A year in the life of Stefani Garlicki - The ups and downs of downhill racing


Words: Stefan Garlicki | Photos: Various

The 2013 season has been a wild ride for me, with loads of ups and a few downs. Here is how it went from my perspective.

My first event for each season is usually an event I organise and run, the Avis Van Rental Paarl Downhill Challenge. The event is growing each year and 2013 saw all the top riders from around the country taking part, including world’s number fifteen rider, Andrew Neethling. It’s always a tough one for me because I am so focused on running things that it makes it tricky to concentrate on racing too. Nevertheless, I had a great run this year and managed to get second place, just 0.4 seconds off Neethling.

With this event over, I was now able to focus purely on racing. The next couple of events I participated in were local; the SA National Cup rounds one and two, as well as the African Continental Championships in KwaZulu-Natal. I did well at the events, coming second in both National rounds and third in the African Champs. I was in great form and due to fly to Europe two weeks after the second National event in KZN. However, this is a risky sport and accidents can happen. Right after this event, I was at Tim Bentleys place in Pietermaritzburg and we were having some fun on his dirt jumps. As I was pedalling in, my chain came off and I went flying over the bars and dislocated my right shoulder. I was beyond gutted!

I flew to Cape Town and made the tough decision to operate on it so it would hopefully not happen again. I knew this meant missing a few races, but I thought it was the best decision in the long term. I had the op and was back on a downhill bike in five weeks, which is unreal because it takes at least twelve weeks for most people. Although my shoulder was weak and a little uncomfortable at first, I made the best of it and work on building my speed back up.

Germany and Austria

In June, I was back in Europe and my first event was the Willingen Wheels of Speed DH Challenge in Germany. The track is a little different to the norm; it was a bit smoother and faster, with big jumps all the way down. I thought it would be a good introduction for me with a weaker shoulder. Riding against a tough field of riders, I was over the moon to get 5th place, and was just 1.5 seconds off the winner. I knew the next few races would be a little more difficult as they were European cups.

Next up were rounds one and two of the European Cup series held in Austria and Germany. I had a bit of a rough time trying to hang on and ride my best on the rough tracks. I ended with a fifty-first and forty-sixth at both rounds, which was not too bad at that stage. I’ve always had a bit of bad luck at the European Cups for some reason and my career best was fifteenth in Châtel, in 2012.

Schladming, Austria

My plan was to head to France, to race the Crankworx Les 2 Alpes event, but I decided to go to Schladming, in Austria, instead. I had some friends there and it is arguably the best track around, so it is great for training. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to get some bike time. It was exactly what I needed and after a couple of weeks I was feeling so much better, and I had come a long way with my bike setup, something I had been battling with. Schladming is a great place to go and loads of fun besides the good riding. There are mountain go-carts, which are the best things ever, and a push go-cart, which you rent and fly down a 7 km mountain road at around 70 kph! After the fun and games, I was back on a plane and heading for home, to take part in the SA National Championships in PE.

Port Elizabeth

The track in PE was average as there was not much to separate riders, making it tougher, but it was still a fun single trail and fairly fast. The track was also super tight and tricky to build up your speed, but it was the same for everyone. I ended up in second place behind Tiaan Odendaal, with just 4 seconds separating us. I was gutted because it’s such a big goal of mine and I put so much focus on it. I think sometimes when you want something too much, you can push too hard. It’s still a big goal of mine and since my first National Champs in 2010, I have placed fifth, third, third, and second, so hopefully 2014 will be my year .


After a brief stint at home, I was back on a plane and off to Andorra, in south-western Europe, for my first World Cup of the season. My travel buddy and partner in crime was Sam Bull. He collected me from Geneva and we drove to Andorra, arriving there nine hours later. Since leaving PE, I had been travelling for around 35 hours and was in desperate need of sleep.

