Lucas Cruz has had to make some adjustments going into his first year on the UCI World Cup tour.
Competing in the junior men's category, the Pemberton rider said one big change for him has turned out to be a major benefit. Starting at the race in Fort William, U.K., where he took sixth, Cruz had a mechanic at his disposal—a development of which he was initially a bit wary as he felt "useless."
"I've always loved working on my own bikes, and I've done everything—brakes and all that—before," he said. "It took awhile to get used to, but now, I really enjoy having him there. I just give him my bike whenever I need it (repaired) and then he just works on it all night, pretty much. It's perfect every morning, ready to go for practice.
"I just focus on what I need to do for food and race prep, whatever I need, and then my bike's there ready to go."
Racing in four of five World Cup stops so far this season, Cruz has missed the top 10 only once. He started the season with his best result thus far, a fourth-place in Losinj, Croatia. It's been impressive, especially, considering the courses haven't lined up with what he'd anticipated coming in.
"They're so much more fast and rough than what I was expecting. I've been watching them on TV for years, but they're completely different in person, so much steeper and way rougher," he said. "I've set up my bike a lot stiffer now so that it can handle the speed. I'm just working on my body to try to keep it (in) as good a shape as I can for the coming races and next season as well."
As he's watched and soaked in as much as he can from the top professionals this season, one of the biggest elements of his approach that Cruz has developed has little to do with his technical riding skills. With far less time to ride the course than he's used to (generally up to three hours on the World Cup circuit compared to eight here), he's needed to greatly improve his visual inspections of courses before setting rubber to dirt.
"Before you race it, you do the track walk and it takes up to three hours to analyze the track even before you ride it," Cruz said. "You're really focusing on what you did in the track walk and transferring that into your riding the next day. There's, especially for the juniors, not much time to practice, so you have to dial in the track as quick as you can."
Now back home in Canada, Cruz recently topped his UCI junior expert men category at the Canadian MTB DH Nationals at Invermere's Panorama Mountain Resort, where he had more preparation time. In doing so, he bested one of his best friends, Whistler's Ian Milley, who took second (see separate story on page 54).
"I just came into it with an open mind. I have won it the past two years, but this was my first year in junior," Cruz said. "I was really excited to race in Canada again. I love that track."
Cruz said each time he's raced at Panorama, he's never had the same experience, which keeps him on his toes, which he enjoys and appreciates.
"I've been there in Panorama three times now and each time, it's been different. The past few years, it's been pretty wet and muddy with on-and-off rain, but this time, it was super dry the entire time," he said. "It was super smooth with nice corners and stuff, and then as the weekend went on, it just got crazy blown out with huge holes, which is what I like. It's nice and fast."
Cruz will continue the World Cup schedule in Mont Ste. Anne, Que. this weekend before returning to Whistler for Crankworx. In addition to the Fox Air DH on Aug. 15 and the Canadian Open DH on Aug. 19, Cruz will challenge the 100% Dual Slalom on Aug. 17.
"I got a new slope bike this year to stoke up for it, so I'm really excited," he said.
Crankworx will kick off this Friday, Aug. 10, and will wrap up on Aug. 19.
With just two World Cup races left on the calendar, Cruz won't be challenging for the overall title this season, but he's eyeing earning some hardware when the UCI World Championships come around in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, from Sept. 5 to 9.
"I'm really focusing on World Champs and doing my best there, results-wise," he said, "but mostly, just learning as much as I can and finding success in growing my riding, not really results-driven.
"I'm learning as much as I can for next year and having fun, always."