David Graf 2015 UCI World #3
Swiss rider, David Graf forces his way into contention for the 2016 Rio Olympics
19 OCTOBER 2015
2015 has seen David Graf emerge as a serious contender on the international BMX scene, he has been on the podium at both the Zolder UCI BMX World Championships and the Baku European Olympic Games standing beside some of our sports superstars. Currently ranked Number 9 in the UCI tables, David is in an excellent position going into 2016 to claim one of those elusive Olympic spots for Switzerland and himself.
David’s recent successes, his experiences at the Rio Test Event and has willingness to say what’s on his mind makes him an obvious candidate for a very interesting interview. We want to thank David for taking time out of his recent vacation for us and wish him the best of luck in his quest for Rio.
Here’s what the 2015 W3 had to say …
15: 2015 has been a brilliant year for you, finals in Argentina, Baku and of course your brilliant W3 in Zolder plus your first Elite International win at round 8 or the UEC European Cup in Switzerland. Previous to that I think your last Supercross final was the London Test Event in 2011. What do you think has made the difference this year?
DG: Yes, it was definitely the best year I’ve had! That last main in 2011 you mentioned came out of nothing with some serious luck too. I’m really happy how this year built up with semis at Manchester, Papendal and Sweden. The difference probably was, that this was my first healthy season since 2012.
I changed quite a lot after missing the Olympics in 2012, found my focus, lost some weight and was just a better athlete. Even if I thought I was ready for some good results the past two years, injuries held me back.
15: Do you like being on the road all year for the SX tour? What was your favorite event on the tour this year?
DG: This year was the most racing I have ever done in a season, and I really enjoyed it. The SX tour has only got 5 stops, which is not much. On the other hand, it is really tough to be ready for every single race you enter.
My favorite stop of the year was Papendal, I like the track despite the S turn. This is the most important thing when it comes to an event for me.
15: The UCI World’s in Zolder has got to be the highlight of your year, how did you feel going into the event, did the sudden change in schedule and hill because of the weather effect you? Obviously you coped very well while others may have not.
DG: Well, I sat at breakfast and got the message “Warm-up in 1 hour” which bumps up your heart rate quite a bit. After realizing and accepting that we race from the small hill, (in my opinion a wrong decision) the whole day went perfect.
I wanted that final so bad and I knew these conditions suit me! My best races were in the rain and everybody thinks I prefer it cause of my 4cross background which gives me a mental advantage already 😉
After hitting the gate in my 1/8 final, I was dead last and pretty sure I’m done! But that day was just meant to be a good one and I was able to come back to 2nd place in that lap. From there it is just a blur, I can’t really remember much, seems like I just did what I had to do.
15: Talk us through the Worlds final, you had a brilliant gate and an even better move in the second berm to go briefly into first.
DG: I was surprised that Kimmann is taking lane 8, so I got lane 2 that was more than perfect for a worlds main. I had an awesome gate, but I would have never thought how good it was. The fact that the two guys left from me hit the gate or whatever gave me some room to put down my pull and I even managed to close in with Sam a little after the first jump. As soon as Niek came from the outside I had to pull the brake though. And I did brake a little to much, which pissed me off haha!
The gap to the leaders out of the first turn after Dean was jumping on my back was too big to close in I thought … so my only goal was to keep my 3rd spot and hit that straight perfect for once. This worked out perfectly and to my surprise I was able to make a move into turn two.
I saw Sam focusing on Kimmann pushing him to the outside, when I jumped to the white line. I knew this will work out and I actually thought ‘I’m blocking both of them’. Niek was riding to smart with his high low. And Sam … you know what happened.
My legs were cooked after the second restart from zero in that main and I was not able to hold off either Niek or Jelle on the line which hurt so bad that I was not even happy crossing the finish line.
In that moment I lost W1, then W2 but after like 5 minutes I won W3 😉
15: There was a lot of talk and rumors about what happened after the final in Zolder, do you want to tell us what actually happened from your point of view?
DG: There’s not much to talk about. I wanted to celebrate on the finish line and got body-checked on my way there … obviously I was not happy about that. Emotions are part of the game, but I think not this way. Keep it aggressive (and clean) on the track and not off.
15: Your Instagram post and it’s comments after the Worlds were very entertaining, I went back and read it all again, some people had very strong opinions on the brilliant berm move. Do you let those comments get to you or do they just wash over you?
