but when I have time I travel to the high mountains to ride downhills.
What bike do you end up riding the most?
Right now it’s Scratch, but later in the season I will use Session and Remedy more. I am always switching between bikes depending on where I’m riding.
Wildhaber rode his Scratch freeride bike on all of the RockShox launch rides, it didn't matter that most were cross-country and upwards of three hours
What products are you most excited about from your sponsor SRAM’s 2011 RockShox product launch?
The Reverb [remote adjustable seat post] works really good so far. It seems to have less play and the remote function is really nice. I’m also looking forward to trying the Monarch Plus [air shock for trail bikes], I’ve heard it’s good and maybe it’s a good one for Alpe d’Huez. Vivid Air is light and it fits the Scratch really well.