Every year in all types of racing around the world there are always young ‘up-n’-coming’ riders who shine through, head and shoulders above the rest. Over here in the UK; Leigh Johnson (from South Wales) has absolutely annihilated his fellow Junior competitors this season in every single race he has done. He has posted times which have put him up with the Elite riders, his best being 2nd to Dan Atherton in qualifying at the Dyfi UKGE, beating all the other Elites. Leigh is a big lad for his age, 17 years old and 6 foot 3 tall (190.5cm) but although his size is large, he definitely doesn’t have an ego to match. A perfect rider for any sponsor; polite, professional, willing to listen and fast as fuck!

Another race, another podium for Leigh
Another race, another podium for Leigh

This season Leigh has represented Paligap/Marin Bikes and really done them proud, they have a great presence at the races and must be so pleased to have such a great kid riding under their banner. But will he remain with them for 2015? Will he be taking on the world in any EWS events, what is going to change? I caught up with Leigh for a post-season chat to get his thoughts on past and future racing.

So Leigh, tell me how long you’ve been riding and how you got into it, I see your dad at all the events helping out, was he part of your development as a rider?
I’ve been riding bikes for as long as I can remember. My dad taught me to ride a two-wheeler at three years old by taking the pedals off and letting me go down the hill by our house. I can remember crashing into the wall, ha ha! Yeah my dad was the one that started it off really, he used to be a pretty keen cyclist and just passed it on. He took me to Brechfa to ride the Red Gorlech route when I was 12 and I loved it. To be fair my parents have supported me wholeheartedly all the way, and recently my dad has got back into it, Never too late! I began on the usual stuff, BMX etc, then got a decent MTB when I was thirteen and started going out with the Lodge Cycle crew, then it went on from there really. Des from the LCC always says he can remember me turning up for the first club ride wearing jeans and a sweat-shirt !

You have an awesome powerful attack style of riding, did you get this from any down hilling, did you race?

Yeah I feel my DH background has certainly helped my Enduro racing. It has taught me good bike handling and given me confidence on the gnarly sections. I’ve always liked the more aggressive tracks. Before I got into Enduro I was racing DH, getting some decent results podiuming regularly at Pearce, Taff Buggy, Forest Of Dean, WDMBA etc. I did a few BDS events, but could never seem to put a good run together. In 2013 I won the local 3 race Taff Buggy series, winning every race, and my only DH race this year was in Pearce cycles, Bala where I got 3rd.

Leigh is more concerned with how he'd have got on in Elites
Leigh is more concerned with how he’d have got on in Elites

Tell me about how you have gotten to be so good at Enduro, do you think your size helps and have any of the other Junior riders ever given you a run for your money this season?
I think coming from DH is a big advantage, but I found I wasn’t actually riding my DH’er that much outside of competitions, and was spending far more time on my trail bike, but applied DH style riding to the trails, which I suppose is basically Enduro! I think sometimes my size can be an advantage, especially on a fast, rough track, but it does have its disadvantages for example when you get into the tight trees, you can definitely feel restricted sometimes, I’ve had a few tree collisions over the years! Elliot Heap is quick, and has been chasing me down all year, sometimes beating me in qualifying, but actually it’s been good knowing that if I make a mistake, he’s going to be there chasing me down, which pushes me even harder.

Leigh and his closest competition, Elliot Heap
Leigh and his closest competition, Elliot Heap

Coming from South Wales, do you feel the big scary tracks in the valleys have helped in you becoming what you are as a rider?
Yes definitely, I love living here, apart from the weather of course! I think I am very lucky to have some of the best UK trails on my doorstep, everything from trail centers to ‘Big Scary’ natural tracks, and of course there’s the famous Rheola DH track, where I cut my teeth on my second ever DH race, and it seems there’s more popping up everywhere.

What about this race when you qualified second behind Athy, how did that feel, is it true you had it set in your head to beat him?
That was a good feeling, although I had always planned to give it everything and see how close I could get, which turned out to be closer than I’d thought! I would have liked to have beaten him, but it’s easier said than done really ha ha! But I think it’s a good ambition, which will keep pushing me until it hopefully happens.

Leigh takes the overall Junior Enduro title
Leigh takes the overall Junior Enduro title

What about influences, who is your kind-of life influence and are there any riders you would class as someone to really look up to?
Des Betts at Lodge Cycles was a big influence and has always been a great help, plus all the “Lodge” crew who I used to, and still ride with. Then of course all my riding mates from the early DH days who I was regularly racing with, like Mike Jones, Taylor Vernon etc, and we still ride together now and again. With regard to current influences, at the beginning of this year I was aiming for the likes of Donny, as he’s been the leading name in UKGE for numerous years, so it’s now good to be able to mix it up with him on some stages lately. On the world scene Jerome Clementz is a big inspiration to me, as he’s almost untouchable when on top form.


So what about Marin, how’s that been riding for those guys, and what plans do you have for next year regarding sponsors?
Yeah, it’s been great, the bike’s been awesome, and I am super grateful to all the guys at Paligap/Marin for the faultless support they’ve given me this year, plus I’m really happy to be staying with them for 2015. Also big thanks to Lucy Rich and Adela, at fit4phisio, for knocking me into hopefully a better shape!

What was your best achievement and favorite race this season?
I think it was winning the overall UKGE series and knowing my consistency was there, as I managed to take the win at all five rounds. Also to have been given the outstanding achievement award was very unexpected! My favorite race must have been UKGE Dyfi, as always the UKGE events run perfectly, but I seem to feel really good in Dyfi with the fast, rough and wet stages being right up my street.

Leigh is a popular chap in the Junior category
Leigh is a popular chap in the Junior category

What about your winter training, what’s the plan, do you have any weaknesses to work on over the off-season?
The guys over at fit4physio are really good, and give me a lot of useful tips to make me stronger and faster. I think I’m going to concentrate on physical strength, and endurance. So a lot of time on the road bike, and a 29er to get the miles logged.

Are you fully committed to the UKGE for the 2015 series, what about any EWS or foreign races?
Yeah I will be attending the complete 2015 UKGE series, and hoping to do at least four EWS races, depending on how things turn out. Also I can hear the Mega Avalanche calling me back again!

What are your long-term goals in racing?
In the future I want compete at all the EWS rounds, and hope to be at the top of the UK Enduro scene.

Leigh has a real DH attack style of riding
Leigh has a real DH attack style of riding

Finally do you have any last thank-yous to go out to any of your sponsors?
Of course, I would like to say a massive thank you to the guys at Paligap for the amazing support all year long also including Marin Bikes, Stans No Tubes, Ritchey, CNP Professional, fit4physio and Airshot. Not forgetting the guys at Lodge Cycles for the continued support right from the start, Steve Parr for the scholarship deal, and all the people who chear me on. Also big thanks to my parents for always getting me to the races and the support.

Leigh cut his teeth at some of the UK's gnarliest tracks over in South Wales
Leigh cut his teeth at some of the UK’s gnarliest tracks over in South Wales

Thanks mate and good luck from all us from ENDURO Mag for your 2015 season

Interview: Jim Buchanan | Pictures: Doc Ward

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of ENDURO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality mountain bike journalism. Click here to learn more.