As he gets set to embark on his first UCI World Cup DH season, Lucas Cruz got a boost in his first race of 2018 at Crankworx Rotorua in New Zealand late last month.
Cruz soared to a win in the junior men's 17-and-18 division in the Air DH on Wednesday, March 21, which he feels connects perfectly with his upbringing as a prolific BMX racer.
"I always like the Air DH because it's like a downhill BMX track," he said. "It's pretty natural for me and I do well at it.
"It's not as rough and technical as a normal DH track, so it's a lot of jumps and pedalling."
Cruz added that a major portion of his offseason was devoted to maximizing his fitness as he pushed himself both in the gym and at TaG spin classes.
The challenge in New Zealand, though, was that Cruz didn't bring his own trail bike, which would handle the course perfectly. He instead leaned on a teammate to use his trail bike and rode it to a 1.26-second victory over New Zealand's Sam Robbie.
"I just decided to see how it went with the bigger wheels and less suspension, and it was definitely faster," he said.
While the victory was welcome, Cruz said the chance to get back onto his downhill bike and tap back into his skills were the main pulls of going to the Southern Hemisphere.
"My main focus wasn't really the results in the races. I was going there more for a training camp, getting prepared for the season and getting back on my bike again," he said. "But coming away with the win in the Air DH and a lot of confidence on my bike was really a great headstart for the season."
Cruz went down to New Zealand for two weeks, noting the week before Crankworx, he and his teammates rode in Queenstown at their bike park. The repetitions were key to Cruz's preparation, as he had to adjust to new equipment because of a sponsor change from Shimano to SRAM and a change in suspension from coil shocks to air forks. Though he is pleased with the change in gear and feels he's working with better parts, there is still a feeling-out period as he learns what it can and can't do.
"We were testing our suspension a lot and getting used to all the new parts in our new bikes," he said. "We were getting used to the new stuff and figuring out what needs to be worked on.
"(Air forks) are more supple and better all around, I think."
The win helped set Cruz up for his first season on the World Cup circuit, which will begin in Croatia later this month.
"I feel really good," he said. "I'm just getting my bike tweaked for the really rocky course there."