DG: I loved the drama. And there were two guys with a really strong opinion on me I guess … one of them apologized for what he told me in a private message after he has seen the replay. So his opinion was built on rumors only without even seeing the race. Internet warrior on its finest 😉
I struggled for like 5 seconds when the thread went crazy, but actually I liked it haha.
15: Have you talked to Sam since Zolder?
DG: Not more than before, but I think we are all good. For me this story is done … I was just happy I did not have the opportunity to take an inside on him in Sweden haha.
15: You came 21st in the Zolder Time Trials but ended up with the W3 plate, do you think TT’s have a place in BMX racing, it’s almost a whole different skill set? Do you enjoy them or is it something you just have to do?
DG: I’m just overcooking my TT laps all the time. But I think it’s one of the most interesting things for us insiders. You can analyze and compare so much. And it is just amazing how fast these dudes can go. Talking Niek and Joris in Zolder! What a showdown!
15: You where at the first European Olympic Games in Baku this year where you got an impressive bronze medal. How was it there?
DG: Baku was a fun experience, close to Olympic games in the Village not at all on the media side though. It was great to prepare for Rio I guess.
Standing on that podium was crazy, almost surreal. After all my injuries this one was just for me and I have never enjoyed standing on that box more than in this moment. It was such a big relief.
15: There was talk about the tracks surface before the race, it look pretty broken up in places, what was it like to race on?
DG: Yeah the track was just some packed sand, not rideable on day one but on race day it was okay … still not perfect. You just have to adapt.
15: You were making some pretty impressive berm passes in Baku (not unlike Zolder), is that something you work on or plan for or is it all split second decisions out there?
DG: I think this is instinct. I never really train corners, but I was racing a lot of races in the pack when I was younger … until 2012 😉 Known as a bad starter or always moving up a class or two in regional and National races to have to fight for the spot (sic). I think this is the key to my corner moves … I never really give up! Try the craziest move and it might work out … see Baku 😉
15: What where you expecting before you arrived in Rio for the Test Event? We heard rumours that the track wasn’t up to par in the weeks coming up to the race, all the riders must of had an idea about what was waiting for them?
DG: I just saw the same pic’s as everybody else on facebook, and then I heard some stories when we were in Argentina. I heard it is unrideable etc. but always tried to stay positive and hope for the best.
15: What did you think of the Rio track when you finally got to walk it on the Friday?
DG: As soon as we arrived at the track the obvious problem was the landing of that step up, it was way too steep … and we were pretty sure nobody wants to ride that thing or even could. Some guys might have jumped it on flat pedals haha.
The rest of the track did look nice from some distance but coming closer, many lips were way too steep and the whole rhythm was bumpy and deep where it shouldn’t have been. So after all, we knew this track is not gonna be the track we ride for the games.
15: Where all the riders in agreement about the track design / condition? We get the feeling it was the UK’s Liam Phillips who was the driving force behind the initial concerns.
DG: Liam and Tory set up a riders meeting, and we all agreed that the track needs some changing and stuff. It was them taking the lead, they felt the need for it. And I think with a former W1 Liam was the right guy to do that.
But in an individual sport you will never get everybody on the same line. We all agreed on some points, like the step-up or the lip of the first double on the second straight. And we started to write a list with things we wanted Elite Trax to change. But when stuff like “Guys, do we really want that drop of like 10m from first to last straight?” came up I was not happy any more! Even though they wanted to priorities the points on the list, it felt totally wrong to me that we started to question every little bit of that track!
15: Do you think the whole affair was handled correctly? Who ultimately pulled the plug on the Saturday racing? Where Elite Trax in the room for those meetings?
DG: Elite Trax was not in the riders meeting. Cancelling Saturdays racing was mandatory to change the track, there was no doubt about that.
I would have handled it a little less extreme, that’s why I did not lift my hand to vote for not giving the track a try on Friday. There was just three of us holding up their hand and telling the rest we want to ride and see how it feels. I’m sure there were more guys thinking the same but did not want to expose themselves.
After a lot of discussion, we finally got to ride the track on Friday night. It felt weird going against the majority and get dressed up to roll on to that track as the first guy. At the end we all wanted the same thing, a better track, but we did not agree on how we achieve that. It helped that there were others coming to ride too. Like Rezende, Sharrah, Turner, Mir to name a few.. we were like 15 guys testing the track and do some gates.
This is what I wanted to do the whole day. The point against it from the protesting group was that if we go out there we give them what they want and we are not making a statement clear enough. I was never feeling it like that.
