Going Downhill With Albert Snep

Albert Snep’s sports career is going downhill fast.  The Scots College year 13 rider is the freshly minted New Zealand Secondary School U20 Downhill champion after winning the National Schools Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin.

Albert won his maiden national schools title by just over a second to runner-up Todd Balance of Nelson College, with Indy Hawthorne from Shirley Boys’ High School in third.  In wet and slippery conditions, Albert negotiated the course in the fastest time of the day of all riders in 3:19.13.  As the name suggests, downhill mountain biking is a race to the bottom. The fastest time from the top to the finish at the bottom wins.

“It is not all about speed though,” as Albert explained. “You have to put on a really fast run but you also have to negotiate the track and the rock gardens and in the case of this weekend the wet conditions and really concentrate.

“This race was a weird one, because I came second in the seeding run and I missed it by a second or two. I stuffed up my seeding run as I overshot a corner and had to pull my bike out of the bush a bit and get back in and start pedalling again.

“So I was sitting at the top ready to go for my main run thinking that I can’t stuff this one up, I have to go for it and have a fast one but also a smooth race.”

What was the course like? “This track wasn’t super-steep, it was quite mellow, but in places it was quite fast.

“It was pretty good the whole way through. I had a couple of squirrely sections and I slipped a bit at the bottom but besides that it was really good.”

There were three events at the National Schools Mountain Bike Championships, Enduro, Cross Country and Downhill.  Some riders compete in all three, but Albert just concentrated on the Downhill, which is his specialty event.  The potential for injury is also high, as Albert found out on his recent first trip overseas to Europe with the New Zealand junior mountain biking team.

“I tore my rotator cuff [shoulder] when I was in Europe three months ago, which is my only injury so far.”

The injury cut his trip short, from six to two weeks.

“I started off in a race in Andorra, which followed a 40 hour trip to get there and then get on my bike and start riding and also adjust to the altitude. I blew my tyre off its rim and recorded a DNF and the week after I got injured.”

Despite the result he said it was still a good learning experience and he is keen to return to Europe in the future, although perhaps not next year as next year is an Olympic year making the mountain biking circuit disjointed.  Downhill mountain biking is not on the Olympic programme, just cross country cycling for now.  Albert has been a downhill mountain biker for about three and a half years.

“I was riding a bit of motor-cross and a bit of cross country but I finally let dad buy me a downhill when I was about 15 and then got into it and started racing soon after.

“My first race was the North Island Secondary School Championships and I finished about 13th and was close to the back of the pack.”

His coach is well known and respected New Zealand mountain bike coach Gavin Key, who is based in Wanaka.  Downhill mountain biking is Albert’s sole competitive sport, which is mixes with a bit of surfing and skiing. He goes to the gym for up to two hours most days, while also juggling school.

Over 400 riders from 110 schools around the country competed in the Downhill races across several age groups, with riders facing the demanding test of Signal Hill, made more challenging with wet conditions overnight and some rain throughout the day.  Other Wellington region riders to make podiums were Kapiti College pair Millie and Kate Day. Millie Day was second in the U17 Girls Enduro race and third in the U17 Girls Downhill and Kate Day was third in the Girls U15 Enduro.

Photos courtesy of Kane Fleury Photography