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RAAW Privateer Profiles: Nuno Reis

RAAW Privateer Profiles: Nuno Reis

This year we launched our Privateer Program. For us it was a simple way of trying to help out people with their sights set on World Cup downhill racing. Just getting to the start line of a World Cup is a feat in itself, so if there was a way we could help out a few people, and give them one less thing to think about, then we were all in.

We chose a pretty diverse bunch of people, coming from very different parts of the world and each with their own story to tell. So throughout the year we’ll be checking in with the racers we support to learn more about them, their bikes, where they come from and how that influences their path to racing at the highest level.

First up, Nuno Reis.

Portugal is a place that a few of the people involved at RAAW hold close to their hearts. Julian, our graphic designer, lives in Lisbon, and a couple of us head out there often to absorb the different way of life and let the clocks tick a little slower as we watch the waves hit the shore.

Nuno hails from Sesimbra, a small fishing town just south of Lisbon. He’s been riding since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Often in a family, the younger sibling will follow in the footsteps of the older sibling, and the same is true with Nuno. His brother raced dirt bikes, but when he made the switch to mountain bikes, Nuno followed and began to enter events. But at the age of 8, it wasn’t possible to race downhill or enduro, so he chose to race a lot of cross country. Looking back it gave him valuable race environment experience, as well as a good foundation of fitness for when he switched to downhill.

And have an impact it did. Nuno went on to rack up an astounding amount of wins in not just national races but at a European level. He won the IXS Rookies International Championship twice, won every round and took the overall of the IXS European Cup in the Pro Under 17 category, and then went on to finish 3rd overall in his first year of junior racing at the World Cups in 2020.

Racing alone takes a huge amount of time and focus. Throw going through high school into the mix and it can make for a very challenging balancing act. Nuno has his head screwed on, and recognised that with time away from school due to racing, and the unfortunate restrictions owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, his performance at school was suffering in his junior years.

During that time, the EWS race calendar fit better around his school work, and with a background in racing enduro, he decided to switch things up a little. There’s more to enduro racing than meets the eye and it’s simply not a case of putting the DH bike down and grabbing the enduro bike. He found that adapting his riding style was more challenging than expected. But race by race Nuno progressed, even earning some top 15 stage finishes.

But downhill is a truly infectious bug. And once he finished, and passed, all his exams, he was ready to race downhill again. Lourdes, earlier in 2022, had proven itself to be a bit of a mess. Riders struggled for practice time on the challenging course, and with only 3 practice runs in total before you need to qualify, Nuno unfortunately didn’t manage to make the cut at his first elite World Cup.

But with the weight of study lifted from his shoulders, he made his return to downhill in Val di Sole. After some time away from the pits, he was greeted with a warm welcome back to the racing family and describes this as simply a lot of fun. Maybe that was the catalyst for his impressive return to racing.

Admittedly, it took him some time to find the rhythm and speed on the horrendously rough course. But run after run he started to feel better and better and surprised himself with a 46th place in qualifying, as he didn’t feel he was that strong at that point.

Building confidence is like building a tower of Jenga blocks. It takes a lot to precariously balance the blocks to build the tower, and the smallest of nudges can bring the whole tower crashing down. The moring of the race, Nuno’s first practice run brought him a wobble, as he destroyed his wheel on the first run. But the World Cup circus is full of GCs, and with a little help from another team’s mechanic, he was up and running again, and ready to race.

He describes the adrenaline and goosebump feeling at the start, listening to all the fans cheering. This was his first elite final, and he was absolutely thrilled to be there. He hit all his lines, and admittedly got a bit wild in some places. But that’s only a sign of a racer really pushing it. Finishing 26th is your second ever shot at a World Cup is mightily impressive. And coming away with a top 10 in the Mercedes Benz key section is the cherry on the cake.

Nuno is now in college. Racing is a huge priority in his life, but for him, an education is also important. But the college timetable is more flexible and allows him to focus completely on downhill racing and a full World Cup season, while still attending classes.

By this point in the year he’s already raced four rounds of the Portugal Downhill Cup and been testing with Fox suspension in Lousa. He’s getting after it, and capitalising on the late start to the World Cup season.

Despite a solid amount of time on his Yalla! so far, Nuno says that he’s been comfy on it since day one. He’s been riding it pretty exclusively in the mid settings of all the adjustment ranges so far and found the geometry to be a good fit for him. As riders learn a new bike, and inevitably gain more and more speed as the season progresses, their setups often reflect this in the amount of support they need their bikes to give them. It’s a common thing for even the average Joe. Bikes start soft and comfy at the beginning of the year only to become progressively stiffer and firmer. It’s always a hilarious first ride in a new year, as you jump on a bike set up for some end of season hooning.

But Nuno has found that with his need to not be off at one end of an extreme setup, he’s been able to find a really good base setup for the whole bike and suspension, thanks to the guys at Fox. Getting 80% of the way there only needs 20% of the effort. But finding that last 20% needs 80% of the work. And Nuno has been chipping away to find it. As he got faster, he searched for more support from the rear of the bike, and played around with the compression damping to give him that support, but without adding in harshness. Fox was on hand in Lousa to retune his shock and give him exactly the support he needed from the damping, without him needing to go up in spring rate, and so allowing him to retain more sensitivity in the rear suspension and have a better overall feel of balance as the bike goes through its front and rear travel.

Sesimbra sits on the south side of the mountain range, and gets hot in summer. This makes the terrain rocky, hard pack, slippery and hard to ride fast, if you aren’t used to it. Despite having ridden and raced at many different places, Nuno’s favourite trails are the ones on his doorstep, especially when shared with his brother and friends. They inevitably hunt out the steepest and hardest lines and quite often struggle to ride them in the process. But Nuno find this good, as being humbled by a trail reminds you of just how hard it is.

For those trails, a bike that is glued to the ground is a paramount trait. Traction is hard to come by and the trails are narrow and challenging. You’re on the brakes more often than you might like, so it demands a lot of the bike to scramble for every last piece of grip possible. He finds that for home he gravitates towards a softer damped bike in compression with slower rebound compared to a World Cup. Once you get between the tape, the line is much wider and he finds that there is anyway more traction available than at home, even on the tracks that people complain about the lack of traction. But generally, and as a result of the higher speeds and bigger compressions and jumps, Nuno runs a firmer damped bike in compression with faster rebound.

The geometry of the bike so far has changed little between home and World Cups, but now that Nuno has found a good base setup on his Yalla!, he’s excited to try out the different adjustment options on offer to change the geometry and suspension. Fine tuning the bike for each race track is a big plus for him and he now plans to dive into the different chainstay lengths to adjust the bike length and wheel loading, as well as the lower and higher progression options for the leverage ratio to adjust the amount of ramp provided by the suspension as well as the changes in ride height and sensitivity.

As the World Cup season approaches, Nuno’s excited to head to the big mountain race tracks of France, Austria and Italy. The landscapes blow his socks off and the crowds make the experience a huge amount of fun. But he’s also really looking forward to heading over the pond to the USA and Canada. It’s his first time racing over there, and this excitement is something that has proven itself to be a good fuel for success before.

We’re beyond stoked to support Nuno, and the rest of the Privateer Program. From day one, his application stood out with professionalism and passion, which made it hard to say no considering we’d already decided on everyone else. He’s already shown in a short space of time that he’s committed to not just race day, but the hard graft that goes in behind the scenes with training and bike preparation. He’s also shown himself to have a good feel for the bike, and can listen to what it's doing and what might need to be done to get it to where he wants. We’re extremely excited to see what Nuno and his Yalla! can do this year.

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