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Four-Cross: No One Gives You an Inch on the track

By Adam Marsal

In 2010 he became Four-Cross World Champion in Canada. This year he repeated the feat in Austria. Invincible Czech rider, Tomas Slavik, shared with us more about his sport and what he finds hardest.

Tomas, what is Four-Cross or 4X?
It’s a form of racing which has also become popular in skiing or snowboarding. You race down a steep track with all sorts of obstacles. Four riders compete at the same time in knock out heats, with only the two fastest moving onto the next round.

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(Photo: Adam Marsal, WeLoveCycling.com)

What do you need to become a World champion Four-Crosser?
Four-Cross races are extremely fast sprints on technically challenging courses. To be the fastest, you need explosiveness, huge strength and really good technique to master the jumps, turns and rough terrain. Tactics and experience are also key factors. Finally, the will to win, without that there is no point in turning up because no one gives you an inch on the track.

In 2012 Four-Cross was removed from the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Mountain Bike World Cup. What was your reaction when you found out?
At first I was shocked, but then I realised that there was no point in feeling like that. Our sport can survive without being included in international associations. Instead it became the beginning of a new era for Four-Cross, with the launch of the 4X Pro Tour Series in 2012.

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(Photo: Adam Marsal, WeLoveCycling.com)

How would you rate performance amongst the World’s Best Four-Crossers?
Even though our sport has split from the UCI, the level is still very high. There are not quite as many top pros now as there were before, but they are faster. New racers have come along from Germany and the UK and they are really dedicated to the sport. Anyone out of the top ten has got what it takes to win races. When I am beside them at the start, I never know if I’m going to be faster than them or not.

Czechs are at the top of the sport. Why is that?
I ask myself the same question. We’ve got a strong history of BMX racing in the Czech Republic. Michal Prokop set the ball rolling when he became World Champion in Lugano in 2003. It was a huge boost for a lot of Czech riders because they realised that if Michal can do it, they could too. The Czech Cup was well organised and we had a number of similar events as well. We currently have the JBC 4X Revelations Race in Jablonec nad Nisou, a small town in the north of the Czech Republic, where I’m currently living.

Recently you became Four-Cross World Champion for the second time. Was it harder or easier than the first time round?
I was probably in the best shape I have been in since I probably have the highest mileage under my belt for this season. Nonetheless, when I failed to win again at the 4th World Championships, I suffered a mental block and found things tough.

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(Photo: Adam Marsal, WeLoveCycling.com)

This year you have started focusing on downhill. Why?
Basically I have won everything I could have won in Four-Cross. There are still a lot of racers I need to compete against, but I started looking elsewhere for motivation and at the moment I have found it in downhill. The downhill component of 4X has always been my weak point, but I came 36th in South Africa after a few days’ training.

Why do you find downhill difficult?
Physically I’m in very good shape. Although it is very different to 4X, it suits me pretty well. For me the most difficult part of it is the technical aspect. I have always found it a bit daft to be looking for the right line when you are flying down a hill at thirty miles an hour in a section with wet roots and big slippery stones. You have always got a fifty-fifty chance. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, then it hurts.

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(Photo: Adam Marsal, WeLoveCycling.com)

Do you think you will succeed?
I hope that I can bring my experience from 4X in downhill. I am giving it a trial run this season, to find out if I have a chance of making it in this discipline.

Wheel diameters are increasing in mountain biking. Does that trend apply to you as well?
Larger wheels don’t help you in 4X because they don’t give you enough acceleration at the start. However, in downhill it is a key issue and we are currently working on a prototype of a Ghost Downhill Bike with 27-inch wheels.

Is your body working the way it should this year?
In Leogang I had a crash when I was doing some downhill training. I whacked my back into a tree stump doing about thirty. Fortunately nothing major happened and I can race with it. Every rider’s aim is to chalk up good results and have fun, but above all to avoid any injuries. Touch wood that it continues that way.

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(Photo: Adam Marsal, WeLoveCycling.com)

How do you see the future of 4X?
The courses are going to be more demanding with bigger jumps and more treacherous surfaces and there are going to be more spectators everywhere with each passing year. At least that’s what I expect and would love to see.