Interview: Reece Wilson on Head Injuries, the Rainbow Stripes and Domestic Racing

Aug 10, 2021 at 14:56
by Nick Bentley  

This weekend saw Reece Wilson racing in the British National Downhill race in Innerleithen, Scotland. This was, in fact, the first time Reece has raced in the UK since becoming World Champion so it was quite apt that it was his home race. We caught Reece for a chat on a busy race weekend to get the World Champ's opinions on a few things.

So Reece, first time racing back here in Scotland as World Champion, how does it feel?

Yeah, it's really good. It's unfortunately been really wet this weekend again in Scotland but it's honestly so cool to be back. It's been quite a busy meeting, I mean I don't think we've had restricted entries and it was still fully booked almost instantly online. It's a good sign the sport's in a good place. I've really enjoyed myself, I managed to get five runs in yesterday. The track was amazing which I really appreciate a good track and line choice.

bigquotesEver since I won World Champs that target feels like it's well and truly painted on there in permanent marker.

A busy day for you as well so you snuck off for a COVID test for Maribor?

Yeah, it's been a busy day. I managed to rush back, literally got myself changed and as I jumped in the van, the last uplift was going up with the elites on so managed to make my race run. So no practice today, just pulled the bike out from yesterday and hung up a run.

The Elite Field in the UK has maybe dwindled a little over the last few years. As World Champ how important does it feel to you to be back here racing with the rest of the guys?

You know it's really difficult, when you race an entire season on the World Cup circuit there's a lot of pressure when you’re away so to come back, and you only have a week or two weeks, when all you want to do is rest, but there's a national on and you have to keep going. It's difficult for us to sometimes go back. It's so important for elites and experts at the top of their level to come and push other riders on at these things, it does add prestige to the event and it gives the kids an opportunity to see where the benchmark is for the future. So that's probably the coolest part of it.

I spoke to Roger and Cathro, and they were saying it pushes them on having you here. Did you feel you had a bit of target on your back?

Absolutely, ever since I won World Champs that target feels like it's well and truly painted on there in permanent marker. I've honestly been enjoying it, but that's just the way it is. Ben [Cathro] is always so good at these days, I knew Lewis [Buchanan] was going to have a good time, Roger [Vieira] has been doing so well this year. So having no practice today it really was anybody's game so I when I was up there I got a few nerves.

bigquotesWhen you're not making any money, you're sat at home and you feel like you're rushed, well, people come back too soon.

How are you feeling after your big crash in Les Gets, are you rested up and feeling better?

I’ve still got a really stiff neck to be honest, it's really plagued me and now I can't really get my head to the left very well so I'm still actually feeling it. Considering how big the crash was that is understandable but other than that, I'm really well. I'm just excited to get to race and actually get going again. It's been a long month off.

How important do you think it is that the sport looks at how people come back from crashes, particularly head injuries? Do you think we still need to grow a bit and understand a bit more?

Yeah, in my opinion there's loads of room to be developed. You look at rugby and football. When those guys are signed at a team and they have an injury, they're taken off the course and they're dealt with through team physios. If surgery is required, it's all dealt with in-house and in team and then they're held on a bench until they're ready to go. Whereas our sport, you kind of get a lift to the airport, a high five and asked when you'll be back. Then that's kind of it. It's up to the rider to deal with everything from there on out, and it's up to them to decide to come back. But when you're not making any money, you're sat at home and you feel like you're rushed, well, people come back too soon. That's a major factor that I think a lot of the riders feel they need to come back when they probably shouldn't, they should probably have another week or two off. So yeah, there's definitely room to work with there but it's a tricky one.

The World Champ Reece Wilson was out racing at his local and was on it until the slick berm just above this section took him down he still made it into 3rd in the elite field. It s so good to see world cup riders back racing the national series.

It’s Maribor this weekend. How do you feel about being back at World Cups?

Yeah, World Cups are always crazy and this year we're so condensed. We've got six weeks at the start, then we've just had this month off with the Olympics which absolutely sucks in my opinion as I was just getting into stuff. I was just getting into my race at Les Gets and starting to find a bit of flow but then you need to come home and have a month or nothing.

It really splits the season but it's like a little restart if you need to come home and get yourself gathered back up again, which I feel like I've done and I'm excited to get to Maribor. I really want to get another one on the board this year. We’ve got some good tracks coming up at World Champs and then Val de Sole, so plenty to look forward to.


