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Interview: A post season chat with the Don

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When it comes to the UK and Gravity Enduro, there is one rider who stands out head and shoulders above the rest of the UK participants, Neil “The Don” Donoghue. He has the skill, the style, the sponsorship and the online status and following of a true pro. Having plugged away for years in the MTB world, to have become one of the UK’s top publicised riders. Donny now adorns most of the glossy mags with various race pics and adverts for top brands such as Santa Cruz, Renthal and Royal. He won the 2012 UKGE series overall and only placed second overall this season, due to all rounds counting, and him missing one, choosing to dip his feet into some epic foreign races. So being as he’s a local Shropshire Monner (could we say King of the Monners!) I felt it only right to hook up with him (one of my fellow riding buddies) and get some words on the ups and downs of his fantastic 2013 race season.

Don nailing some local Shropshire loam

Don nailing some local Shropshire loam

Firstly Don (for those that don’t know) can you give a brief history of your riding from our old days for Longmynd Cycles up to the present day.

I started riding in 1995 and racing almost straight away, there was a good scene back in the 90s locally and a lot of good racers lived in the area. I raced Downhill through Youth, Junior and then into the Elite category. My first sponsor was Longmynd Cycles a local shop run by a friend and his Dad, then I moved onto Grip Magazine, Royal Racing when Steve Peat started that, Halfords when I started racing World Cups then MBUK Santa Cruz. I have now been riding Santa Cruz for a long time. Nowadays I race Enduro and coach MTB skills, which keeps me busy. I probably ride my bike more now than I ever have.

Obviously you were stoked with your 2012 win, but can you tell me your thoughts on having to concede 1st overall 2013 to Alex Stock, due to him having done all the rounds, and you missing one.

It was a tough one for me this year, but that’s the way it rolls. Al is a really good rider and well done to him, he deserves to win the overall. I was a bit gutted because the couple of previous years you could drop a round. This year I wanted to try a couple of different races and I had to miss a round of the UK series to race the Trans Savoie which was an awesome experience but really that cost me the chance of winning the overall.

Don, happiest in the middle!

Don, happiest in the middle!

What were your favourite/least favourite rounds and why?

I always enjoy racing at Eastridge because it is local, I still really enjoy the trails there. It is a good mix of Enduro I think, proper Downhill sections linked with some nice flowing stuff that is a good challenge to ride fast. My least favourite was Afan, the weather didn’t help but the trails aren’t really my cup of tea. A lot of trail centre stuff and a pretty horrendous freshly cut trail. I decided to try and ride it out and Dan Atherton almost ran past me!

So if Santa Cruz said one bike only would it be the Bronson or the Tall Boy?

I will go with the one I have ridden the most- the Bronson. It had a lot of hype when it came out but it is totally justified. It is an awesome bike. I loved my TRc last year, that is such a fun bike, but the Bronson feels similar but more capable on the rougher trails.

Smooth as silk upon the Bronson

Smooth as silk upon the Bronson

Now I know you hate the wheel-size debate, can you elaborate?

It bores the life out of me. It seems every ride descends into the wheel size chat. People get very passionate about it and take it very seriously. I just try and ride for fun. Make your choice and just ride.

When you went out and did the EWS round at Punta Ala I know you had a nightmare, what exactly happened?

It was the first round of the EWS so it was cool to get out there and see what it is all about. It was a nightmare from the start. People had been out for weeks practising, so I had a massive disadvantage. I then snapped my chain on the first stage and had to run a lot. That was game over for a good overall finish but I thought I would just see what I could put down on an individual stage. I then snapped my chain again and had a big crash, finishing with a broken gear cable on the final stage and a total write off of a race! A bit of bad luck I suppose with the chain, but the gear cable was my fault, I should have replaced that before the race.

The Trans Savoie sounds like it was ridiculously hardcore, was it still fun or just a massive slog, what was your best and worst memory from that event?

It was a lot of both I suppose. Some of the riding was amazing, the best I have ever done I think. But there were some parts of the race that were really hard, a bit too hard for my liking. I honestly think if the organiser listens to the feedback and tweaked a couple of things it could be the best race out there. It definitely has the trails! Best memory was the final stage of a day that was 20 minutes of the nicest, loamiest trail I have ever ridden, worst memory was bout 20 minutes later when I had to ride up a hill for an hour back to the campsite, absolutely spent from racing all day and already having drank 5 litres of water. I had to drink out of a stream to get me home!

You’ve had some great publicity with advertisements and cool videos this year, do you feel you are now in a better place in Enduro than you ever were in DH, do you prefer to race Enduro or do you miss DH?

I don’t really think about it to be honest, I am just enjoying what I’m doing now. I have some amazing sponsors that make it possible and I have a great relationship with them. I took the decision a long time ago to just use the kit I wanted to and have been lucky building a list of dream sponsors. I used to miss racing DH a bit, I still think it is the raddest sport out there and I really like watching the World Cups, there are still a lot of my friends out there racing them and it is cool to see how they do. But for me that is what I used to do, been there done that. Happy where I am now.

We have covered you briefly before with your Coaching, how’s that all going, anything different happening with that for the future?

Coaching is going really well, it just seems to get busier all the time, it’s nice to get out on the bike for a days work and it can be rewarding getting people to progress with their riding. I have some plans this year to take a young rider or two and see what I can do with them. I have met a few really good young racers recently and I would like to help them out.

Vini tags on for tips off the master

Vini tags on for tips off the master

What are your plans for training and general riding this off-season, will you be gracing us lesser Mon’s with your presence for regular rides like last year?

It hasn’t really crossed my mind yet. Give it a month or two to relax a bit and then I will get back into putting some miles in on the XC bike or road bike. I like the social rides we have locally but they probably aren’t the best for training, because there is more chatting than hard riding and they always finish in the pub!

Sponsors dream, Don chats with Hope owner Simon Sharp

Sponsors dream, Don chats with Hope owner Simon Sharp

The big question on lots of racers minds is whether you go for the glory on all rounds of the UKGE plus their National Champs round, or will you concentrate more towards the EWS rounds?

I am planning that at the moment, I think I am going to concentrate more on racing in the UK. The EWS is great but it takes a huge amount of commitment to do well at them. I will be coaching a lot next year but I am also putting more time into producing some really good riding edits and a couple of photo projects.

Thanks from all of us at Enduro Mountain Bike Mag and all your mates in the Shire, we’re backing you all the way mon!

No worries and thanks to Enduro Mag and the companies that help me out-
Steve Peat Syndicate, Santa Cruz, Royal, Seven iDP, Hope, Renthal, Continental, Fox Racing Shox and Mojo, Troy Lee Designs, Five Ten, E13, Invisiframe, Evoc

Words Jim Buchanan | Pics Doc Ward

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Don sending it!
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