In a new series of feature interviews, we caught up with fast man James Downing, from Canberra, to talk food, riding, going sideways, and how he managed to score the biggest win of his career at the Flight Centre Epic.
Name: James Downing
Team: Cannondale-Sugoi Factory Racing Team (athlete and manager)
Started Racing: 1989 – first National Titles done at Pierces Creek in Canberra that year – epic road trip from Brisbane!
Bike of Choice: Cannondale F29er MTB and Cannondale Evo Roadie (the mistress)
Favourite Post race meal: Sushi
Special Move: it’s got to be a 50\50 between the wheelie and the two wheel drift!
James, when did you start racing BMX, and how did MTBing fit in with this?
Wow, let me think. Probably 2000-ish I reckon. I was racing downhill after I finished studying and we always went to the BMX track to do jumps and stuff. It just progressed from that and I ended up getting into BMX a fair bit and raced state titles, national titles and also the World Championships in Perth. I was just a chugger though! (laughs). I think I did 4 years of BMX without touching the MTB!
You’re only ever seen on a hardtail, and a Cannondale at that. What makes their bikes so special?
Well, it boils down to the fact that I pretty much like the simplicity of the hardtail. You put a bit of air in the fork and ride it. You know, the last time I rode a dually was 2007 and I was always trying to set it up like a hardtail! (laughs). I’ve been on the F series Cannondales since 2010 and in a nutshell they simply have, hands down, *the* best geometry for handling and as cliche as it sounds, they have the right mix of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance in the frames. The 2015 F-Si 29er will be a game changer though… I can’t wait for that to land!
We hear you will only accept a Thai green curry as a pre race dinner – when and why did this tradition start?
My teammate Andrew Hall got me onto this particular dish the night before the 2013 Tathra Enduro where we hit up an interesting Thai\Chinese\Vietnamese restaurant in Bega. When the spring rolls came out I couldn’t even pick them up, they were so hot, yet Hally just smashed 4 of them without blinking! He said the green chicken curry was a safe bet so I trusted him! (laughs). It then just became a ritual. The highlight of this year’s dining was in Ipswich the night before the Flight Centre Epic with the addition of kiwifruit in the green chicken curry!
Downing went onto win the Flight Centre Epic, and rumours are that before big races, towns are now selling out of kiwifruit.
While always a solid top 10 racer at national level marathons, you snagged two wins in a row in September, along with a very strong year in general. What’s changed?
Thanks mate. Yeah, I have overhauled *soooo* many things this year. It started with some goal setting, being brutally honest and figuring out where I sucked and then just executing some basics with a different mindset. I even changed to a different hill where I do my strengthies on! (laughs). There are also a few sensational people in my corner that have provided me with some pretty awesome advice and support which has made a significant difference. I cannot thank them enough.
I actually targeted 3 races in the year. The Queen stage at ICME, Back Yamma Bigfoot (because I love it), and the Flight Centre Epic. I knew I could win the first 2, but all I wanted at FCE was to do ‘very well’. The races where I knew that I had ‘performed’ against a solid crew were Capital Punishment and Giant Odyssey – they are my benchmark races for the year.
With your team mate Andrew Hall, you cover races from club XCO through to 24hr races. What do you love about XCO racing, and why is it so relevant to marathon racing?
XCO is so awesome because, when done properly, it is just a pain fest in a specific zone where you test yourself against the course to see how fast you can ride the terrain that has been presented. It is no great secret that those who do well at XCO also do well at the longer races as it translates well.
2015 looks to be another year of big races requiring big distances to travel – what do you consider the classic Australian races?
Yeah, we have this conversation all of the time, mostly whilst waiting at airports! I think that there is a general consensus amongst most of the guys that I talk to that these ones are *the* classics: Capital Punishment, Convict 100, Wombat 100, Giant Odyssey, Marathon Champs, Flight Centre Epic, Highland Fling. They are definite must-do races on my marathon playlist!
And with that, you can expect to see Downing on his local trails around Canberra – or at a classic Australian marathon soon.