First off, the bad news - can you talk to us about your injury?
So yeah, I broke my elbow on April 29th. It was a slow, silly crash and I guess it's part of the sport. When it happened I didn't want to accept that it could be something bad but it was it is. It's clearly not ideal as it's put a halt to my season but I will take it day by day.
When can we expect to see you back on track?
At this moment, I really don't have a clue. It's a big injury and I have to be patient with my return. It's a 6-12 month time frame I'm looking at and everyone's different so I could be back sooner than that but I will have to see. I have a great team and great trainer and support at home and we all know that we can build me back up to 100%. Like I said it'll just take time and the right kind of preparation and I know I will not have issues coming back to competition like I have in the past.
For people who maybe haven't heard of you before it may seem you have come out of nowhere, but anybody who follows the Scottish DH scene will likely have known your name for a while. What happened with your World Cup ambitions?
For the first few years, beginning in 2010 racing for MS/Evil Bikes, I had some great results. I changed teams a few times up to 2015 and also ran privateer for a season during this time. After my first major injury in 2011 with a shoulder dislocation, I struggled a little both mentally and physically. I was still in juniors and still managed to win La Bresse that year but overall my results were average. 2012 was again an average season for me and I was still searching for good form. After a solid start to 2013, I then broke my leg at Val Di Sole which ended my season. I feel that since then it's still been a real battle for me to find my speed, confidence and a set up that I believe in. After teaming up with Banshee Factory Race team for 2015 and feeling fairly prepared I hoped that I would find a good pace and maybe enjoy the racing more. I really struggled with the setup of the bike and got super burnt out mid-way through the season and felt very unfit. World Cup finals in Val Di Sole was the final nail in the coffin when I tried my best with a clean run and got really bad arm pump which resulted in me finishing 124th and way off the pace. That evening I sat down and thought about what was next for me because I was not enjoying racing DH and no matter how hard I tried to do things correctly it never seemed to fall into place. With all this it really made me question whether I should keep pursuing a career in World Cup downhill.
You were frequently talked about as one of the future stars of Scottish DH, how tough is to deal with that expectation, especially considering that it didn't work out as you planned?
If I'm honest I felt no pressure or expectation. I think I was pretty successful in the Scottish and National races since I was about 12 years old. When I was a junior I could see myself reaching the top of a world cup podium in the years to come, but then a lot started happening. I found it hard to deal with coming back from the injuries and it didn't help with me just not having my head screwed on right which caused me to harm a lot of my partnerships and friendships. I did go through a stage where the motivation was low and I didn't want to train or put in the effort and I did not want to listen to anyone else. I only have to blame myself for it and that played a big part in my results. I for sure learned from that, today I believe I am a changed man and I have managed to regain these friendships, which I'm very fortunate to have had the chance to do.
Do you feel that kind of pressure at such a young age had a negative effect on you?
No, I didn't feel the pressure at all on that side of things. I was doing very well at a young age and in my junior days everything was clicking and I was prepared and happy, so I did what I knew I could and didn't try to ride up to others expectations.
Why enduro now?
After the Val Di Sole World Cup finals, I really had to figure out what was next for me. Do I retire from DH and get a full-time job, or do I have another shot at it? I was sitting in the NO1 cafe in Innerleithen one afternoon with some mates in October 2015 having lunch. I bumped into Geraint who is a sports scientist and I knew him from working with him during my time on the Scottish DH academy led by Chris Ball. We were catching up he asked me what was happening with me, I said not a lot, just figuring out what's next for me. He then asked, "Have you ever thought about enduro?" I said yes, but laughed because I knew it was a gnarly discipline and how fit and strong you had to be. It was next level and I really thought I'd struggle because I wouldn't even know where to start. Anyway, he left the cafe shortly after that and his last words were, "Just have a think about it..." So I let it settle with me for a couple days and decided to enter the final round of the Scottish Enduro series to give it a go and see what it was all about. I ended up winning elite and the overall fairly convincingly, which obviously helped, but the thing that stood out for me was how much fun I had. From the start, I could see various areas where I could improve hugely on. I like the idea of being out on your bike for hours and hours and getting a lot of riding done. The atmosphere is way more laid-back than downhill and I like the fact you have to be consistently good over 5-7 stages and it's not just a one race run in an all or nothing format like downhill. Shortly after the race I spoke with my parents and told them I wanted to commit 100% to switching over to enduro... It was a big decision and I think a lot of people thought I was crazy though as downhill is all I've known and done since I was nine. I then got in touch with Geraint telling him I thought hard about what he said and asked if he would train me.
