We caught up with Greg Callaghan, the mountain biker who’s become something of an Irish hero, at the mid-point of the 2017 Enduro World Series calendar to chat racing, electric bikes, and the rise of mountain biking in Ireland.
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When Greg Callaghan won the first ever Irish round of the Enduro World Series in 2015, the crowd, predictably enough, went crazy. Hoisted aloft on the shoulders of his countrymen and women he was draped in green, white and gold and triumphantly carried to the podium.
As part of the Cube Action Team, alongside Nico Lau, Daniel Schemmel and Gusti Wildhaber, his already excellent performance in the EWS has improved year on year, and 2017 is shaping up to be his best yet.
BikeRadar: 2017 has been your best season yet, with three top five positions including a win in Madeira. What are you doing differently this year in your approach to racing and training?
Greg Callaghan: "It’s been such an interesting year for races, they’ve been so unpredictable.
"I took a bit of a, not a step back, but more of a relaxed approach to my training this winter. Rather than having a programme and trying to make life fit around that, I got a programme and made it fit around life, and it’s worked out way better.
"So if I want to go out on a motocross bike I’ll do it, and just adjust the training. You still get all the same things done. It’s made me enjoy it more, and therefore pay more attention to the details of things like stretching, diet and nutrition, and it’s all added up.
"It’s a combination of that experience and I’m feeling really happy on the bike. I’m having fun and trying to enjoy it."
BR: How have you found the new venues this year?
GC: "I think one of the biggest differences is the weather! [Ed: every round so far has been wet!] And everyone looks at that and says ‘oh, you’ve an unfair advantage in the wet’, but then does that mean that I’ve got an unfair disadvantage when it’s dry in all the other races? That is a different style for me, when it’s dry, and I’ve always had to adapt to that.
"The style of the races this year has been quite different. We’re not in the Alps at all this season. Tasmania and Ireland had smaller hills with one day races and shorter, more intense stages. It’s a very different style to the likes of the classic French 15-minute Alpine descent. Is it a coincidence, or is it the way the sport is going? I don’t know. But it’s exciting, I like it, and it does suit my strengths.
"Saying that, Madeira was the other side of the spectrum again, with 10-minute-plus stages there, plus short punchy stages.
"Hopefully it’ll keep going where there’s a good mix of races so at the end of the year there’s a great overall winner."
BR: You’re known to do a bit of training on an eMTB. They have something of a controversial reputation on the British Isles…
GC: "Yeah, there is a bit of stigma around them, but as my teammate says, 'I’ve never seen someone ride an e-bike without a smile'. Anyone who gives it a chance and rides one loves it.
"I love mine. Normally I’ll use it when I have a recovery ride planned. I’ll go out for a couple of hours on the e-bike because you get more trails done. You get way more value for the energy and time you put in."
BR: How do you find the handling?
GC: "If I was riding an e-bike I probably wouldn’t go ride a really tight, slippy, technical track, but if you ride a trail centre it feels so planted and stable. All the weight is at the bottom and the centre of the bike, and once you get the thing going it just wants to keep going. They’re so fast!
"If you go out for an hour on a mountain bike, you’ll probably spend 40 minutes bored on a climb and 20 minutes actually riding. If you go out on an e-MTB, you spend an hour mountain biking because even on the climbs you’re riding the bike and it’s still fun. You can proper roost turns on climbs!"
BR: The Enduro World Series has really put Ireland on the mountain biking map, and your success within the series has raised the profile of the sport in Ireland itself…
GC: "Yeah, after winning in Madeira I was on the evening news! Then I got a couple of minutes peace this week ahead of this race, it was in all the big national papers, I did a radio interview during the week.
"Mountain biking is going mainstream here! People have been joking over the last couple of years that mountain biking is the new golf, and it is! All those range rovers that were going to golf clubs are now turning up at trail centres with bikes on the roof.
BR: Is Ireland the new Scotland?
GC: "I think it could be! Because when they started putting trail centres in everyone was saying ‘oh, we’re about five years behind the UK in terms of our development’. Now it’s got to the stage that if you want to come to Ireland to ride, there are so many places you can link up now if you want to do a week or a long weekend. People are seeing that, and this race is showcasing how good the scene is here.
"There are a lot of people, pros and non pros, who’ve turned up here for the race and end up going on to another centre. Then they’ll bump into someone and end up going on a three-hour ride with them, because it doesn’t matter who you are, they’ll be like ‘c’mon, I’ll show you the good stuff.'"