He may be a regular Top 10 rider in the UCI World Cup Downhill circuit, but when Brook Macdonald returns home to Hawke's Bay at the end of each year, he loves nothing better than blasting around Pan Pac Eskdale MTB Park with friends. We caught up with the rider nick-named Bulldog at his home in Napier and took him out for a few laps in his backyard.
Returning home to the Hawke's Bay each year after the intensity of a season at the very pinnacle of downhill mountain bike racing, is as much a rest for Brook as it is a chance to reconnect with good mates.
"Living here in Napier is really good," he begins. "It's a great area to base myself out of with lots of good riding nearby. You've got trailriding, road riding, downhill and Rotorua just two hours away."
He said the lifestyle in Napier and its proximity to the rest of the Central North Island trails made it easy for him.
"I feel fresh and when I go back to racing World Cups I am ready. If I was riding a lot of downhill in the off season then it would make my season and entire year a lot harder."
"It's nice to spend a lot of time at home in the Hawke's Bay and to unwind and even take a break from bikes for a bit. I usually have a bit of a blow out and party a bit. I'll go trail riding with my mates, ride my motocross bike and just keep active doing different things. I have a lot of friends that just like to go outside and venture off into the wilderness. We go hunting, catching fish, surfing and causing a little bit of trouble," he laughs. "The surf is pretty good in the Hawke's Bay area, too."
"I am pretty happy with where I am – I have good people around me and training-wise it is perfect," he adds.
Brook is a much-decorated downhill MTB athlete. He won the 2009 Junior World DH Championship, then finished 6th overall in the UCI World Cups in 2011, then backed that up with a 7th in 2012. He won the 2013 NZ Downhill Championships and the following year he finished 5th in the World Championships and 11th in the World Cup Series. In 2015 he rounded out the top 10 in the UCI World Cup series with Trek World Racing, before signing with the GT Factory Racing Team for 2016.
"Riding on the GT Factory Racing Team – one of the best teams in the World Cup circuit – makes my life so much easier coming from Hawke's Bay in New Zealand," he shared. "I only have to think about the riding – everything else is looked after. The team has a great atmosphere and we have some fun along the way."
Brook said he had been training since the start of November and had noticed a big difference to his strength and fitness.
"I try to focus more of my training around getting my fitness to a good point and where it will last me for the season," he explains. "I like to do a few rounds of the Nationals to blow the cobwebs out and get my pace back up there on the downhill bike, but the bulk of my training is around Hawke's Bay. It's a pretty good area for riding."
The off season is also a chance for Brook to re-calibrate his goals.
"I set my goals high each year, because I want to do well and I am eager to win," he admits. "I want to have fun and be in the top-five at World Cups and to win another one. Hopefully it will all come together."
As a professional racer Brook gets paid to race and represent the brands of his team, but he admits he isn't in it for the money.
"It's pretty good these days – I don't have to come home and work in the off-season like I used to. I'm not in it for the money 100% – I actually enjoy going overseas and racing, but at the end of the day this is my job and I have to be able to make a decent earning off that. When you consider what we are doing each week then I think the money could be better. The support of downhill is not quite there yet – it's nothing like a rugby player in New Zealand, but I'm happy riding my bike and racing."
Brook was gifted his nickname, Bulldog, by fellow downhill racer and mountain bike identity Wyn Masters.
"I think it came around from some of the big crashes I have taken and walked away from like nothing happened," he laughs shaking his head. "He maybe saw me riding some rockgardens and ploughing through them – perhaps I ride like a bulldog," he laughs. "It's a bloody good nickname."
In racing Brook is renowned for being the guy to walk away from big crashes – something he attributes to another sport altogether.
"I've definitely taken some nasty crashes and got away with them. I came from a rugby background and I think that helped – just being brought up being hit pretty hard and getting bashed around. That was probably a good thing for me going into a sport with 1000s of trees around me and riding 60km/h through them. Hitting a tree is kind of like running into a 120kg forward at full-speed – I'm not going anywhere!"
Brook played rugby from when he was four until he was 16 and arrived at a point where he had to choose between riding and rugby.
"I played first five and number eight in my younger days," he recalls. "I played in the rep teams around the Hawke's Bay and made the team to contest the Ross Shield – that was pretty cool to make that and to go away and play with players who are now playing Super Rugby."
The Pan Pac Eskdale MTB Park trails offered something for everyone, said Brook.
"They have with a good mix of everything from tight, steep, fast, open trails with flat corners, off-cambers – pretty much whatever you want to ride we have it in here," he adds. "The guys here at the Hawke's Bay Mountain Bike Club and a bunch of volunteers have done a really good job of building the tracks and making them rideable for everybody. I haven't ridden every single trail – there are five blocks of them in total – a solid base of forestry riding."
"I base most of my cardio training in the forest here. It has good climbing trails, fun descents and you can definitely link together a decent workout."
He said the development of the trails on Te Mata Peak were some to keep an eye on as Napier and Hawke's Bay grew its cycling offering.
"We have 100km-plus of cycle trails here with the Hawke's Bay Trails," he shares. "They attract a lot of older cyclists and less experienced riders, which is great to ecourage people out and riding bikes and enjoying the scenery."
"A pump track is now on the shore front and it's amazing to see the region go from zero to 100 real quick on the cycling scale," Brook considers. "We have a BMX track now, the pump track, all the cycle trails, a new forest for trailriding – it's good to see it thriving in this area now. I think we will see more and more people riding as a result of that."
Despite the growth in cycling, Brook can still enjoy the peace of relative anonymity in his home town – a luxury he doesn't have in much of Europe.
"Our town is basically a rugby town so I can do my thing without people worrying about me," he admits. "In Europe that is different, but I like talking to my fans and mountain biking fans in general. I think it's good for the sport and for the fans. Our sport is still so little that it is still nice to see that buzz and to make people happy and make them feel like they are part of it. Fans love it when the riders spend some time and have an actual real conversation with them. It's good to have people who actually look up to you and are interested in what we are doing."
When you next visit Pan Pac Eskdale MTB Park in Hawke's Bay, keep an eye out for Brook and just say hello. He may even show you his favourite trails.