It has been a year since 31-year-old Kashi Leuchs, of Dunedin, finished racing at the elite level in cross-country World Cups, but in late June and early July he will don a different helmet and reignite his passion for racing.
The three-time Olympian for New Zealand will be racing in two selected downhill endurance events in France: the Enduro de Nations at Val d'allos, France from June 25-27 and the Mega Avalanche at Alpe d'huez, also in France, on July 11.
Both events attract the world's best in this new and fast-growing discipline of mountain biking that tests riders against each other and 20 to 40 minutes of downhill terrain.
"These events really show the overall riding ability, as they combine the technical aspect of downhill racing with the endurance and power demanded from a cross-country race," Leuchs explained.
"I would love to see more events bridging the gap between XC and DH. Events that everyone can enjoy and get some thrills, without having to be an elite athlete as in XC races."
Downhill racing is actually nothing new to Leuchs – he has been in the top three in New Zealand downhill competition before and he and friend Laurence Mote, of Christchurch, won the teams event at the 2009 Brake Burner, which was held at Coronet Peak.
"It was so fun to just spend the day up on the mountain in a really social atmosphere, competing as a team with a good friend and riding some sick trails over and over – it was legendary," he laughs, reflecting on their win.
A catalyst behind Leuchs's trip to France to race these events has been a new bike he has acquired: the Yeti ASR 7. This seven-inch trail bike has become a firm favourite of the cross-country star and he believes it is the perfect bike for these endurance downhill events.
"I have always loved downhill riding, but this was never regarded as a sensible activity for a pro XC rider. Now that I have stopped racing seriously I've been playing on lots of different bikes, but the big travel ASR 7 has totally hooked me. This bike transformed me and gave me the confidence to hit the roughest lines at silly fast speeds," he explains.
So what are his chances in these fast, dangerous and super-competitive races in France?
"While in the States recently I was riding with some top downhillers and realised that I can keep up pretty well on technical terrain. So, I'm keen to put myself to the test in an event now. My big weakness at the moment is big gap jumps and super high-speed cornering, but I think I'll make up for it in pedaling and in the tighter technical terrain," he offered.