Wait a second. There are fast, professional gravity racers from Belgium? Despite its crepe-flat reputation, the highest peak in the Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking nation is Signal de Bontrage at 694 meters (2,277 ft), and that’s ample training elevation for top EWS rider Martin Maes.
With 27 top-five EWS race results since 2013, and seven of those being first place victories, the Belgian gravity master clearly knows how to handle the pressure. Like a lot of elite EWS athletes, Maes entered the enduro scene after securing top results on the World Cup Downhill circuit; three first place World Cup results since 2013 to be precise.
The GT Factory rider might have a little added motivation coming into the 2020 season, after being suspended from racing for ninety days in 2019 and having his results disqualified from the first two rounds. During the opening EWS event in Rotorua, New Zealand, Maes suffered a nasty gash in his leg and received medical attention in the field. Unfortunately, the medication that the emergency doc administered was included on the UCI banned substances list.
We’re excited to see Maes floating through the forest this summer, but first we wanted to get to know him a little better.
The following interview was edited for clarity.
Was the GT/Atherton Racing squad your first official team? How were you supported before?
GT/ Atherton racing was my first team. I got in when I was 15 and I learned so much during those three years. Having Dan Atherton as my mentor was a dream. Basically, my dad was helping me before that. It was a massive step forward and any kid’s dream.
Is there something about training in Belgium that helps you prepare to race gravity around the world.
Of course. We have a very complete country with elevation, [and] good tracks, but more importantly all kinds of conditions. From frozen, wet over the winter, to tacky and super dry over the summer. I found it very important to practice all situations to be 100% ready when race day comes.
How does the e-bike work into your training program?
I usually ride it once a week during my rest day. It’s great to keep the heart rate low and still be able to practice the technical side of things. They are amazingly fun too.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I do enjoy a lot going out on my motorbikes. You know, we train so much and spend so many hours pedaling. It’s such a good feeling to ride a motorized two wheeler. I also truly love spending time with people that I love.
What does riding moto do for your training?
It’s a heavy machine [and], it’s very fast and powerful which is such a good workout for my body.
You’ve been on the [mixed wheel] platform for a while now. What advantages have you noticed?
Yes, [it’s been] almost two years now since we started testing the mullet GT force. The clear advantage for me is the way the bike handles. I’ve got so much grip with my 29er front wheel and the playfulness of the 27.5 back wheels. A big 29er back wheel was always in my way as soon as the terrain was getting steeper. We clearly solved this issue with the mullet bike.
What’s your favorite local track in Belgium, and why?
The Canyon trail in Embourg is one of the best tracks! It’s a mix of steepness, speed, and flow. I love it.
What skill or mental trick has helped you perform in races more than any other?
Pacing my speed through the stage has been massive. It’s so hard to get it but once you know how to do it you can make so much time over a long rough stage just by pacing your speed.
What’s something most fans and fellow racers don’t know about you?
I’m an animal lover!
Do you still get a chance to ride with your family and friends while training?
Of course, fun is the key of success and most of my rides are done with a family member or friend.
You had an amazing 2018 season, winning in La Bresse and taking 2nd at World Champs in Lenzerheide. Do you plan to race more DH this season?
Yes, clearly. My goal is to be crowned EWS world champ within a few years. After this dream, I’ll most likely orient myself more on the downhill season. But I don’t wanna put pressure on myself. I’m aiming to focus as much as possible on my riding rather than on titles.
Do you feel that the UCI/EWS/WADA are doing a good job of informing riders of banned substances today?
As a rider I can tell you that they are not informing us at all. These are the rules and they are strict which is great for our sport. However, a mistake from our side can easily happen and there is no way back.
What tire pressure do you typically run, front and rear?
1.6 bars (23psi) in the front and 1.8 (26psi) in the back.
What’s your favorite gelato flavor?
If you’d like to learn more about Maes, check out the video below that follows him through the 2018 season.