Of the eighty final qualifiers in an elite men's World Cup, there is a rather obvious divide; the majority are factory or team riders, but then there is a small pocket of 'working class hero' privateers. Whilst racing is a full-time career for the team riders, the privateers are, on the whole, juggling their racing with work to chase the dream of World Cup glory.
Privateers have to be resourceful both at home and at the races, utilizing their time and energy wisely as they split their resources between working and training. They are their own team manager, trainer, and mechanic—sorting travel and accommodation in the preseason and footing the bill themselves. Then at the races, the factory riders have other people taking care of logistics, travel, food, kit, and bikes whilst they focus solely on the racing, meanwhile, the privateers are tackling all of this by their selves, making the task of racing or even qualifying a tough one.
Our 'case study' for the Lourdes weekend was young Scottish pinner Lachlan Blair, who after spending 2016 UCI points chasing in Europe landed himself a 69th finish in Andorra which set him up points wise coming into this season. After a few frustrating years of having the pace but perhaps lacking in consistency Lachlan is fired up for a successful 2017.
“So basically it's really hard to do World Cups if you're from GB as there are so many quick racers. To do a World Cup you need to have points or a national jersey, it used to be six jerseys but it's been cut to three now so it's super hard to get one of those. The other way is going points chasing in UCI categorized races, and again, the amount of points has gone up this year to forty now. In the UK there are no UCI races so you have to travel to places like Slovenia to try and get them. Unfortunately, those races are usually packed with really fast boys so you never get as many points as you are hoping for…”
“The easiest way of getting points is at a World Cup but it's also the hardest. At the end of last year, I had enough points to race Andorra and I knew it would be important to qualify and get a good haul of points. I qualified but crashed in my race run so only got twelve points for sixty-ninth position. The dream position…”
“Being a privateer you're very limited on budget so I've been working at Nevis Range in Fort William over the winter working the ski lifts but there was very little snow this year, which meant there was very little work, and now very little money! So I'll be doing the races as cheap as possible and just slapping the credit card down!”
“When there is work you've got to fit your training around that, so I'd work eight until five and then have to prioritize my time, whether that be going to the gym or heading out on the bike straight after work and then getting home late for dinner.”
“At the start of the year, you write down a rough calendar of all the dates of various races across Europe and jot out a plan for the year. I like to avoid flying as its costly business, no one wants to fly when you can drive on the cheap and live out the van. Depending on the schedule of where and when the races are, changes the travel plans. With the first race in Lourdes and with no other races around it, I decided to fly out. So I flew from Edinburgh to Bordeaux on the cheap with Ryan Air, find the sketchiest hire car company with the biggest excess and therefore the cheapest price, and then the finest two-star hotel in Lourdes. The weekend in total cost around £600, that's travel, food, and entry. World Cup entry is €80.”
“Airports are the worst things ever. Travelling with a bike can be a nightmare, dragging them about along with your other bags, and it costs a fortune.”
“I usually arrive on the Tuesday or Wednesday so will get the bike built up and make sure she's working fine by doing some wheelies and cutties. Usually, for spares I'll take a set of tires, I don't own any spare wheels so can't take them, which is good as it saves weight… I'll have a little rummage around the shed and if I have an old mech which isn't too bent that will get shoved in too. To maximize the efficiency of flying to a World Cup the dream is to fly with only a bike and hand luggage to avoid paying for the hold luggage. That means you need to pack the hand luggage with as much heavy stuff as possible, as long as it's not tools as they'll get taken off you. Then shove all your clothes in your bike bag along with any spares that you can get in without going over the weight limit.”
“With no mechanic or pit space in Lourdes, I had to ride to the track from the hotel which is a pretty good warm up to not having a turbo trainer... At the other Euro World Cups, I normally have my van which I live out of and can keep my tools and spares in, going back to it between runs. It's taken me a while to work out how to qualify for a World Cup. Turns out you can't have a casual run down the mountain into a nice seventy-ninth place qualifier… You have to go flat out to stand any chance of going near the top eighty. I had about four years of not bothering getting in the top eighty, I've been quite consistent in being top eighty-five though!”
“In Lourdes, I had the best qualifying run I've ever had, it was a super sketchy run. I thought I had a front flat all the way down after getting wild in the top rocks. Nursed her down, after years of not qualifying and automatically looking over your shoulder when you cross the line, praying that it's a sub-eighty number. So I was pretty shocked to see that I'd come down into thirty-fourth. The best qualifying I've ever done.”
Photo © Phunkt
“Then for the race, it's a bit weird after coming from the Group B practice first thing in the morning, you suddenly get to sleep later with the elite qualifying happening later on the Sunday and not being on the greasy track first thing in the morning like on Friday and Saturday. For the race run, you basically see how fast you can go without ruining yourself. My race run in Lourdes was slower than my qualifying as I came to a stand still on two occasions but steamed down the bottom section and salvaged some time, ended up in forty-forth, two seconds slower than my qualifier which was a bit of a bummer. But stoked to be going into Fort William with number board forty-seven as that's got me more UCI points, and now I'm in Group A practice and get longer practice sessions and timed training which is such an advantage over the early morning Group B practice with the limited time on the hill.”
“The hardest part of being a privateer is money. Trying to afford to do anything. Everything is expensive and you don't have much money anyway, so you've just got to find a bank that'll give you a nice big credit card, drop the load on that, interest-free is the dream… This year I've budgeted, quite ambitiously, £600 per World Cup… Seven World Cups—that's some serious cash. About £4k on World Cups…”
"Well worth it though and can't wait for the next round!"
Words & Photography: Ross Bell
Rider: Lachlan Blair
World Cup: Lourdes