If they see that nobody is riding the second straight nor the step-up they know they will have to change something to get a race going. In my opinion we could have had the exact same output (changing the track on Saturday) without getting the media to expose the IOC / local organizer for not being able to put on a good test event.
They would have changed the track after the first practice, cancel day two ’cause of some work and then run the race on Sunday and cancel it because of the weather. Media would have been; “Still some work to do but all good for the big show!”. Now the TV channels in Rio were 2 days full of BMXer’s not wanting to ride the track because it was not good enough. The IOC sure didn’t like that and that was actually my biggest concern.
After the first team managers meeting, the organizer told the Coaches. If there is no test event, there might not even be the Olympics. Sure this possibly was just a try to get us on the track, but I did not want to be one of the riders causing these problems. I’d rather ride a shit track for a test event, we have been riding shit tracks a lot in the past years, and then get them to change (what they have already planned for January) the track for the games.
15: Elite Trax made some modifications to the track over night and the TT’s and racing went ahead on Sunday. Was the track any better?
DG: It made a huge difference, everything was rideable now, except the corners. The Asphalt quality was so bad, it broke away under the tire. That was the biggest problem of the whole track on Sunday.
15: A bunch of riders sessioned the second and third men’s straight after the modifications and seemed to enjoy it. You tried it, Kimmann tested it, Rezende loved it and even Smulders got in on the act but some didn’t even roll it, saying there was still one too many jumps on the second straight … ignoring the bad surface what was it like to ride? Could the men have raced it on Sunday?
That second straight was one of the best I’ve ridden, sure it was not in a perfect shape. Some loose spots etc. but the layout and the size of the jumps are sick! But yes I agree with them, for racing the double out of turn one was way too close to the turn. So we either move that turn back or get rid of the first double and build a “Manchester step-down” to get some more room and finish turning before the first lip.
In my opinion both sides were not raceable, both because of the corners. I would have preferred going on the men’s, but since just half of the field tried it in practice it made it impossible so I was ok with racing on the women’s side.
15: Do you think come next July the track will resemble what is there now or is a complete redesign needed?
DG: I really hope so, they made some of the most important changes already. I think the layout could stay like this and they have to fine tune it a little. It was already planned before this event to put the same surface as Rock Hill on the track before the Games to make it weather proof, which is perfect. But who knows? I just hope some guys are not believing they still know better then everybody else and start listening to others before we have a mess like this again.
15: Are your 2016 plans all geared towards Rio and gathering those precious UCI points? What is your schedule looking like for next year?
DG: Yes I’m all in! My main focus is on the SX World Cups and Worlds, around that I will add some races I need to prepare and get ready. First St.Etienne …
15: Switzerland is currently lying 10th in Olympic qualification, giving you 1 spot at the games. Are you confident of getting that spot come next July? On results alone it should be yours, how do the Swiss Federation decide who gets it, is there a formal process?
DG: Roger Rinderknecht, our National Coach spent a lot of time figuring out a system for qualification and I think it’s pretty fair.
Since Sweden until Medellin all the SX World Cups and Worlds are counting into a ranking. Best three results count, at least one has to be in 2016.
¼ final = 1 Point, ½ final = 2 Points, Final = 3 Points
The rider with most points is going! I’m leading the ranking by one point over Renaud Blanc. I’m confident but I know it is still a long way to go, and he was killing it lately! So I better prepare good 😉
15: If Switzerland where to drop out of the qualification spots by the 30th May next year you are all but guaranteed one of the 4 spots for the highest ranking individual riders, you’re currently ranked 9th. That must keep a permanent smile on your face?
DG: It is the first time in Olympic history that it looks like we will have one spot almost guaranteed. It sure takes some weight off our shoulders compared to the Birmingham worlds where it was a nerve wrecking weekend. But even if I’m the highest ranked rider by that time, the spot is for Switzerland and not for me directly. So it is still a battle for that spot 😉
15: What’s the general feeling on how the qualification works for the Olympics on the SX tour?
DG: It’s too long, if I’m not wrong we are one of the only sport having a 2 year qualification time. Just because our sport is almost dead in non Olympic qualification time (outside of the US at least). It makes it hard for countries without the big budget, and it is mentally quite tough.
15: While it suits small countries like us here in Ireland, it’s not really set up to get the best riders in the world together on the biggest stage in the world. Can you see the Olympic council / UCI changing to a system where the top 32 ranked riders or even the top 64 regardless of country quotas get to go?
DG: That is the Olympics, in every discipline. I would love to have a full size event with 64 riders at the Olympics but this will not happen I guess.
