Interview with Gary Forrest, Scotland’s Enduro Champion
If you have watched all this years enduro team edits, it would be easy to think that all the top elite racers are living the highlife! Transported round in team buses, revered by the media, riding as much as they like and getting looked after like rockstars. However some at the sharp end of the scale live just like us, working long hours to scratch out a living while trying to fit training into the small gap between home time and night time. One such top-30 EWS rider is Gary Forrest, a 27 year old Scottish racer, riding for IBIS UK, who has to balance working full time as a digger driver with trying to remain competitive on the international stage.
Humble and good natured, Gary could well be described as one of the EWS’s most underrated riders. No stranger to the main stage, Gary raced in Elite DH taking the Scottish and British championships, then rode on the world cup circuit for a number of years where his loose and often reckless ‘do or die’ riding was infamous. In 2011 UK Enduro really took hold and Gary saw the potential in the new sport, switching focus and taking the 1st Elite Mens National Enduro Championship title.
I first met Gary over in Finale Ligure, he was out for the 2012 SuperEnduro. I had spent a fair bit of time in the beautiful tweed valley (Gary’s homeland) and had heard a fair few whispers that he was pretty rapid. Against a super strong international field he went on to finish 4th in his category!
Impressive as this was, the most memorable result for me was this years Innerduro event, held on a muddy, cold February day in Innerleithen. Being the first event of the season, it was a chance for riders to gauge winter fitness and to see who had put the work in. Innerleithen breeds super fast riders with legends like Crawford Carrick Anderson regularly gracing the local podiums, racing is always super tight, down to the second, and rivalries are fierce. The course was steep, muddy and super slick and Gary was on the first ride on his new Ibis Mojo HD. Anyone who saw his stages that day witnessed something special, on-form and charging he blew apart the event finishing 2mins37 up on the nearest competition, a result that will be talked about for years in the bike mad tweed valley, for 2013 Gary meant business.
Gary had a mixed EWS season this year, despite getting a number of top 15 stage results, he struggled with mechanicals, injury and seeding issues, and his hopes for a top20 finish slipped away. However with a number of top 30 finishes it is evident that if Gary finds his flow internationally, he has the potential to be David to the EWS Goliaths.
We caught up with Gary in Finale just before the EWS event to find out how his season had gone, and what it is like to be a self funded, top level racer.
With the EWS enduro’s being a lot more technical that UK enduro’s, do you think it helps to come from a downhill background?
Yes and no really, you get the lazy downhillers, but most downhillers are just as fit as XC riders these days. The same goes for XC guys too, the level of skill in the field is amazing, riding short travel bikes down sketchy descents!
So you still work full time driving diggers, talk us through your training?
Hmm, well for me it is tough as I work hard for a living. I work between 46-50 hours a week so squeezing in training is hard! I normally take Monday off and do some running on Tuesday night after work. We all ride on Wednesday nights, Ruiriadh Cunningham, Katy Winton, G and my brother hit the local trails. That’s all I can do really as work swallows up the rest of the time.
G (Geraint Florida-James) is a Sports Science Professor, does he help with your training?
Aye he is instrumental for me, the first time I met G, I was cycling down his wall and he chased me off! I jumped into his garden and got away, he caught me in the bike shop later that day though!
He must have seen potential in your escape speed?
He is a great person to have around, really positive and a great trainer. We ride a lot together and he is a great friend, I owe him a lot!
It must be tough heading out to train after a full day at work?
It all depends on how you are feeling that week, if I am labouring I get back feeling more motivated! If I am stuck in the digger all day I get back feeling pretty spaced out, you know mentally tired. I like to get out on the road bike in the spring if possible but I am definitely a fair weather rider.
How do you find training through the Scottish winter?
It is tough; you finish work in the dark, go out training in the dark and then go to bed! Ha that’s pretty much it.
Next year the EWS is going to spread out do you think that will be achievable to a privateer racer?
I think it is good that there are a lot of options for 2014, with the European series starting up that could be a viable option for those who cannot get out to all the EWS events. I think that as the EWS gets more global, everyone is looking to get onto a big factory team with the budget to allow you to not only race in the EWS, but also keep sharp racing other enduro’s like the Trans Provence.
What about the Scottish series?
I am definitely going to do the Scottish series; it will be great to race the best in the nation. It’s right on my doorstep too which will be great!
So you have had a fair few mechanicals this season, do you think a large part of enduro is managing your bike through the tough stages?
<>Totally, it’s really important to manage your bike and yourself, you can’t just ride like you’re on a downhill bike, hitting off anything. Even though enduro bikes are really strong they will never have the strength of a downhill bike, and the EWS stages are so rough you will soon break wheels if you are not careful. You have to manage yourself too, if you go hard out in the first few turns and put too much in, you will be goosed by the bottom. A big part of it is getting rested too, you have to try and save energy over a busy race weekend, even things like queuing for bike washes and fixing your bike can have an impact.
You have raced downhill at an Elite level, how does the start gate of an enduro stage compare with waiting for the beeps at the top of a DH run?
I guess it is different for me now as when I raced downhill I was really young, I used to get all hyper and crazy. Over the years you get more experienced so now I am pretty chilled out at the top. I guess I know what is needed now to get good results, whereas as a youngster I was a real hell raiser and would just go for it and probably crash! I have calmed down a lot! I think that the actual start feels the same; the difference comes in between where you feel like you are out for a ride with your friends, that’s the cool thing about enduro! Enjoying the day with people you have not even met.
So talk us through the last seconds before you start your stage, what goes through your mind?
I try and keep the trail in my mind, what lines to hit, and repeat it over and over! It helps to handle the pressure! If you think about where you are going rather than what you have to do, it makes it easier. A funny story is that when I was in New Zealand in 2008 I got into a habit I picked up from Dave Young, wiggling my ankle before starting. I just started doing it and have no idea why. At the start of a race Brook Macdonald asked what I was doing. I told him it helped calm me down, then he started doing it, and to this day he still waggles his ankle before leaving the gate.
I saw you getting pretty caught up in traffic in Punta Ala?
It was tough this year for the organisers as there was so many unknowns, I was seeded really low at the start so had some traffic at Punta Ala which was difficult. But ever since then it has been really good, if I have caught someone they have moved over straight away.
Do you think that the stages are tough enough?
Oh yeah for sure, sometimes you feel like you are on the edge of a cliff at some points, I think Health and Safety in France is a bit different from home! It has been a great season.
Any great advice for aspiring enduro racers?
To do well you have to finish, there is no point in putting it all down then crashing in the stages. I used to have a wild past in DH which so this is particularly relevant to me.
Aye, its fair to say you had a bit of reputation back in the past for loose riding, either wining or coming last?
I think everyone matures at different rates and my riding is starting to mature now, hopefully that will start coming through in my results.
A lot of guys are looking to get on teams now, do you think that currently money invested into the riders reflects that invested into the industry?
It does seem like a lot of new bike manufacturers are picking up riders, which is great for the sport keeping it very competitive, but it does not have the depth that I thought it would have. Everyone struggles on and tries to do the best they can with what they can get! IBIS UK have been great supporting me and Lewis Kirkwood and the Mojo HDR is a really fast bike!
Where are you currently sitting in the rankings?
Well I got a DNF in Val d’Isere when I twisted my ankle, but I think I am currently 34th, I really wanted to be top 20 at the start of the year, but I did not get the season I was hoping for, it’s all about 2014 now.
Words and Photos: Trev Worsey