The top twenty slots on a World Cup Downhill or Enduro World Series results sheet are often peppered with a healthy number of French riders, and whenever I get a chance to interview French athletes I ask if they have a hunch why that is.
To give a little context, four of the five men’s EWS leaders in 2019 were French, with three Frenchmen on top in 2018, and two atop the women’s elite category for both 2018 and 2019. On the downhill circuit, two French women and two men earned a top-five at the 2018 World Champs race in 2018, and in 2019 the rainbow stripes in both elite fields were awarded to French athletes. There seems to be some special gravity gravy these talented folks have access to.
Sunn Enduro Team rider Kevin Miquel is no exception to the “fast French” trend. After snagging a top 20 result at the 2017 EWS event in Finale Ligure he cracked the throttle open for a pair of podiums in 2018 and moved up considerably with six top-ten results in the 2019 EWS season for a final overall position of third behind fellow French native Florian Nicolai. If Miquel gets the chance to race in 2020, we can expect his consistently rising wave to surpass another step or two on the podium.
If you need a humorous break from pandemic news, check out Miquel’s Instagram account, where you’ll find him pulling cars for training and playing music on house cleaning instruments. Let’s learn a little more about him first.
What region of France do you live in?
I was born and I live in Cavaillon, country of Melon, like the fruit, in the south of France. It’s 80km north of Marseille.
You started racing with BMX. How do you feel that experience has helped your gravity career? What about BMX makes people good mountain bikers?
I started BMX at the age of 5 until 14 years old. BMX is a fun activity. Therefore, I always had fun and I did not feel the hours I spent on the bike. So I think it teaches fun on the bike from an early age, and basics for me. [You learn] explosiveness, jumps, balance, and contact. Many qualities come from BMX and are ingredients that allow us to be comfortable on the mountain bike.
What are some of your favorite local trails?
I live around three mountains (the Luberon, the Monts du Vaucluse, and the Mont Ventoux), which are quite varied even if we have a lot of rock and limestone ground. I really like riding in the Monts du Vaucluse which are trails suitable for enduro. Very narrow laneways and technical, with breathtaking landscapes, even if we know them by heart. Then there is a four-season bike park in Nyons which has just been created and which is really good.
Is there something unique about the terrain near you that makes it a good training base for world enduro athletes?
Our trails are really suitable for enduro. Natural, narrow, very technical trails, with speed and a few committed sections. We have good soil with roots so our land lacks nothing. We can have descents of 1 to 2 minutes or then descents of 15 minutes. You have to like climbing and pedaling, haha!
Are there other professional riders nearby that you train with?
No, I’m the only one. This winter I was lucky to be very often accompanied in all my [riding] sessions. But if not, the other pilots are quite far from home.
For readers who have never ridden in France, where are five places you feel they need to check out when they visit your country?
I have to say at my home. It is a beautiful spot with typical villages and really cool enduro trails. But if not close to my home, there is the town of Dignes les Bains, where riding is really great with some descents in gray land and lunar dirt. Then I really liked Loudenvielle. It is a city in the Pyrenees, where an EWS will be organized in 2021. The landscapes are crazy, and the riding is super cool. Earth and root are on the menu with a lift system. I recommend it in summer.
After those is Olargues, at 1.5 hours by car from the city of Montpellier. The place is called the Carroux mountains, with a shuttle system, there are hundreds of very technical trails, with earth and stones. If you are a [confident] rider, you have to go there!
For a 4th destination, the Vosges region is truly atypical. The town of Raon l’Etape has a small mountain with only good soil and roots. When the weather is nice, there is a sick grip!
Finally, I don’t do too much bike park but I really like Les Orres station as well as the Montclar station (best value for money).
Why do you think there are so many French gravity pros at the top of the EWS and World Cup DH results?
France has a fantastic playing field so it helps us a lot. And we can notice that strong nations (like France) have a terrain which is suitable for downhill and enduro. And then we have a lot of clubs and good coaches. The whole thing makes the nation strong.
A lot of readers haven’t ridden a Sunn bike. Can you tell us what’s unique about your race whip?
I already think that the design of the frame is unique with something very radical and marked. It’s the character of the bike. In addition, it’s a bike that works really wel. Sunn was a special brand in the 90s. Now, with the globalization of brands, it is difficult to differentiate and show that the bicycle works well. But I assure you, it’s crazy!
The trails in southern France are notably steep. Do you set your bike up differently to ride at home versus some flatter tracks?
No, I keep my bike as it is, with the same settings. This is special in enduro because in a day of racing, we can have so many different tracks. So in winter, we (my mechanic and me) try to configure my bike for all season. I can change a little if my energy, body, or something like that is different.
How long have you been working with Formula for suspension? Can you tell us what you think of their Selva fork and Cura brakes?
It will be the third year that I work with them and it is a real happiness. We are currently riding with the Cura 4 Brakes (4 pistons). Powerful and progressive brakes that require almost no maintenance, it works really well. Then, concerning the fork, I ride the Selva R (full air), which is very sensitive and which is really made for racing. On the other hand, a Selva S already works really well for a rider who doesn’t race.
Which 2019 EWS round did you enjoy most and why?
I loved Derby in Tasmania. It was so unusual. We were in a village of 150 inhabitants which hosted an EWS but above all a village with hundreds of trails. Then on race day, an impressive number of spectators for such a small island. Unbelievable.
Where is your favorite place to ride outside France?
I really liked the Ossor Bike Park in Spain this winter. Afterwards, driving to Madeira Island in Portugal is really something to do when you love enduro trails. Then, for the purists, a classic, Canada with Whistler and especially Squamish!
Finally, the ever important question: Who do you think will win the 2020 EWS overall?
Martin Maes in men, and Isabeau Coudurier in women.
Thanks for the chat Kevin, we hope to see you between the tape soon!