If I was going to do this, I wanted to be 100% in, training full-time to be sure that I had the best chance of doing well. At this point, I hadn't even got in touch with any teams but I needed to get started. He knew I needed a lot of work, physically and mentally to get me in shape but agreed to begin working with me. It gave me a lot of motivation to see that he saw something in me. We started training in November and I really enjoyed the different type of training, seeing the improvements through data was great for my confidence and I was learning something every single day. It must have got to around Christmas time and I still had no real promise of any team wanting to sign me, but I had no enduro real experience so I can see why it was hard for teams to take a gamble on signing me. There were days that I was doing my intervals out in the snow and I really struggled to finish them off as I was thinking, "What if I don't get a ride? Will all this training be a waste of time?" My dad mentioned BMC and to try them on the off-chance to see if they had space... I got in touch with them and they seemed surprisingly interested and wanted to know more. After a couple Skype calls and emails I got a phone call one morning saying that they had good news and they'd love to sign me to race the full EWS in 2016 alongside Francois Bailly-Maitre. I was really excited and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I knew the equipment and team support was good and the data my coach was seeing from training showed me that I was on the right track and in the best condition I'd ever been in, both physically and mentally, so it felt like everything was working out. I put my head down looking towards Chile for round one knowing that it was all happening and I was going to get to race my first EWS. It was an amazing feeling. I really did feel physically and mentally the best I ever have and over the past eight months, I feel like I have matured hugely. A big part of that is due to following Geraint's program religiously. It gave me structure which I needed. Also, I really found happiness riding, racing, and training for enduro. The welcome I have had in the sport has been awesome. All of these combined really has put me in a good place and this is the most stable and happiest I've ever been since I started racing at 11 years old. I think that shows at my performances at my debut EWS.
To what extent have you had to adapt your riding, fitness and strength to enduro racing?
Everything from my riding style, fitness, strength and even my lifestyle has changed. I'm a totally different person now from previous years. Geraint took care of my training and managed me all off-season because I followed his program so religiously it made me a smarter person and more mature and I learned a lot. I sacrificed a lot also and really made sure my eating, recovery, and sleep were correct and it is paying off. I'm super motivated and determined and I trust him with what he sets out for me to do. My riding style has calmed down a lot and it's become more efficient and not as loose. I know when to let the DH style come out when needed, like on stage two in Argentina, which was short and punchy with some rocky sections in it. I changed the way I rode on that stage compared to the others that day and I finished second on that stage just behind Richie. I am also a lot fitter than my DH days, so I'm really enjoying having more of an engine inside me as it comes in handy on those long stages.
Do you think that being a younger guy makes this transition easier - it is maybe easier to refocus than in your 30s when it is used to working in a particular way?
It's really hard for me to say as I have little experience. I feel that no matter what age you are transitioning over to enduro will be tough. I think coming from a DH background, rather than an XC background may be easier, but that's my personal opinion. My teammate, Francois, is in his 30s and is from a cross country World Cup background and kills it in enduro, so there is evidence to prove my opinion wrong too...
There has long been a belief that enduro favours older riders, but this season has seen more young guys at the sharp end of the EWS than ever
Yeah, I feel that us younger guys are catching up with the more experienced guys. I am certainly very hungry after having good success in Chile and Argentina and seeing what I was capable of at my first two EWS rounds makes me want to keep pushing for more. I believe experience is important, and a great tool, but being fairly young and hungry means you have some more raw speed, which maybe the more experienced guys have not so much of. A good reference is just to look at who has been strong during the first two rounds this year... and in dominant fashion. But I am still learning and maybe my view on this will change in the future.
A few years ago you were very publicly called out for buying followers on social media, yet today you have a stronger social media following than many more established riders - what have been the lessons you have learnt over the last few years and what advice would you give riders looking to build a social media following?
This is a good question and I'm more than happy to speak openly about this. I feel that I have been misunderstood in the past. I was stupid in my junior days and messed a lot of people around in the industry. As I explained above, I am now good friends with the people I disappointed in the past. I will say definitively that I did not buy followers, but it is true that I was not very well liked as a racer back in the day, I got a lot of crap for starting up new accounts, etc due to getting harsh messages and suchlike. I would really like to think I'm more liked in the industry and respected now. I really feel like I have a humble head on my shoulders and I try to be as professional as possible and I make time to get along with everyone as I enjoy doing that. My social media following is strong and I like to reply to people when possible and not be so alien to them and give back as I feel it's sometimes hard for people to get a quick reply from some professional riders.
To what extent do you feel a strong social media presence helped your career?
I feel for any professional rider a strong social media presence can go a long way. If you don't have Instagram then I'd suggest you go get it and get started haha. It definitely helps, and if you're updating your feed with race updates and fresh bike parts then your followers are going to be more interested. If you are supported by a bike brand or any sponsor by that matter, my advice is to do as much as you can for them by promoting their brand with photos and be sure to give them feedback on products, etc to help them develop or improve the product. I would say it's helped my career a fair bit as companies love the exposure and marketing that can be done on the social media these days. I mean if you are riding for a helmet company for example and you have 23,000 followers... That's 20,000 more people looking at a photo of that helmet and you're tagging the brand name than someone with 3,000 followers promoting their helmet sponsor. It's all a business now haha.