Why Greg Callaghan is relishing the MTB season restart
© Ramsey Cardy
Ahead of the first Enduro World Series race on August 30, the MTB Enduro star reveals how Zwift sessions, training at home and self-reflection have fuelled his bid for glory.
Greg Callaghan means business. After an up and down 2019, by his own admission, the Enduro star was intent on making 2020 his year. Then came the unprecedented global events and subsequently the suspension of the Enduro World Series (EWS).
Suddenly, the elite roster of riders, who are so used to travelling across continents in search of epic trails, were stuck at home in front of the TV.
For close to six months, life hasn't been normal for anyone, let alone an elite athlete. Nevertheless, Callaghan has tried to make the most of it. Now, ahead of the first round of the Enduro World Series on August 30 in Zermatt, Switzerland, the Irishman tells us how he sought to benefit from the enforced hiatus away from racing.
There has been a big shift towards virtual sports in recent months. Have you tried racing on Zwift?
I race for a living because I’m a competitive person and it’s in my nature, so it’s been strange not being able to go out on a bike. Obviously Zwift is not the same as Enduro mountain biking but it’s a great outlet. I’ve got a WhatsApp group with a few friends who are also into racing online.
Was it a strange experience to switch to road bike racing on Zwift?
It was, yeah. Often I had to put my ego aside as I know I may get beaten at virtual road biking by guys who probably can't compete with me on a mountain bike, but that’s the fun of it. But you see bigger improvements in something you're not so good at and that’s addictive in itself. It’s actually highlighted my weaknesses. Plus, it’s a great training tool, because when you’re racing and see somebody else on the screen with you, you’ll go so much harder than you would without them. You’re bringing more out of yourself.
Has this extended time at home given you a chance to analyse other areas of your riding?
That's actually been one of the huge takeaways from it. Due to events being cancelled, I’ve been my own coach and I've learnt a lot about myself. Suddenly I was training because I wanted to do, not because I had to, so I now know what type of training I respond well to. Going forward my training will look quite different. It’s been a silver lining, for sure.
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What sort of exercises have you been doing?
I’ve always wanted some sort of home gym, so I took a spare bedroom and kitted it out with equipment back in January, which was fortunate timing! It's meant that I’ve been able to do everything because there are dumbbells, barbells, weights, a rowing machine, a treadmill and a bike for online racing. Above all, I’ve enjoyed doing more work on the rowing machine than normal, as well as high intensity-style weight programmes, neither of which are specific to my sport but are still beneficial.
Watch the video below to see the type of training Callahan does in order to stay in the best shape.
4 @ 4 Challenge with Greg Callaghan
You used the break to film and release Breaking the Cycle. How did that come about? There are some big Groundhog Day vibes.
My long-time friend David Quinlan films horse racing for his day job but he’s really into mountain biking. So, with everyone stuck at home and sport cancelled, we put a plan together to do a ‘day in the life’ sort of video, a vlog but not a vlog, and the idea just spiralled from there.
The night shoot in the forest was really interesting because the only sections that were lit up were the ones in the shot. So my run into shot was total darkness and my run out was total darkness, too. In fact, we had a couple of friends shine torches on the ground in front of the bike.
What’s the motivational message we can see in your home gym in the film?
That says ‘God bless the work’, and I first saw it written on a wall when I was in a Gaelic football gym a few years ago. I thought it was quite cool. The whiteboard is helpful. I have benchmarks and rowing and bike times on there, too; it helps me focus. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to stay on top of everything for training so hopefully my time in lockdown has given me that edge when things start up again.
Since restrictions on sporting activity were lifted in Ireland, how have you been gearing up for the season?
From the moment the restrictions were lifted and the revised race calendar was released, it's basically been a standard off season of training for me. Except it's now in summer rather than winter, so it's a lot more enjoyable. Once racing gets closer I'll pack up the van and head to the alps for training to be fully ready for the alpine races.
I'm going to get a week of training with my coach in Morzine, before a European Enduro Series race the week before the first EWS in Zermatt. It's been so long without racing now that getting some races in before the first EWS, to shake the cobwebs off, will be of huge importance.
And what does the Alps give you that you've missed over lockdown in Dublin?
It's a type of terrain that is hard to find in Ireland. As good as Ireland is for riding, we just don't have the same size of hills, the steepness and the hiking trail style of trail. Stages in Ireland are generally three minutes and really intense, whereas in the alps they can be 20 minutes, so it's good to adjust to that difference.
For sure I also miss seeing everyone from the races. The EWS is like a big travelling family; we're all competitors but we're also close friends. So I'm really looking forward to getting back out there, catching up with everyone and being back in that race environment. It's been so long without it now.
The goal is to be standing on podiums again
Is your recent move to team Unior Devinci an added mental boost?
With the perspective of a new team, as well as lockdown, I’m coming into 2020 in much better shape than I was before. Being on a new bike, being around new people. And it’s quite a young team were we all have a lot of fun, which is great. We’re all working for the same thing, which is doing well at the races, so I can’t wait. I’m just chomping at the bit.
What do you make of the changes to this year’s competition with no overall Championship Title and no Trophy of Nations finale? And does that now make the Team EWS Championship more of a focus?
I think that was a great decision from them. Riders from countries with tighter restrictions might not be able to travel to every country so it's only fair on them.
To be honest, it won't change a whole lot for me. It would be great to get a good result in the team championship, especially as it's my first year with a new team [Unior Devinci], but the focus will still be on doing my best at each race, which will help towards the team result anyway. I'm not looking at one round in particular, as I normally focus on each race as its own target, so it'll be business as usual.
The goal is to be standing on podiums again. I’ve felt like I’ve had the speed and all of the pieces of the puzzle in the last couple of years but haven’t had that next step to be able to put them together week-in, week-out, but I feel I’m there now.
Are you preparing yourself for competing without lots of fans, as many sports have already experienced?
It’s a tricky one for us because with a stadium you can control who comes in and out, but when a race is on a mountain or in a valley in the Alps it’s hard for us to control who stands on the side of a trail. I hope we will have fans though. It’ll definitely be different for sure.