Racing and winning at home is one of the greatest accolades that any top level athlete can achieve. Greg Callaghan has done that twice already and is looking to add to that tally this weekend. Leading the overall after the first three rounds in 2017 has set a great foundation on which to do so, and we got the lowdown from Greg on his thoughts and feelings coming into this weekend's EWS race in Wicklow.
Well, that was a pretty wild start to the season! How does it feel to be leading the overall after three rounds?
It's pretty mad. Not sure that it's really sunk in yet. I keep having moments when I'm like, ''Jeez you're the current best in the world, that's a bit mad, isn't it?!'' I keep having to pinch myself a bit, and I'm trying not to think about it too much and focus on next weekend as before you know it the weekend will be over; blink and you'll miss it! Rotorua was a battle from the start. As you know, it rained for the top guys on stage 1 and we all lost loads of time. All day we didn't know where we were; the only info we heard was that Richie was 73rd or something on Stage 1 and he finished right behind Damien. He'd caught Damien, so we were all like, ''shit, we're outside the top 100,'' as it looked like he'd had a good run. People were saying to me I was going well and giving me a few hints as the timing was real sketchy in the forest, and there wasn't much signal.
I got a puncture and thought I'd blown it. Tazzie was pretty similar; there was a lot of deja vu. On the way up to Stage 1, it started lashing with rain again, we knew a lot of guys had already been through the stage so we thought we'd lose a lot of time but the tracks held up well because they are so rocky; eventually, it was just wet for everyone. I had a pretty big crash on Stage 2 and broke my hand as I found out afterward, and I had a bit of a mechanical so couldn't pedal properly for the rest of the stage. I was surprised to find out at the end of the day that I was leading it and joked, then crashed on the last stage and lost a second but was still so happy. On the one hand, it would have been amazing to win and then Madeira would have been two in a row, but on the other second is still sweet; just to be mixing it up and fighting for the wins is cool.
You looked to have really stepped it up this season. Has anything changed or is it as simple as building momentum?
Yeah, it's been building momentum and just learning through experience—how I respond to training and different foods and even racing… One thing that has changed is that I've taken my training a little more relaxed this year. I don't have a schedule that I absolutely have to do, but I get a schedule and fit it in around life, and that has made me enjoy my training more and is helping me to get more out of it. Another thing would be that we haven't changed bikes this year, so straight away at the start of the year I felt at home on the bike and was able to just keep building on that rather that trying to set up a new one. I just feel really comfortable on the bike at the momentum, and it's all just clicking.
It wasn't so long ago you were juggling work with scraping by at the races. Is that something that you ever think about?
Yeah, it definitely feels like at the last few races I've been like, damn I've actually made it now kind of thing. There was actually a moment at the top of Stage 8, I think in Madeira when I was chatting to guys like Richie, Jared, Jesse and we were just talking about different stages over the years and the ones were the most physical. Someone was saying about Whistler the first year and I was just like nah, I couldn't afford to go to it… They were all just like f*ck, well look at you now. It was a bit of realization it was only a few years ago that I was missing races because I couldn't afford to go to them. I've only been in the sport for five years, which I guess is longer that a lot of people, but you're still learning all the time. This is only my third year training as a professional, so you're always learning and building. The sport is evolving, and I got in at the right time to be able to evolve with the sport rather than already have my ways and try to change them.
What was it like to finally win a round away from home?
That was really cool. It was a big one I wanted to tick off because I'd won in Ireland twice and nowhere else, and I started to feel like that guy who only wins at home, and I didn't want to be that guy. I really wanted to prove to myself and everyone that I can win everywhere. I had glimpses of speed last year where I'd have good stages and then have a few problems that would knock me back, but I knew I could do it. In Madeira, it all just clicked and I kept that speed all weekend.
With the win in Madeira you'll be the last man down the hill here in Ireland. How does that feel?
I know it's going to be ridiculous. Since Madeira, I've gone riding and you can just see in their faces the excitement; they are like "holy shit, this is going to be ridiculous." It's going to be nuts, I can't wait. It's hard to imagine how it could get bigger, but it definitely feels like there's more excitement around it than there ever has been. Last Monday I think it was on the 6 O'clock news, then on Wednesday I was filming with the national news crew and got a bit of filming done and got a feature up; hopefully that gets people buzzing before the race. It's mental; it has been in all the big newspapers last week. Mountain biking is in a great place in Ireland at the moment.
How hard is it dealing with all the extra pressure and attention you get during this week?
Yeah, you just have to manage it well; people do try to pull you around a bit so you've just got to as the weekend gets closer. Not saying no, but just making sure you're not getting carried away with too much of the extra stuff that you don't need. All the attention around the weekend is class, and it's all positive energy from people just wanting me to do well and that's just a good thing. So I just want to enjoy that and it puts me in a good mindset for the race. As Dave, the crazy medic, told me 'you've already won it twice so you can just enjoy it this year'. He's right, though; it'd be way worse if I hadn't won it and this was my third year trying and I had to step up.
I feel like the pressure helps me raise my game. It's difficult to treat it as just another race as it is definitely not just like every other race. Just to be coming into a World Series at home in Ireland and have that much support and I'm that favorite to win—that's a huge achievement in itself. That is such a cool position to be in, so I just want to enjoy that on Sunday and race my bike as fast as I can. The result will look after itself. We'll see what happens!