The way they ride lying on their luge, often above 100 kilometers per hour, makes Downhill riders be labeled crazy or foolish. To see how they slide to open grave causes vertigo and a feeling of vulnerability that Mikel Echegaray, a member of the Spanish team at the World Roller Games 2019, rejects fully defending that it’s a much safer sport than it seems.
“The normal thing is that when someone sees how we throw ourselves with the luges, think straight away that we are crazy. But we have a lot of head, a lot of control, a lot of discipline … Everything is more secure than it seems from the outside”, ensures Echegaray. The rider from Donostia explains that the protections are very safe, both in terms of the gear and the precautions taken around the circuit. “Besides, to brake, we wear rubber in our feet that make us break faster than cycling. The braking is very short, so it is very unlikely to get out of the road,” remarks the Basque
The double world champion in 2015 in Street Luge and Buttboard, started in Downhill in 2006, fascinated on a television report on the discipline. He built his own prototype and participated in an event in Tossa de Mar which led him to the Downhill world. He has done this as an amateur and using part of their salary to pay for the trip and registration at events. “One year I made half of the World Tour and it cost me 8,000 euros. Fortunately, a sponsor paid for the material! “, he recalls.
Many sacrifices, and not only economic ones. Training is not easy either. “Sometimes events are organized so that we can train. But most of the time we train secretly, on the open road, and communicate by walkie talkie to let each other know if a vehicle is coming.” As if that wasn’t enough, the climate of the Basque Country does not facilitate the preparation of the riders either. “When it rains, we can’t do anything, so imagine in winter…”.
On his participation in the WRG 2019, Echegaray says he faces any competition “with the intention of winning”, also in Barcelona, although he is unfamiliar with the road he will face in Montjuïc, he has only seen it in videos and he estimates that the maximum speed will be around 90 km/h. “To reach the final is a victory and once you become a finalist you only think about the podium and, why not, the first place. Of course, those who practice bobsleigh in winter will come out with some advantage over the rest”, he says.
PHOTO: R. Otero