Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes (unless stated otherwise)
It’s fair to say that British rider Joe Breeden has had one hell of a year. From the emotional highs back in January when he first joined the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team, to the lowest of lows when he crashed out and injured himself at round two of this year’s World Cup on ‘home soil’ in Fort William. What at first looked like a nasty cut was in fact a comminuted compound fracture to his elbow. Joe smashed himself up good and proper. A season that should have been the high point of his race career so far was abruptly cut short. Joe’s been through the wringer this year.
After going through some dark days after his injury, recovery and rehab followed, and miraculously he was back racing just three months later. That alone is testament to his character and determination. We’ve mentioned this before, but downhill racing is a rough old sport. Joe showed doggedness and resilience to fight back and get himself back between the tapes, firstly at Snowshoe, then Mont Sainte Anne, and finally Val di Sole. We caught up with Joe to hear what he had to say about his 2022 season and his thoughts on 2023.
Joe with team mates Dak Norton (center) and Aaron Gwin (right), with the mighty Mont Blanc in the background.
Can you sum up your 2022 season in three words?
Huge learning curve.
What about the high points of your season?
Settling in with, and getting to know the whole team has been amazing. The only person I really knew when joining IFR was my mechanic Jon, so it was great to get to know everyone individually. We’ve built some great relationships already and I can’t wait to continue growing these with everyone at the team and INTENSE, and to see what we can achieve in the coming years.
One of the other stand-out highlights has to be the hands-on experience of developing a new DH bike with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals in our industry. That in itself has been a super cool process with so much learnt.
Which was your favorite track of the year?
Mont Sainte-Anne (above), although I couldn’t hold on for longer than a third of it. I thought it was an awesome race track with a mixture of everything in it. I was gutted to wash-out in my race run, I felt really good on the track race day morning and was really enjoying the riding. I look forward to another go next year.
Where there any stand-out races, racers or race runs that impressed you?
For sure the last World Cup in Val di Sole where both Dak (Norton) and Aaron (Gwin) got on the podium, and we achieved team of the day (above). To end the season on a high like this was MEGA! I think it will have given everyone a boost and kick of motivation and encouragement ahead of all the hard work this off-season.
And the low points of your season?
When I was bopping to one of my favorite songs getting played in the race pits, and then hearing Lauren Gwin (Aaron’s wife) say ‘how can you even call this music!?!’ I felt shut down, ha ha! To be fair, I ask myself the same question, but I still love it. For reference it was quite nasty drum and bass.
On a serious note, Fort William World Cup, where I shattered my elbow, was definitely the low point for me. It has been one of my biggest mental challenges so far. I don’t think I have ever broken down emotionally like that before. I had put in so much work through the winter, it didn’t show at the first World Cup and then just as I felt things were starting to come together, I got taken down and out basically for the whole season. It was quite a dark period for me, but I truly believe now going forward it might just have been a blessing in disguise. I have learnt so much from it.
Do you like the fact that the 2023 World Cup season doesn’t start until June? How will that affect your off-season and preparation?
I am appreciative of this, simply because I am still recovering from my elbow injury. I underwent another surgery in early November, which went great, but now I need the time to recover fully and regain my strength, fitness and confidence. On top of that we have another new DH bike on the horizon so I’m stoked to be given the time to put our all into that, and have it race ready by round 1 next year.
What does the off-season hold for you?
The immediate focus is to recover from my surgery as best as possible, and focus on regaining full use of my elbow and my overall strength and fitness. Following that I’d like to spend a lot of time riding all sorts of bikes (hopefully also with the team), help develop the new DH bike, and shoot a few edits.
Photo: Ale Di Lullo
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned this year?
Above all, the importance and value of confidence on the bike.
Any messages or advice for your team mates?
I’d just like to thank everyone at IFR/INTENSE for an enjoyable and valuable year, and for having my back despite facing some of my biggest challenges yet.