Now a World Cup is the toughest level of racing in the sport and it also has a much tighter schedule than many of the other races. You only have one day to practice on the course before the qualifier, to get into the finals. This might sound easy, but you need to bear in mind that only the very best riders even attempt to qualify for a World Cup. There are usually a couple of hundred riders who try qualifying at each event, and you only get one run to prove your worth. So if you have a crash or a mechanical problem, it’s game over. There is a lot of pressure to get the job done and this is the reason why racing in the World Cups is so tough. However, it’s the same for everyone, I just needed to pull out all the stops.

After walking the track, I knew this would be a challenging race as the track looked like the gnarliest track I had ever ridden; super steep, rocky, fast, and long. Unfortunately, my weekend took a bad turn when I had a small crash and sliced the palm of my hand open. I needed stitches and due to the position of the cut, I was unable to ride.

Pila, Italy

I kept my head high and moved on to the next European Cup in Pila, Italy. It’s one of my favourite tracks and I had a solid ride that saw me come in nineteenth. It was my second best result ever and my second top twenty. Pila is definitely one of the best places in all of Europe to ride and train in.

Ilmenau, Germany

We decided to make the long trek to Ilmenau, in Germany, for a German Cup round. I had podiumed there in 2011 and was looking forward to going back for the win! The track had changed and was new, but it was pretty similar to a South African track, being a bit flatter and shorter. We all had a blast and I ended up with a seventh place, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, I was less than 2 seconds off the win and less than a second off the podium, so although really frustrating my result was still good. My good friend Christian Textor invited us to come to his place after the race and we had an awesome time! We got to ride some rad jumps, and pump tracks and trails, while meeting new people and loving it. It was a good break for us and we felt refreshed for the next event in Wiriehorn, Switzerland.

Wiriehorn, Switzerland

I had been to Wiriehorn before and enjoyed the track there, which was crazy fast. I knew I had a good result in me and after I seeded sixth, I thought a win could be on the cards. In my race run, I made a couple of silly mistakes and had to settle for eleventh, just 6 seconds off the winner, Manuel Gruber. Once again it was a little frustrating to be so close to a top ten, but that’s how it goes.

Morzine, France

From Switzerland, we flew to Morzine, in eastern France, to spend a week riding and training at Rider’s Refuge. It was great fun and if you ever decide to go to Morzine, head to Rider’s Refuge where the meals are included and you get the works! I didn’t have much time here, as I needed to get home for the World Championships in Pietermaritzburg. It was such an honour to be selected to race for South Africa in the World Championships for the first time. It had been a massive goal for me and to do it and get my SA colours was amazing.


It was such an awesome feeling to have to have my parents and friends at the World Champs to support me; it really does make a big difference. The track was slightly different to the other World Cup tracks, with a monster pedal section in the middle, but it’s also the fastest track of the season and has massive jumps. My goal was a top twenty and I knew that if all went well, I could definitely achieve that. However, my run just didn’t quite go to plan and I ended up coming fortieth, only 6 seconds off the top twenty, which is not a lot on a long course like Pietermaritzburg. Despite my disappointment, it was still a solid result and a huge step in the right direction for me. That race was probably the most enjoyable of my career so far.

Châtel, France

There was no time to hang around though, and a few days later, I was on a plane back to Europe for the last two World Cup rounds and the last two European Cup rounds. First up was the European cup in Châtel, France. I love the track there so I was super excited. I seeded twelfth, but the weather changed for the finals and made the track a nightmare. I really battled in the cold and wet conditions and after crashing twice, my hands were full of mud and it was impossible to hang on. I had to cruise down and settled for eighty-second place, a huge let down, but I needed to move on.

Hafjell, Norway

The Monday after the event, I flew up to Norway and met up with the SC INTENSE World Cup team for the Hafjell World Cup round. It was a rad experience to travel with the team and have their support, so I am really thankful for that. I was looking forward to Hafjell because in 2012 as I had really loved the track there, but things just didn’t go to according to plan. I was determined to have a good race in 2013 and get into the finals for the first time in Europe, having only ever qualified in Pietermaritzburg. After a good day’s practice, I put in a good run for the qualification. I started out strong, but I was so worried about messing up at the bottom that I eased off slightly to make sure I kept it together. This almost cost me, as I just made it into the final in seventy-eighth position.

