After an explosive debut and ultimately a frustrating 2016 season, we catch up with Trek Factory Racing Enduro Team’s latest new signing, 23-year-old Scottish racer Lewis Buchanan.
I can still remember the first time I saw Lewis race, it was a Scottish Enduro Series a few years back, and as I watched the elites come through I had ticked off the usual names, then, “holy shit”, who was that? Living in the Tweed Valley you can get almost used to seeing super fast riders, home to elite international racers such as Katy Winton, Gary Forrest or Ruaridh Cunningham, but that blur of colour was none other than Lewis Buchanan making his first enduro debut after many years racing DH world cups.
Coming from a long history in DH, Lewis is no stranger to the international circuit, but enduro was something new. In his first full EWS season last year, riding for BMC, it was fair to say everyone was wondering how fast he would go in the different discipline, many DH riders had jumped over before him expecting greatness but not delivering. In the opening round of the EWS he took 13th overall, in the second round he took 7th overall – he was on fire.
Then, disaster, in a small crash while training he rearranged his elbow and that was it, he was out for the rest of the season. This of course was devastating after showing so much potential, Lewis was confined to the sidelines for the remaining rounds. But that was last year, and now he is back, hungry for racing and with a new team and bike. His explosive debut attracted the attention of Trek Factory Enduro Racing, where he now joins fellow Tweed Valley resident Katy Winton, and Canadian Casey Brown in a full 2017 Enduro World Series Campaign. We caught up with Lewis to see how he was getting on and what lay ahead in his season.
So Lewis, new year, new team – how do you feel going into the 2017 season?
“Yeah, so coming in to this year I’m with a new team and around new people. It feels like so much is different but a lot is also the same. I’m really happy to still be running a Shimano drivetrain and FOX suspension, I have total belief in that they are the best out there so it’s great to be back with them for 2017. I really look forward to meeting and working with the whole Trek team when we join up just before New Zealand. Right now I am in a super good place fitness wise and my speed is good, so it’s great to head into the season feeling confident with the work I’ve put in so far and the equipment I am on. There are still a couple of months to go until racing kicks off and it’s nice to have time to fine tune everything. The bike certainly feels a lot different but it’s exactly what I look for and it is for sure fast.”
So, Trek, that’s a very cool signing, did you have a lot of offers at the end of the 2016 season?
“Signing with the Trek Factory Racing Enduro Team is something I could not pass up. It was tough being injured last season, but I guess being new to the 2016 EWS season and putting in those first two results in my debut rounds was for sure a help in securing a contract. While I was out I just hoped that I had shown enough of what I can do, and that my consistency in both stages and results would count. I am in good hands with – and owe a lot to – my trainer Gee, we have a really good thing going which means I don’t have to worry about my fitness or preparation coming in to 2017. As far as other offers towards the end of 2016, well yes…there were a few, but with Trek I really felt like the program they have and the new Slash 29er could be something special and after riding the bike for a bit now I’m sure I made the right move.”
After such a promising start, sitting half the season out must have been a nightmare, but has it had any positives?
“Yeah, for sure it was tough. If I’m honest, I had some pretty horrible days with zero sleep due to pain, but I actually felt very positive throughout the recovery process after the surgery. I worked with my physio closely and we set little goals for me to reach, achieving those motivated me and each one I ticked off meant I was getting closer to being back on the bike. The first two EWS races also taught me so much, experience that I can apply to this year’s races. Having a full winter of training under my belt in preparation for 2016 and starting my training earlier than most for 2017 means I have a good base, I am probably riding better than before my crash last year.”
So let’s talk about the bike, coming from a DH background you were probably the last person we expected to see on a 29er, but you are now moving onto your second big wheeled bike. Are you a convert?
“It’s funny, I feel really at home on the 29er. For me there are no disadvantages and no loss of fun on the bike, you can still throw it about. I am totally confident in saying that I will be racing on the Trek Slash 29er all year round, it’s just that good a bike. I love how planted it feels and the bigger wheels, in my opinion, give better traction and are great at carrying speed/maintaining speed.”
29ers certainly benefit a more intelligent riding style, did you have to adjust your style at all to fit to the new bikes?
“I would say when I switched to enduro I had to change my riding style to adapt to the different way of racing. I now try and be more consistent and efficient, which you need to be if you’re racing enduro. So hoping onto the 29er, my style kind of fit already, but that’s not to say I don’t like to let it all hang out when needed – because I do!”
It’s a new bike to you which you’ve only had for a few weeks, what’s your process for setting up the Slash 29?
“When the bike arrived, it already came with all the team sponsors components on it. My training involves a lot of bike time so I’m pretty much out on my enduro bike 5-6 days a week, and for me to get that much time in on a new bike is key. I tend to not mess about too much with settings, but I do go back and forth with Jordi at FOX who helped me with testing last year, and he knows what I tend to like. He sends out shocks for me to try and I give feedback, he will then tell me what adjustments to make so I can bump them in myself and try it out. I’m super impressed with the FOX X2 suspension and my bike feels incredibly smooth. The shock I currently have on my bike is pretty special…Big thanks Jordi!! The only real changes I make are rebound depending on track surface and conditions but once I feel good on something I prefer to stick with it and just get out there and race.”
So let’s talk about the 2017 season, Richie Rude is just an animal, can he be caught?
“You know he has been super dominant the past couple years, but yes I believe he can be caught. There are now so many good dudes in the top 10-15 and we are all striving to be the best. For me it’s certainly very motivating after almost beating him in a stage in Argentina (Richie won the stage – Lewis took second overall, under 1 second behind). I’d like to repeat a performance like that again. I guess we shall see.haha.”
If you had to race an ENDURO 2 race (pairs) who would you pick to be your partner?
“I think I would pick Sam Hill. I feel like our skills and background would go together pretty well. I look up to Sam a lot and I guess if that was to ever happen it would just be awesome to pair up with him, haha.”
OK, so what’s the best piece of racing advice you have been given in your journey to where you are now?
“I have learned a lot throughout my racing career so far. For me personally it’s to look after yourself properly when doing your rehab. Injuries are part of the sport and everyone is going to get them. So sticking to the plan and doing your rehab religiously will get you back quicker than anything else will”
So what will happen now, how does the next few months look for you?
“I’m in a pretty strict high intensity training block right now. It will ease of a little bit towards the start of the season, but I will still be at home in Innerleithen riding a bunch and just putting in the hours up until the first round of the POC Scottish Enduro Series, which will be my first race on the new bike.”
Nice one Lewis, best of luck for the season. We will bring you a full pro bike check of the Trek Slash 29, as soon as Lewis has had some time to set it up.
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Words & Photos: Trev Worsey