Mikayla PartonIn the midst of the chaotic 2020 World Championships in Leogang, there were a few shining moments for riders who could thrive in sloppy conditions. One such rider was Scottish privateer Mikayla Parton, who felt right at home in the wet woods. 2020 was Mikayla's second year competing on the World Cup scene, and she has shown that she is a rider to watch in the future.
Where are you from?
I was born in Inverness and have lived in the Fort William area my whole life!
How did you get into riding and then racing?
Although I grew up in such a popular destination for mountain biking, I only got involved in the sport in 2015 when I was 17/18 years old. My brother started going to the West Highland Wheelers kids bike club which encouraged my family to join in and thereafter I tried it! In the beginning, I spent a lot of time learning to ride with my mum who was already a legend on a bike. She was better than me for a good while, she’ll never let me forget that! After riding a trail bike for around a year, I got my first downhill bike. I had been loving riding the downhill track at Nevis Range so it was the next step for me. Very shortly after getting my downhill bike I entered an SDA in Innerleithen and was hooked. The adrenaline, the tracks, the people, the noticeable progression… it's addictive! I’ve always chosen to go to races and I’ve been motivated to race for myself, although my family are supportive it’s always been my decision. Flash forward to now I’ve been racing World Cups and placed 5th at my first World Champs in Leogang last year which was crazy!
How much of an impact did the World Cup in Fort William have on you growing up?
If I had been a rider growing up I think it would have had a huge impact, I see it in other young riders from Fort William, it really encourages them! For me, since I started riding later in life it didn't really impact me. I remember going to the World Cup but I had no idea what was really going on. Although, since becoming a rider and a racer, it’s definitely had a huge part to play in my love for downhill racing. Over the last few years, it’s always been a dream watching the World Cup and imagining racing at Fort William. In 2019, where I competed in my second ever World Cup at Fort William my dreams became reality, starting in the famous eye was a feeling I’ll never forget and I really can’t wait for another chance at it!
Who do you ride for?
For the 2020 season I had separate sponsors and raced as a privateer. Greenpower, an incredible sponsor for me helped that with my racing. Nevis Range provided me with my Trek trail and downhill bikes through their partnership. Endura clothing supported me for a second season, they are only two hours down the road from me, full of lovely people!
What bikes are you riding at the moment?
I am currently riding a small Trek Remedy 9.8 and a small Trek Session 9.9. My wee remedy suits the trails I ride locally, it feels great on tight, slippy naturals which we aren't short of in Fort William! As for my Session, I started out on full 29 set up but tested out a mullet set up in Europe on holiday, since then I haven't swapped back, I love it! Being 5ft 3 the 29er felt a little cumbersome, having the smaller back wheel I feel I can be way more aggressive.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m definitely a morning person, so I’m always keen to get out the door. A typical day for me would always start with a really good breakfast, training or not training. Then a ride at my local trails (with friends before lockdown, mostly solo for now). You’ll most likely find me on the filthiest track having a great time! After a few laps, a gym session might be on the cards to work on the noodle arms. I always end my night with a wee hot drink and some chocolate, I’m not lying.. every night! It’s a problem and I'm not prepared to fix it.
What has your experience of racing World Cups as a privateer been like?
In April 2019 I travelled to Maribor, Slovenia for my first ever World Cup. The month before the World Cup I decided to head to a Portugal Cup in Lousa since I had never raced my bike abroad and I didn't want the World Cup to be the first. I really didn't know what to expect and still had never completed a full British series. It was a huge jump for me and I really threw myself in the deep end. Unlike for the two World Cups in 2020, I didn’t have a mechanic with me or even a car to pit from. Luckily the Trek World Racing team allowed me to have space in their tent to leave a bag while I was at practice and racing. Not knowing many people at the races sometimes felt quite lonely. I’d be lying if I said some situations I found myself in as a privateer made me question whether I could do it.
I have many funny (not funny at the time) stories to tell from travelling as a privateer. At Leogang 2019, my third World Cup, my lift to morning practice slept in! Thankfully I knocked on the door of another riders dad who was staying with us and he rushed me to practice, although I was late for an already short practice! Sleeping on sofas and not getting very much sleep, having no idea how to fix something and travel logistics were common issues. Last year for the short season we had, I was lucky enough to have Ben Cathro offer some pit space in the Walk the Talk tent, it was amazing to have somewhere to chill out and base yourself from, this really makes a difference to the weekend. At World Champs 2020 myself and my mechanic Matt didn't have any pit space or even in the beginning, a parking pass to get into the event! Matt stood at the bottom of the track in the freezing rain every practice with anything I needed. Legend!
What are your strengths?
Microwaved mini eggs. Apart from that, I am a pretty motivated person and I think as an athlete that’s essential. I don’t need any encouragement to get my training done, I absolutely love it and don’t like to skip anything out. I’d like to think that’s why I’ve progressed in the time I have.
And your weaknesses?
Also microwaved mini eggs. On another note, I’ve been working on my line choice and looking ahead more. I can be a bit of a main line warrior and don't always see the race lines.
Something else would definitely be my bike mechanics, having a boyfriend who is a bike mechanic is the best and worst thing for me!
Favourite place to ride and then to race?