Just before the finals were due to start, it started to pour with rain and the track turned into a river. My goal was to keep it on two wheels because I knew loads of people would crash out. I managed to do that and got down in sixty-ninth, a huge step forward for me confidence wise.

Leogang, Austria

We were off to the airport first thing the morning for our flight to Leogang, in Austria, for the World Cup finals. I was excited as I now knew that I could do it and I was ready for more. The track had changed a lot and was more technical, resulting in an interesting first day of practice. I felt good going into day two for the qualifier. However, fate stepped in when our van was broken into and all of our Morewood bikes stolen - from right outside our window. Sam, our other partner, Adi van der Merwe, and I were devastated to say the least, as this effectively put an end to our weekend of racing. We reported the theft to the cops, but we knew we would not see our bikes again. We were now left in a tricky situation, as there was still one event left that was taking place the following weekend. So we thought it would be better to find some bikes and race in it, to end off the trip on a positive note. And we did just that. We borrowed three bikes and went to race in the last European Cup in Maribor, Slovenia.

Maribor, Slovenia

It was the first time I had been to Maribor and the track was absolutely awesome. It had loads of jumps, roots, and natural sections, making it my favourite European Cup track of the year. However, the weather did not play ball and it rained the entire weekend, turning the track into an ice rink. I had never been great in the mud and I had never enjoyed the mud until this race! I absolutely loved every minute of it. During my race run, I was flying until I hit a tree and was forced to stop. But even with that huge mistake and riding a borrowed bike that was too small, I still ended up in forty-first place. This was another milestone for me in terms of my confidence and mud riding. Being the last European Cup round, this event marked the end of the series and I finished up twenty-third overall, a huge improvement from my seventy-something in 2012.

Munich, Germany

Before flying home, we decided to stopover in Munich, Germany, to attend THE October Fest, and what an awesome experience that was. Anyone who wants to see a party, go there and enjoy. I had booked to fly home on the Thursday of that week, but when I arrived at the airport, I was told that the flight was over booked and would I like to spend another night in Munich? At first I was not to keen, but then they offered me 600 Euros and a free night’s stay at the hotel. Needless to say, I stayed and flew home the following day 600 Euros richer.

Malelane, Mpumalanga

It was great to be home and chill out for a bit, mentally. I was still training hard for my last event in Malelane, Mpumalanga. I was determined to race, so I borrowed a Trek Session 9.9 bike from Thomas Rood, and I am very grateful for this. Even though I had only ridden the bike about six times before the event, I felt confident I could have a good result.

I walked the track up and was excited because it was a proper track; super steep and technical. The event was a little different because it was so far out, so we all stayed together and it was a really good fun weekend for all that attended. I had a couple of good days’ practice and a few punctures, but I felt ready for race day. Although I made some silly mistakes and ended third, just 2 seconds off the lead, I felt good because I knew I had more in the tank. However, it all fell apart in the race run when I got a flat tyre just 30 seconds into the race. I was disappointed, as this was not the end-of-season result I had hoped for. On the positive side though, I knew I was riding well and it was just equipment failure.

That brings us to the present, and it’s been an amazing year with loads of good times. At the end of it all, I went from one hundred and fifty-something in the world rankings to forty-sixth, I ended twenty-third in the European ranking, I finished fortieth at World Champs, and I finished second at SA Champs. It was definitely my best year so far and a huge building block for the future. I still have huge goals in this sport and I will reach them eventually!

Although I am riding the bike, it takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to keep me out there. Too my parents, trainer (John Wakefield), and everyone who supported me, I say THANK YOU. To my main sponsor INVESTEC and all my co-sponsors (Morewood, Seattle Coffee co, Virgin Active, Leatt, Bell helmets, Csixx, Hayes, Odi, Sun Ringle, Spank, Science 2 Sport, Red Bull, and Giro shoes), I could not have done this without your support and I am really thankful and fortunate.

I hope you all enjoyed the read and I will see you in 2014. Until next time …