We make no apologies for having a soft spot for privateers. They are the people who are there on the start line every single weekend for one reason, and one reason alone: They love being there. And of all privateers, the ones that deserve your respect most are the riders who follow the big, international series. Until recently there was only the World Cup, but as the Enduro World Series has emerged, the privateers have arrived. It's a huge commitment in every sense of the word, with eight races in eight different countries on three continents. While the top pros dedicate their lives to that racing, it's how they pay their bills, for the privateers it's a life of sacrifices. Without the luxury of pro deal to support them through the off-season, most of them graft hard to fund their racing. All the while trying to fit in as much training as they can, so they can be as competitive as possible when they get onto the race track.
Our privateer of the year last year, Greg Callaghan, went onto big things this year. Signing for the Cube Action Team over the winter he has been the breakthrough rider of the season, with factory support it was clear how big a difference it made to his racing even just in terms of his physique coming into the first race of the year - he had transformed from merely a fit guy to looking like a professional athlete. That hard work translated into a fairytale victory in his home race and solid top tens at rounds one and three, putting him near the lead of the series rankings until he broke his hand in a training crash. This year our privateer of the year stands apart in the womens top ten as the only rider without a team - opening the season with 5th and 6th place finishes. Since then going has not been as easy and she rode most of the mid-seaon with a fractured pelvis, still taking 11th place finished despite an injury that would leave most people bed-ridden. That didn't slow her down enough to prevent her taking the crown at Trans Savoie either. Our EWS privateer of the year this year is Meggie Bichard. From the outside, people will see the Ibis bike and kit, which looks good, and maybe they will ask why we're talking to you as a privateer?
I've been travelling the world with my bike in search of the perfect trail since I first got a bit of independence and some cash in my pocket. As a student this meant a budget airline ticket to southern Spain or road trips in a knackered ford fiesta to the lake district and Scotland. I wanted to explore bigger terrain but my veterinary studies were getting in the way. I decided, I'm gonna need a year off to see what else is out there. A £1000 ex-ambulance then took my boyfriend and I through the European Alps, Slovenia, Corsica, Sardinia, Pyrenees, Northern and Southern Spain. This was when I got a real taste for riding big mountain singletrack, fast and blind, but as yet no racing. The first thing I did upon graduation was pack a bag and 4 bikes and head to New Zealand! With annual trips to Europe this gives me a 12 month riding season - perfect! That was five years ago and I have been loving a lifestyle built around riding ever since. Enduro racing has gained more and more prominence in my riding over the last three years and the like minded people I meet are key to feeding my passion. Scott Nicol and Tom Morgan, the owners of Ibis, are two such people and they have taken it upon themselves to help feed my passion where they can outside of their factory team program. Ibis are a fantastic team with a "family feel". However I'm not on the official Ibis Enduro Team, as much as I'd love to be! Ibis have been great at helping me out with my bike (kindly provided by them and Ibis NZ) and some product support where they can but they don't have the resources for more than that. Everything else comes out of my own pocket. How does an average day look for you during the off-season?
I fund my racing working as a veterinary surgeon. This means long hours and previously lots of on call as well. Now I work as a locum so I can be more flexible. An average day would be up at 6.45am, short cycle to work starting at 8am. Then a busy day on my feet doing either surgery, consults or large animal visits depending upon where I'm working. Generally finishing at 5.30pm but sometimes a lot later depending upon the cases! Get home, quick snack and then out on my bike for an hour or two, dinner, fall asleep! I am fortunate now to be living in Nelson, NZ with quality doorstep riding, and the "off season" is their summer. So now weekends can be spent having adventures in the sun! With so many races across the world, how do you make it work as a privateer?
Four way: 1. Working hard in the "off season." 2. Being a tight bastard! Buying a van with my boyfriend, Ed, we can live pretty Cheaply whilst in Europe living the gypsy life. We rarely treat ourselves to luxuries such as meals out, paying for accommodation or even campsites. It's just not an option in order to follow the EWS circuit. 3. Support from friends and family who have put us up and helped us out where they can. 4. My other sponsors have helped me me out by giving their services to me which I'd otherwise be paying for. Trail Addiction have helped with race entry fees to their races and a base with them. Results Gym and the Loveday Clinic have given me access to the gym and personal training sessions. Sports Therapy have given me physio when needed and MTB Skills Clinics have provided me with skills coaching. Do you think it’s easier or harder for a woman to get good results as privateer?
Obviously there are less numbers in the woman's racing but I think it is just as hard to get results that matter at EWS level. The top five or so riders, with exception of Isabeau Courdurier (who is a student) are all fully supported and able to fully commit to training all year round so are very difficult to break into. Outside of EWS I think it is easier as you're less likely to be competing against full time pros. A lot of the top EWS woman are focused on just racing EWS, whereas it seems the top guys seem to mix it up a bit more. It’s well-known that there is less money in women’s racing, how difficult do you think it is to transition from a privateer to a fully-paid professional?
I think it is very difficult to get the level of support the top five riders are getting, i.e. an actual salary plus expenses and team mechanical support at races. But it seems that if you are in the right place/know the right people you may be able to pick up some money and some other help. But it is difficult to get it all for sure. How did you get started racing enduro?
"Enduro" is how I would describe how I've mainly been riding since my introduction to bikes nearly ten years ago at Bristol University. Every summer (when not studying/working) was spent exploring some part of Europe. Big days out with a topo map looking for the best walking track descents. I love riding new tracks and the more unridden they feel, generally the better! I guess I'm a bit like the surfer who's always looking for the perfect wave, except looking for the perfect descent! I've always been competitive and would occasionally race XC; local and national races in the UK alongside multi day races; Trans Rockies, Trans Wales and Trans Scotland. I did do some so called 'enduros' but eight years ago in the UK it just meant a long XC loop! Enduro just about kicked off in the UK when I left for NZ in 2010. I raced Megaavalanche and the enduro in Vaujany and loved them! If enduro had been about before I'm sure I would have been racing it. It took a little longer for the scene to reach NZ, so I didn't really begin racing Enduro until 2013. Do you get at all frustrated that you're not getting the results you maybe feel like you could get if you were racing full-time?
Yes. I would love to be able to train fully in the off season instead of fitting in what I can. Also living the van life during the race season with no base has not been ideal training. I have found recovery and eating well difficult. Don't get me wrong it's a cool lifestyle and good fun, giving you great flexibility to ride in some amazing places. Just not that good for training efficiently. How does a race weekend go for you?
Race weekends generally go in a whirl! I try to start the weekend with a bike that works well but sometimes it can be compromised as I can't afford to run the "freshest" equipment. Usually a long day on the bike means it's a rush to then clean my bike, see whether it needs any maintenance. Sometimes this involves finding tech support or hoping the Ibis team support is available (if they have finished working on the team riders bikes). Then trying to find a cheap or free shower, cooking and sleeping. And repeat! What do you miss most when you're living in your van?
My cat! And of course luxuries like a shower. Also I miss going to the gym and the great support network I have back in Nelson (I'm sponsored by MTB Skills Clinics, Sports Therapy, Loveday Clinic and Results Gym). What are your goals for next year?
I plan to take my physical conditioning and skill set up a notch next year. I want to continue working with MTB Skills Clinics and doing some DH racing on my trail bike as well as working closely with a fantastic conditioning coach I have found in Brad Nelson at results gym. All of this is dependant on achieving my primary goal of full team support which gives a rider the opportunity to focus fully. Given the opportunity, I'd hope to break into the EWS top five consistently. I'd like to defend my win at Trans Savoie and match that with a win at Trans Provence and Andes Pacifico...