It has to be the World Cup track at Nevis Range for both! Some may say I'm biased but the ideal day for me is a sunny day (it does happen) smashing out laps with the regulars! Even when you think you've ticked off every part of that track, someone takes a new line or gaps some different rocks… always something to work on. As for racing, any race whether it’s an SDA, BDS or World Cup, there’s always an amazing atmosphere at Fort William and I always have lots of friends and family around which helps massively. Seeing friendly faces and having conservations with people at Fort William makes my day and improves my race mentality.
What do you enjoy doing away from bikes?
Although I’d be lying if I said I didn't want to ride my bike every day, I do enjoy a day off and going for walks with my friends, family and family dog. I don’t do any running for my downhill training but I really enjoy a hill run, very occasionally! I regret it the next day though. Away from exercise, I enjoy cooking and baking and have a big interest in nutrition, it’s something I’d love to study.
Are there any others racers or athletes you look up to or inspire you?
There are so many people who inspire me, in the World cup circuit there are currently so many amazing female riders, I can’t mention them all! Away from racing Casey Brown is unbelievably cool and watching the videos from Proving Grounds was crazy. She’s small like me which makes it cooler haha! My friend Emma, who is also a very popular local personal trainer, gym owner and athlete inspires me a lot. She holds the bench press world record in her category and she's an absolute hero. Nothing seems to hold her back!
How does it feel looking back on that 5th place run at Worlds in Leogang?
I absolutely loved the Leogang track, especially the woods! I was having so much fun in practice just trying to get through, it was unlike any other race I had been too. My qualifying run went so badly, I was feeling so frustrated with having three crashes. When the race came along, with it came the grim weather, I decided to do more of a tactical race run. My plan was to keep it safe at the top and not take any risky lines although they were faster. Then, for the woods section, ride it feet up and stay on your bike! I knew this section was where I could make up my time. Unfortunately, I did come off once in the woods but I knew most people would so I kept pushing and managed to stay upright and feet on the pedals for the rest! I didn't expect to be sitting in first when I came down as my run felt very average, I was so stoked! I went out with the hopes to get a top ten and when I kept my position as the race went on, I couldn't believe it. Knowing I was in the top ten, then top eight, then top five! Myself and Matt were buzzing at the bottom, I couldn't have done it without his help.
Your season then ended with that race run crash in Lousa which left you with a concussion. How have you found it recovering from that? Are you back riding now?
My crash in Lousa still give me shivers, I can’t watch the video anymore! My concussion was very bad and I learnt a lot from it. I had never had a concussion to that extent before and it took me much longer to recover than I thought… I still feel like I'm recovering with the occasional mild symptom. I don't think enough people realise how serious it can be and the right precautions to take, I’m speaking from experience as I certainly didn’t know. Once I returned back to the UK after some rest, I started to attempt some small walks but even this was too much. I went back to square one again and was sofa bound for a further two weeks unable to look at screens, look at daylight without sunglasses and move anywhere quickly without having shooting pains in my head. I also had awful whiplash in my neck that took around a month to clear. I am back riding now but I'm not back to where I was, it’s hard to not get upset about these situations but I’m working on my riding and confidence, I know it will come back. I’m enjoying being back training and most of all able to get outside and move for my mental health!
Is there something you’ve learnt over the last few years racing that you wish you knew at the start?
So many things! I’ve made so many mistakes in my short racing career but I’ve also learnt a lot from them. One would be to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Do what is best for you, ride what line is best for you, run what tyres are best for you. Someone else's best might not be yours! Another would be to have more confidence in myself at a race and to not get so nervous. Nerves can be good and avoiding getting nervous is impossible but learning to deal with them properly is key. This is a hard one for me and I’ve not fully discovered it yet, hit me up if you have any tips!
Do you have any advice to anyone who wants to get into racing?
Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and don’t give up when it doesn't go to plan! When I entered my first SDA I had no idea what it was, I didn't know anyone and stuck out like a sore thumb. It can be a very intimidating environment and can easily leave you feeling not worthy. In reality, those feelings are only going to come from within, everyone else is busy doing their own thing! Don't let yourself be put off by a bad result or feeling uncomfortable. Racing is a great way to stay motivated for training, travel, to see your progression in riding, try new features or jumps and meet like-minded people.
What do you think could be done to encourage more girls into the sport and into racing?
Of course, it would be great to see more girls take up mountain biking but I do believe this situation is improving and there is loads of great female riders up and coming. Locally to me there are some really promising young girls who are beginning to race. Although keeping young girls in sport is something we can help to encourage with having plenty of female role models riding and being supported by companies/brands to race. Showing girls that riding isn't just for the boys, you can still be “girly” and ride fast! I’d like to think I could help encourage girls who haven't grown up riding to start mountain biking and that it’s not too late.
Finally, what are your hopes and aspirations for 2021 and beyond?
Well, I think I speak for everybody that I hope for a normal race season in 2021! With the pandemic last year and the cancellation of races it was hard to not feel lost in training. I’m really looking forward to hopefully attending lots of races this year to gain more experience, get good results and improve my racecraft. I’m absolutely buzzing for Fort William, I've got all my fingers and toes crossed for that one! I hope to consistently qualify at the world cups and I’d love to be chosen for World Champs again. As for beyond, to own a house full of puppies, especially sausage dog ones.