After nine years at the head of the pack in 24 hour solo events, Chris Eatough is changing gears. Bruce Hildenbrand gets to the bottom of Eatough's plan for 2008 in Part 2 of his exclusive interview.
"I'm realizing that there are other forms of endurance racing as well, now, " says Chris Eatough. "Plus the multi-day, epic style of mountain bike racing is getting really popular now. It's a great thing that's bringing a lot of adventure back into mountain biking.
"I'll be doing the Cape Epic and BC Bike Race next year. I'm excited about that and I think it's a great style of mountain bike racing that's bringing a sense of adventure back, as opposed to doing laps around the same course or three-mile laps on a World Cup style course. This is truly something out there in the wilderness true to the nature of mountain biking."
There are a number of factors which make 100-mile races interesting to this UK-born, American champion. "What I like about the 100-milers right now and why I think it appeals to a lot of people is that it is much more do-able than a 24 hour race, not just because the distance is less, but because you don't need a support crew," he said. "Most of the 100-mile races I compete in do not allow any kind of support. You can only use the race-provided support which is all you need because they have good feed zones every 20 miles or so, fully stocked with food and drink. They don't really want people driving around a 100-mile course on motorcycles and minivans to provide a waterbottle to a rider when there is already a feed station. It kind of defeats the purpose of a backcountry wilderness race on mountain bikes.
"I could get the support if I needed it," he added. "I could get somebody driving around out there, handing me a water bottle every five miles but I like the fact that it evens out the playing field. Most of the racers at these events are amateurs and they don't have access, usually, to that kind of support. I think it is fair for everybody to have the neutral support. The courses are usually one lap, 100-mile epic adventures. You do the whole thing on one bike so it really tests the durability of your equipment and your riding style because you have to ride your bike safely enough and calmly enough to get through the whole 100 miles. I think it brings in a whole lot of aspects of backcountry mountain biking that other forms of racing don't have."
In the later stages of Eatough's career, he's become more of a veteran racer and the product development aspect is even more important. "I have a master's degree in engineering, so I'm probably able to give that feedback to the engineers better than most bike racers would be able to."
So what does the future hold for Eatough? "I feel my position in the sport and my career has definitely changed a bit in the past year or two with the arrival of our baby girl," he said. "If you think about it there are not a whole lot of top-level mountain bikers who have a family and raise children. Tinker is one who comes to mind, but there aren't many others.
"In road racing there's the potential to make enough money to take care of your family alone," he added. "But it's really difficult in mountain biking because usually you're not going to be making enough money to be able to support your whole family, so your wife probably has to work, too.
"My wife does work so that provides all kinds of challenges: who's going to take care of the baby when I am traveling? How do I train during the day when my wife is at work and I'm at home taking care of the baby? These are things that are working out quite well and I am finding out that it can be done. It's something that I'm very proud of to be able to win races and win championships and basically be a full-time dad as well."
"The thing that allows me to do that is the support of my wife and the fact that she works as well and is able to work around my training schedule and racing schedule and a little bit of help from the baby's grandparents now and again. I feel that is a big part of me now and a big part of who I am, something that I am proud of these days is that I can still do well in bike racing and represent my sponsors well."
Chris Eatough's career is in transition. With the responsibilities of having a family and the lack of a bonafide 24-hour world championship, his training and motivation are changing. That might be good news for some of his competitors, but for the races Eatough has set his eyes on for 2008, they had better take heed.
© BikeRadar 2007