The best riders are there, it sure is missing some of the better riders from the big countries. But this is part of the game. The field is less deep but definitely the hardest you can get to win one of those medals …
15: Should the Olympics not just be run like the Worlds? Everyone has a shot at the gold medal.
DG: No, it would lose a lot of it’s prestige. If you are going to the Olympics now, you are one of the few who made it, and every person in the World knows that! I think this is a big part of why the Olympics are such a big thing! Everyone has a shout at the medal, you just have to qualify yourself first.
DG: I think we have found a really good path in the past two years on tracks like Papendal, Sweden or Chula. They are already pretty extreme! I like it big but making jumps bigger is not the problem, it’s making them too small and steep that is dangerous! Ask 90% of the field what they think of that step-up in Manchester … and they’ll tell you it could be 2m longer and way less extreme with landing not that steep.
I like the racetracks, Rock Hill for example. But we have to watch out that the technical aspect of our sport is not getting pulled away with mellow and flat tracks only! Most of the Tracks will stay the same I guess.
I hope they get every race into big Arenas so we have no wind any more! And no rain … oh wait, I like rain 😉
15: You seem to be 100% healthy right now but you’ve had some bad injuries in the past, how do you deal with them, what advice would you give to up and coming riders dealing with injury setbacks?
DG: I am, and I really appreciate it! I had way to many bad ones … and I was close to giving up at least once! After New Zealand and my broken heel. But after 2-3 really heavy weeks I took it as a challenge, showing the doctors what’s possible. It needs some good people around you and a strong mind. If you really love racing or whatever you do, don’t let anything else decide when you are done! I’m more than happy that I did not quit, looking back at this season to see what I would have left in the tank by quitting to early!
15: You have been riding the new Pump Track with the 8m hill in Grenchen, it looks like BMX heaven, is that where you do most of your training when at home in Switzerland?
DG: It’s the closest SX ramp to my place. I train there once or twice a week since it’s open, and I can’t complain. It is not a full size SX track but for training it’s awesome …
15: Broadly speaking, what does your training programme look like?
250 Gates a week and I do some gym 😉 I usually do 2 recovery days per week and try to train as much as possible on my bike.
15: Who do you train with? Is your coach still PH Sauze?
DG: We finished working together after 2012, I needed a change and wanted to plan the schedule myself. Since then, I’m doing most of the planning and discuss it with Roger (Swiss National Coach), it is really interesting like that.
That’s a tip I would give to every rider … stop just blindly following a training plan, it’s good to have someone to help you but start using your head and try to figure out what you need. I often see young guys doing a session without knowing why they change gears or why they do uphill instead of downhill sprints just because it’s written on this week’s plan.
15: You ride a frame from Nicolai Bikes who are not well known for BMX. Is it fair to say they are almost a boutique BMX manufacturer who make what look like beautiful frames? How did you hook up with them?
DG: It’s a company with lot’s of history in the MTB world and they have some history in BMX too. Roger was racing on their bikes in the Woodward Downhill BMX races and Yvan Lapraz won the crazy Junior Men World Champion title in Canada on one.
I hooked up with them after my first 4cross season, and this was always their main focus. They can build whatever you want so it’s something special for sure and not something for the masses. I will try to get them to sell a little more BMX frames next season, we might come up with a replica frame kit of mine.
15: Is your frame a standard model or was it customized for you?
DG: It’s totally custom. I run a low BB and a pretty long back end.
15: You run a disc brake which is unusual. What is the thought process behind using that as opposed to the standard ‘V Break’? Are they the future for all race BMX bikes?
DG: This is a question I asked myself a lot. I still believe the BMX scene will one day get on it, and realize there is just advantages. For example, in Rock Hill I saw Carlos Ramirez almost killing himself because he wanted to stop in front of the berm jump and it didn’t. So he jumped straight into the women’s corner. Same for Oquendo! And Barry bent his forks on the pro-section because his brake did not do it’s job. Then there is Yoshi telling me he already broke like 3 carbon rear rims because of the braking.
I think it looks nice, feels great, is the same weight and most important … it works! One of the big brands should start doing it but they don’t have the balls!
15: You’ve recently had a complaint about your cut out visor, have you ever gotten comments about the disc brake from other riders?
DG: Lot’s of them ask me if I’m able to fine dose my brake (sic) … this makes me laugh. But no complaints about it so far.
15: We assume the visor complaint was to just try throw you off your game since you’ve obviously become a threat?
DG: I think so, it is part of the game to play with others minds. So I will find something else to get them worried.