  • 149 1
 More thoughtful insights from everyone's favorite Canadian.
  • 15 1
 Always good to see the international cachet of the British Open.
  • 14 2
 @mi-bike: Its a Commonwealth thing, we wouldn't understand...
  • 10 3
  • 6 1
 Yep and cool that his brother is that guy from the Pinkbike reality show
  • 66 2
 I’ve got to say Reece Wallace is my favourite rider
  • 14 42
flag mi-bike (Aug 11, 2021 at 8:41) (Below Threshold)
 Wrong Wallace
  • 33 1
 @mi-bike: William Wallace?
  • 19 1
 @korev: Robert the William
  • 5 1
 @browner: bobby el billy
  • 3 2
 Sit down Gromit.
  • 4 4
 @mi-bike: you must be new here
  • 56 3
 There’d be less pressure to get back racing if there were more rounds. Its a sport where it’s so easy for them to injure themselves and be out for a round or two, and then they have to pretty much kiss goodbye to the overall. 10 rounds that also take in more of the world (NZ, South America) would be better, although I know budgets might not stretch for some.
  • 44 2
 What kind of tit would downvote your comment, I just don't know.

You're absolutely right. The season is far too short. Look at foty and they've got like, 50 games a season. F1 and MotoGP have approximately 20, I believe.

A nice way to do it would be to have ten compulsory races, or eight plus two out of 12, something like that. I seem to recall that in the old days, 90s, the NORBA series allowed riders to drp their worst result or two... I can't remember exactly.

If the UCI lowered the barrier to entry slightly, financially speaking, in an attempt to get some more venues to id, that would be a start. From there work towards tour system. North American Tour, European Tour, Oceania Tour... I know it's easier said than done, but it would be the way to go. Condense the race calendar into geographic areas. New Zealand one week, Aussie the next, Indonesia the week after. Three weeks off, then UK, Norway, Austria in three weeks. A week off for Crankworx, then France, Switzerland, Italy in three weeks. Three weeks off and then Canada (west), MSA, USA in three weeks. Boom, 12 races. Tell the teams they need to attend nine minimum. Everyone has to attend the six European rounds. North American teams can skip Oceania, Oceania teams can skip the USA. Best nine results count for those teams that attend all 12. Boom - problem solved. If you're injured and you miss a couple of rounds, you can catch up.

Costs down for those who need the costs down, more racing, better for the fans, more chnace to get over injury. Win win win.
  • 2 0
 @jaame: I worked years inside of a Cycling Organisation. UCI allows World Cups only at certain locations because need to meet with certain criteria, like size of the finish line area, distance to international airport, length of race track etc. The locations need to pay for hosting the event. So even if location suit but the regional or national authorities does not come up with the money, no race.
So, it is not as simple to find suitable world cup track and location than one for a national round.
  • 1 0
 @IndiBoer: certainly easier said than done. We have had probs 30 World Cup venues to date though. If the cost was lower, some of those might be tempted to bid again.
  • 1 0
 Half the core European field probably does not have the resources to travel around the world. I'd guess you'll pick up more locals, especially in North America who normally don't travel to Europe, but likely still have smaller fields, especially when considering UCI eligibility rules for WC and random visa rules.
  • 29 2
 He is being generous to his sponsors and I get it, but there does need to be more accountability put on the sponsors for appropriate levels of care of their athletes. Not saying they have to foot the whole bill, but they need to show an effort here.
  • 9 1
 Moto-style "injury clauses" are another way of ensuring that athletes come back from head injuries too quickly.

Have a listen to the Gypsy Tales with Plessinger. In one of his contracts, the team had the right to stop paying him if he sat out more than a handful of races.
  • 2 1
 Many of the riders on the WC circuit are independent contractors who don't draw a salary (or a small one) and don't get paid when they don't race or don't "produce content". Not easy to fix that for riders and sponsors.
  • 2 1
 @mi-bike: they need to get together and demand better. Never going to happen though…
  • 12 2
 @mi-bike: Actually it is easy for the sponsors/teams: make the contracts fair and safe. Riders are going to keep signing these shitty contracts because it's often the only way to paid anything for riding. Shame on the folks with the money attaching such anti-rider-safety clauses to the payments, or providing such little support relative to the risk. If they say can't afford it, then in reality they can't afford to "sponsor" as many riders and should provide better support to fewer riders if that's what it takes. Maybe it'll level the playing field a bit team-wise, with more great riders spread around to more great teams.

