One of the brightest new hopes in downhill mountain bike racing tells us how he plans to make his mark on the 2009 race season, about his awesome new ride and training with his team-mate, former world champion Sam Hill…
Imagine this – it’s the last round of the World Cup and you’ve qualified second on a course you love. The start beeps echo at the top of the run and you wind off into the trees. You’re having an amazing run and the atmosphere is electric. Every corner you hit feels perfect and you’re sticking all your lines and having the time of your life. This could be the one.
But just as you exit the woods into the wide open final corners you feel your front wheel wash out. It spits you over a crest and you ragdoll 20ft down the hill from your bike. You get up and carry on but you know it’s over. And just when you think it can’t be any worse you make it over the finish line only to be told you were 0.18 of a second up on Sam Hill!
For us it would just be a bad dream, but that’s exactly how last season ended for British downhiller Brendan Fairclough. We caught up with Bren and asked him about his new ride for 2009 and his hopes for the season…
BikeRadar: First up tell us a bit about Brendan Fairclough. How old are you and where are you from?
Brendan: I’m 21, from Headley in Hampshire and have been riding for pretty much as long as I can remember.
What got you into downhill racing?
Well I started riding cross-country, decided I didn’t like it that much so I tried my hand at downhill. I found I was pretty good at it and it just went on from there.
What bike are you riding this year?
Specialized Demo 8.
How are you getting on with it?
Really good, still working on a few things but it’s going to be amazing.
Does it differ from the stock model?
A little bit, it’s got some different angles and lengths.
Is it any different to Sam Hill’s?
A lot – mine is way better!
You’ve been on four different bikes in as many years. You’ve ridden two single-pivot bikes back to back (Orange then Honda) and now two linkage bikes (Iron Horse and Specialized). Has it ever been hard to adjust?
Yes, every year I’m on a different rig. It would be good to stay on one for a while this time. I really like the feel of the Specialized and they are such a good company to be associated with.
I’ve always found it really easy to adapt between bikes. I’m quite lucky in that sense. If you’ve been riding long enough then you learn what you like and don’t like, and can set your bike up to suit you.
I’ve got so many good people around me to help me get what I want from a bike too. There’s so many things I’ve liked about every bike I’ve ridden and I’m really happy with my bike for this season.
Have you had to change your riding style to suit the different bikes?
Every bike has to be ridden in different ways so, yeah, I do have to change little things to make the bike work better.
You've grown up riding in Surrey, which isn’t known as a downhill hotspot, because it’s flat. How have you become so good?
We’ve got so many amazing riding spots nearby that I don’t feel held back by where I live. We’ve got short downhill routes everywhere and world class dirt jumps in all directions.
I can have as much fun on my jump bike and motocross bike as I can on a mountain really. It’s all riding at the end of the day. I’ve always ridden with people as passionate about riding as me so we always have a good time whether it’s cross-country or dirt jumps.
I also ride a lot of motocross, maybe too much sometimes. It’s really important who you ride with. Without good people to ride with all my life I wouldn’t have improved.
What do you think makes the UK such a strong nation at downhill?
No idea! The tracks aren't that good and the weather's shit. Maybe it’s because British riders are so dedicated and have had people to look up to in the sport.
You ride dirt jumps a lot. Does this help with the rest of your riding?
I think it’s the main reason for my speed on the downhill bike. I can’t really think of any other reason. I’ve always ridden trails from the word go and still have the best time riding a good set of trails.
What training have you been doing for the upcoming season?
Not much, but I’ve been in Australia recently with Sam Hill and we’ve been hitting it hard. I can’t say what we were doing but it’s way more than I’ve ever done in the past so I’m looking for good things to come from it.
What training method do you find most important for World Cups?
It’s hard to say, I’ve never trained properly before!
Which World Cup tracks do you enjoy the most?
It’s got to be Mt St Anne (Canada), Fort William (Scotland) and Schladming (Austria).
What makes them so good?
They’re fast, technical and you really have to let go of the brakes. Schladming’s my favourite. The track has it all – jumps and steep rough sections. It's one of the most physical tracks on the circuit. I’ve always done well on this track, maybe because it’s so rough and technical with no pedalling. I’ve got no idea why I’m good at the technical tracks – I never ride that sort of stuff at home.
And how about your least favourite?
Canberra and Willingen because they're both flat and all that’s needed is a fat pair of legs.
What’s it like having a teammate who’s so successful? Does it help your own riding?
I don’t think so. It’s more important that you get along with your team-mate and I've got along with Sam real good. When I first signed for the team I thought he was a grumpy git but as I got to know him I found he’s a really funny guy and great to travel with. I couldn’t really ask for a better team-mate and we always have fun practising together.
It’s hard travelling around the world with someone for six months and not getting on each other’s nerves but we seem to have done okay so far. It's cool though that we can ride down at the same speed and just have fun roosting photographers and other riders.
Was it odd being placed on a team with the rider of the time when you joined Iron Horse? Did you feel under pressure to live up to Sam?
I didn’t feel there was any real pressure to be honest. I think it would be a mistake letting the pressure get to you, and I get on with all of the guys so well that it was never really an issue.
Does Sam have any annoying habits?
Yeah, he always beats me!
Do you have habits that annoy him?
You’ll have to ask him that…
Sitting at the start of a race run always brings out the nerves. Do you have any way of dealing with it?
Not too well or I would be two-time World Champ already… I never really feel the pressure that much but maybe it comes out in my riding when I make mistakes on the track. But I think this year will be a different story because I’ve come into the season fitter mentally and physically.
What’s your favourite mountain biking moment?
One of my best moments would have to be when I was first picked up by [British downhill star and multiple World Cup winner] Steve Peat to be mentored by him. That was back in 2004. It was such a stepping-stone for me. It kicked off my whole mountain bike career and I wouldn't be where I am now if that hadn’t happened.
What keeps you riding? You seem to enjoy it so much…
I'd really struggle to travel around the world riding my bike if I didn’t enjoy it. Just riding with mates and the banter that comes along with it is so good. What makes me really want to ride is trying new things – new lines and turns that I’ve never hit before.
I’m very lucky to have a big bunch of riding buddies at home, who have pushed me on during the off-season. My brother Christian is also a big reason that I’m still riding – I always have someone to ride with because he’s always keen.
I have the most fun riding with all my friends in my back garden. We always have competitions between ourselves, trying different stuff and trying to outdo each other.
Do you have any plans to move anywhere and train properly? Peaty did it, Marc Beaumont’s doing it and so are the Athertons. It seems to make a difference…
No, I like home too much. But I have travelled over to Australia to get my head down and train this year because there are just too many distractions going on at home.
What are your goals for 2009?
My main goal is to be top five overall, not to crash in Schladming and to take the win!
Ed's note: Brendan is currently eighth overall in the 2009 UCI World Cup rankings after four out of eight rounds. Stay tuned to BikeRadar to find out how he does.