When he’s charging down the race track you’ll often hear Matti Lehikoinen described as the ‘danger man’ in the field. Not only is he capable of putting down an impressive time, with multiple World Cup top tens and a win in Brazil back in 2006, but also because when things go wrong for him, they tend to do so in a pretty spectacular fashion. In fact for three years in a row Matti was unable to avoid some kind of serious injury, like simultaneously breaking both wrists or breaking two vertebrae in his neck.
Last years race season came to a devastating end for Matti when he crashed in his race run of the Nordic Downhill Championship in Sweden. As his head hit the ground a rock came into the front of his helmet causing massive damage to his jaw, cheekbone, teeth and nose. With the World Cup now just eight weeks away we caught up with Matti to see how he’s been holding up.
Matti Lehikoinen relaxing in the woods of Kalpalinna, Finland. Photo by Rami Lappalainen/Red Bull Content Pool
Hi Matti, how’s the recovery going?
It has been going pretty good. Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating because I can’t do as much as I’d like but I’m getting there.
It’s good to see photos of you back on a bike, what were the first few rides like?
It was like first few baby steps. Unsure if it was a good thing but then after few rides I started to feel a bit better.
Can you remember much of the crash?
Unfortunately I can remember most of it and some really gnarly details!
You’ve had some serious crashes and injuries in the past, how did this one compare?
This one was a lot more painful and pretty scary.
When you broke both your wrists, there rumours that you may not be able to ride again. Did hearing those words make you more determined to make a return?
Hmm I never heard these things haha. Obviously I got told that it might take a while before I will be ok but I was pretty determined and knew in the back of my mind that I would make come back no matter what.
You’ve said before that where you live in Finland it’s really flat, so how did you get into riding downhill?
I always get asked this question and I still can’t think of a good answer for it. I was racing cross country as kid and then one day I came a cross interview of Shaun Palmer and got that inspired of him that I wanted to try this cool sport called downhill.
So how do you stay at the top of your game with terrain like that?
I think it takes a lot of hard work and determination. Because I need to work really hard to get the same sort of time on my downhill bike, then others are lucky enough to have it in their ‘backyard’. I can work on my fitness at home pretty easily but having time on my bike is a whole another thing.
Matti Lehikoinen training in Kalpalinna, Finland. Photo by Rami Lappalainen/Red Bull Content Pool
You’ve been with the Chain Reaction Cycles team for two years now, how are you finding it?
I couldn’t ask for better support! We have a great atmosphere and I really enjoy being part of the team.
Did you find it tougher this past season being the top rider on the rosta?
Not really. When you all travel as a team all year long you become more friends with your team mates, and don’t really think about these kinds of things. I think the others look up to me because I am the ‘veteran’ in the team so I think I need to behave like role model some times.
What about the new bike, are you enjoying riding the Scalp?
Yes I am. I’m really happy with the new bike. It came out really good with good angles and great suspension.
Things didn’t go quite to plan for the team at the start of the season with Lewis Buchanan and Matt Simmonds crashing out and injuring themselves. Did you have any words of advice for them?
Yeah it was a huge bummer that the first time we were all together we were cut down to from four to two! I did have chat with both of them and especially with Lewis, because I have been in the same shoes as he has. Being the junior rider on the team you are expected to do some great things and you do feel bit pressured.
This past season especially CRC were one of the most prolific teams out there with a string of videos from each big event, were they fun to be a part of?
It’s really good for the team and Chain Reaction Cycles to get video footage and coverage from the races. Most of the time it’s fun to do them, but when things are not going your way it is bit annoying when cameras are in your face and you really don’t feel like doing interviews. But you just got to suck it up and be professional and get on with it.
Clay Porter’s film 3 Minute Gaps was released this year, which of course you starred in. You’ve been in a few of Clay’s films now, what is it like to be part of such a successful string of films?
I am super stocked that Clay has asked me to be part of his film. It’s an honour to be part of it!
How does filming compare to racing to you?
I would say racing is the fun stuff and filming is the hard work that comes along with racing.
Looking forwards to the future how long do you think it will be before you’re back on a downhill bike again?
I am not sure yet when will I be 100% ready but I have already been on a downhill bike. So I don’t thing it will be too long till I am back in action.
Do you think you’ll be ready for next year’s race season?
Yeah sure! It won’t be easy, but I am ready to work my ass off that I can race again and do what I love to do the most!
Is the thought of racing next year helping you stay focussed in your recovery?
Yeah definitely when you are down and out all you want to do is get back on your bike. When you have goals in your life you believe in them and work towards them. That has definitely helped me in my recovery!
Thanks for your time Matti, and all of us at IMB hope you’re back to full speed soon.
Remember, you can keep up to date with all the latest news from Matti on his facebook page.