Side note: Red Bull seems to be able to give great support and they sponsor a ton of people. Not many people with the RB helmet complaining about lack of health (physical and mental) resources, usually quite the opposite.
  • 2 1
 @mi-bike: yes it is, you mandate minimum pay for the elite teams
  • 2 1
 I thought that was pretty eye opening; I just expected it was like most other sports and everything is taken care of by the team.
One wonders should he actually be racing? Especially after a head/neck injury.....
  • 2 1
 @DHhack: It will if the governing bodies create a policy around it. Its not as if Trek (yes looking at you) cant afford to leverage their existing HR and support staff to help athletes. I mean come on, get creative people!
  • 2 2
 These dudes can try and set up any contract they want. There is always the next dude ready to risk it for the more risky contract though and a shot at the big ride though.
  • 1 2
 @noplacelikeloam: there’s zero reason for the governing bodies to care. There’s always fresh meat ready for the grinder…
  • 1 1
 @mi-bike: not easy to fix for the riders, it is easy to fix for the sponsors, they just have to keep paying. Despite what people say there is money in this sport at the corporate level, there’s a reason brands keep getting snapped up by private equity groups and sporting good conglomerates
  • 3 1
 In the US where we don't offer standard health care I would think there is a way to bring the riders on as employees of the major sponsoring company. That would allow them to participate in the employer healthcare at near zero cost. Maybe I am over simplifying though.
  • 1 0
 I think sponsors should foot the whole bill…these are very wealthy sponsors and companies. Maybe if the riders knew/felt they had that extra security behind them, they would go even harder. I guess that must be one of the best things about being a RedBull rider, with the recovery centre facility.
Totally agree that the WC should be a bit more like F1, more races in more countries or at least just double rounds always (less carbon footprint), to give more chance to riders who might have simply had a puncture. I don’t understand why not, given the bike industry has never been as good/rich/profitable.
  • 15 2
 Imagine Reece waking up on the plane only to find that Reece is flying it
  • 7 1
 Most of the Teammanagers and Sponsors are grown up men and should be aware that many of these riders could be their own kids (from age perspective). So they are well aware that these riders have the biggest part of their lives ahead of them and a head injury (and other) could ruin their future.
  • 5 0
 A lot of people shit on Redbull (deservedly in some cases) however listening to podcasts and behind the scenes footage, they do seem to look after there athletes when it comes to injuries. It’s a shame that’s not a standard across the board.
  • 4 2
 I am in no way an expert on this topic.. but sounds like Trek was pressuring him to get back to racing.. putting things together here. Wasn't Katy Winton out for a head injury for an extended period of time while on Trek.. Then all of a sudden got dropped? Again.. not an expert.. just making observations here.
  • 1 1
 Maybe they just don't like Scots!
  • 3 1
 Also doesn't sound like he has gotten proper treatment for his neck injury either.

But hey, time to go racing! /sarcasm
  • 4 1
 Hope that Reece and others can bring attention to how the sport deals with injuries, especially head injuries. There's enough research to understand that concussions need to be taken seriously.
  • 4 1
 "When you're hurt, you're dirt" as spoken by Picabo Street US Alpine skier when dealing with the team and her sponsors after an injury. This from one of the most successful to that point alpine skiers in US history.
  • 6 1
 It is almost like sponsors need to do way more for their athletes.
  • 4 1
 Sponsors could be more accommodating, but in the end i'm guessing most riders are independent contractors, so sponsors have no obligation to help. The fact is, there isn't enough money in the sport so these things will continue to happen. DH needs more coverage, more events, more promotion. It needs a Drive to Survive type show. That has brought a lot of new viewers into F1.
  • 2 0
 Listen to VitalMTB July 13th podcast. In depth on head injuries, stigma and general culture around athletes having to jump back into racing
  • 2 1
 Ouch! Are World Cup athletes so poorly treated by their teams given the high profile head injuries are finally being given in all sports?
  • 6 7
 I understand it would be nice to be treated as well as professional sports teams treat their players, but that does cost money, and I'm not sure the biking market has the money to support these endeavors.
  • 2 1
 Such a sympathic lad.
  • 2 4
 Is my reading comprehension low enough that I can’t find the quote from the title?
  • 11 1
 Yes. 2nd question from the end
  • 2 1
 Yes. It's in the second to last question.
  • 3 1
 Just above the last picture
  • 3 1
 Second to last question
  • 15 1
 Penultimate question.
  • 3 1
  • 1 1
 Ah, thanks. I guess it’s time to go back to grade school.
  • 6 1
 Second to last question: How important do you think it is that the sport looks at how people come back from crashes, particularly head injuries?

Fifth Sentence in the answer.
  • 4 1
 @tremeer023: Points for vocab
  • 2 0
 Yes it is lol Halfway through the answer of the second to last question.
  • 2 0
 Yeah, in my opinion there's loads of room to be developed.
  • 2 0
  • 4 0
 yes it's you Wink
ctrl+F is gonna help you
  • 2 0
 CTRL F 'injury' ENTER, you're already there!
  • 12 0
 @Sketch1981: instructions unclear; ends up in pornhub
  • 2 4
 thats crazy, didn't practice at all and just shows up to get 3rd.
  • 11 1
 He did practice, 5 runs on Saturday (which was good going with the uplift... Elites/Expert got 2 quick runs in at the end of the day after slow uplift the rest of the day).
Then seeding and race run on Sunday, so he missed 1 maybe 2 runs at best on Sunday morning. (2 runs was a stretch, first in uplifts in queue only stood a chance).

FYI, I was there and racing (well pootling down the hill poorly).
  • 4 1
 He crashed as well.

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