With three World Cup races gone and five to go we are not quite at the halfway point of the season, but the natural pause between Val di Sole at the start of July and round 4 in Vallnord on August 26th has given riders time to reflect and gather their thoughts.
The 2023 season is different. New series organizers have brought in many changes, most notably for the riders the change in qualification. The introduction of a semi-final after qualifying now means that riders are pretty much racing from the get-go. It’s full-on. There’s no gentle build up to the weekend. Riders get a few practice runs and then (unless you are protected) you are straight into knock-out downhill racing.
INTENSE Factory Racing team rider Joe Breeden has had mixed fortunes over the last two seasons. After injury last year that saw him sidelined for most of the season, in 2023 he missed out on qualifying for the semi final at round one in Lenzerheide by just one second. It was a different story at round 2 in Leogang. He made it easily through qualifying and the semi final… he was in the main event, but maybe went a little too safely in the final. He finished in 30th, scoring some much needed points.
Round 3 in Val di Sole and all was looking good. Again he made it safely through qualifying. In his semi finals run he was on for a top 20 finish and qualification, then on the second to last corner things went a little ‘off script’. Joe now sits in 48th overall, we caught up with him to get his views and opinions on the season so far.
Hey Joe, so how has the season been going so far for you?
It was a slow start, I’m still rebuilding after my injury last year. It’s tough when you put so much into something but see very little reward for an extended amount of time. It’s times like this which I believe make or break most people. I have made some huge leaps the last few races, which has been very encouraging, and I’m excited to keep building. Third place at UK National Champs (above) last month was a nice marker for my progress.
High points and low points?
High point was probably making it all the way through to the big final at the Leogang World Cup, the result was nothing to talk about, but it marked great progress from what has been a very challenging 12 months for me. Low points were seeing Aaron (Gwin) go out with injury at the first round, and not making the World’s team for my home World Champs in Fort William.
Your antics on the second to last corner at the Val di Sole World Cup became a bit of a social media sensation. Talk us through it?
Ughhh unbelievable! At the time I was extremely frustrated, but looking back now I did extremely well to stay on the bike and I gained a viral clip out of it haha! I went slower than usual off the ski jump, as I was worried about my hand blowing off the bars. I managed this all good, but as I entered the corner through the big braking bumps my hand did blow off. There was a moment where I managed to hold on via my number board and had a good lean going around the corner. I thought I could still make it around with one hand, but the bike hit a dust hole and stood me up. It was a matter of survival from there.
Frustrating for you that you were on a good run?
Absolutely, to be running top 15 in the splits until then was very encouraging, but to not solidify it into a final result was extremely frustrating!
What are your thoughts on the new race format at World Cups?
I’m a fan of more racing, but I think it needs refining. It’s a long ongoing discussion.
And what do you think about the season finishing so late this year?
It’s still a relatively short season in comparison to most other sports, but the late finish is a little strange. I don’t mind as long as the weather is still good to us, which may well be unlikely in Canada during October haha!
What about the tracks and venues that we have left? A mix of new and old. Are you looking forward to any in particular?
I love Les Gets, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Snowshoe, so I am very much looking forward to those. I have never ridden the new track at Andorra nor Loudenvielle, so those will be exciting to learn.
It’s been a tricky year for the team with both Aaron and Seth (Sherlock) getting injured and missing races. You know how that feels, but how has it affected the team this year, especially the loss of Aaron?
It was difficult to watch Aaron pull out at the first race with an injury like that, unbelievable really, I really felt for him and the whole team. We were excited to see what he could achieve after a very strong finish to the 2022 season. I equally know how challenging and frustrating it is to be missing races due to injuries, and how hard it can be to recover from a broken elbow. I really hope Aaron and Seth both make a strong recovery and we get to compete as a whole team before the season ends, we miss those guys.
Aaron is quite a cool customer, can you let us in on any of his secrets? How he approaches things, stuff you have learned from him, etc.
Haha, now I cannot give away those secrets! Aaron has helped me simplify the process of racing and has truly helped me understand that often ‘less’ can actually be more. He’s also very good at staying calm in stressful situations and keeping a calm head on him at all times. He has been a great inspiration and help for me.
How different is the team dynamic now with it being just you and Dak (Norton)?
Me and Dak are two very different characters, but we get on and work together very well. Racing with Dak is great, with it just being us two riders at the last few races it has brought us much closer. We are always supporting each other, discussing bike set up, line choice, prep, etc.
And have you tried to ride your front end set up like him, with his crazy ‘Dak Stack’!?
Haha I haven’t yet, but he for sure keeps trying to convince me to. I will give it a good test at the end of the season, he sure makes it look good! I used to think I was the definition of a high front end, but since getting to know Dak he has certainly shut down that theory!
It was obviously disappointing for you to not make the highly competitive GB squad for this year’s World Champs in Scotland, but you were there in support of Dak. How did it go?
It was for sure a difficult pill to swallow, home World Champs at a venue I love, how couldn’t it be!? Pushing that to one side, it was amazing to be there in support of INTENSE Factory Racing and Dak. We have built a great relationship this year, I understand how he works and I think he trusts me, so I wanted to be there to do everything I could for him. It was an interesting and valuable perspective to experience, helping with food shopping, cooking, line spotting, logistics and other random requests. Dak always puts his all in, so it makes it all worthwhile.
And you are a long time friend and training partner with Charlie Hatton. It must have been quite amazing to see him win the gold medal and rainbow stripes?
Ohh yes, I’m so pleased I got to be there to witness that. We have been best friends and training partners for years. I never knew I would be so emotional seeing him win his first World Championships. Everyone seemed surprised, but knowing him as well as I do, I wasn’t, in fact I predicted it before his run, but for it to actually happen was something else.
So the next few weeks, what do they look like for you.
I’m at home in Wales training hard both on and off the bike in preparation for this next big block of racing.
With five World Cup races to go, what are your goals and aims?
I’m not too concerned about the overall standings, this year is a building year towards bringing home a World Cup title in the next few years. The goal is to keep learning, consistently build the pace, and hopefully that results in a top 10 or two before the end of the season.