Zipping up and down the dips and hills and effortlessly manoeuvring round the last few chicanes on the revamped Cathkin Braes mountain bike course, Grant Ferguson looks at home.
A man on his bike, with the trail to himself, there are only a few members of the media watching, but when the same trails play host to the Glasgow 2018 European Championship in August, he expects things to come alive.
The 24-year-old five-times British champion navigated the same country park in 2014 as a member of the Scottish Commonwealth Games squad and he knows how encouraging a large Scottish crowd can be.
“I’m hoping it will be similar to Glasgow 2014 when we had a big crowd watching. It is really good fun competing in front of a home crowd at a big event, although, to be honest, I wasn’t really aware of the difference back then. But having done two Games since 2014 [representing GB at the Rio Olympics and Scotland in this year’s Commonwealths in the Gold Coast], it has made me appreciate having friends and family and Scottish supporters there. It definitely adds a bit to the race and makes it more exciting. It is cool to be climbing up the hill and see a few of your mates there. When we are away competing all over Europe, you are surrounded by race friends, so it’s great to be at home and feel so many people behind you. It gives you that little bit extra and helps you get going.”
Ferguson still has to book his place on the start line, with a busy schedule of World Cup events and the British Championships over the next couple of months providing him with the platform needed to impress the selectors, and, as a fan of the multi-sport concept, he is going to be doing everything he can to impress.
“It is really exciting to have so many sports here on in the city at the same time. It will create a great Games atmosphere and having mountain biking involved is important. It opens up all the sports to a wider audience and, hopefully, a lot of people will come out to watch the mountain biking as it is a free event.”
The legacy of the 2014 Games has been ongoing investment in the mountain-bike trails at Cathkin Braes, and having familiarised himself with the tweaks to the competition course, Ferguson is positive that it can pose a few questions when Europe’s elite turn up.
“There is a lot of climbing and they have added a new section which adds to the track.As well as the changes to the start/finish section, they have added a rock garden and some different bits through there and it is a brilliant place to come mountain biking.”
Every course is different, with some favouring the quick and the brave and others proving kinder to the more technical riders. Some have more ups and downs – quite literally – while others are a tougher mental challenge. In August, the riders will sample a little bit of everything.,
“This one is mostly man made and it is fast, but they have also added some root features and rock gardens, so it will be technical. Riding it flat out you will soon start feeling it and that is when it becomes even more technical.”
In front of a home crowd, Ferguson is hoping for a ride of experience. Finishing ninth in Gold Coast was laudable but it was not the performance he had headed down under in search of. Fifth in Glasgow four years earlier, he had hoped for similar, or even an improvement, instead he crossed the line five minutes off the winning time set by New Zealand’s Samuel Gaze.
“I was a bit disappointed afterwards, but I just need to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again and try to learn from the experience.”
In Australia, it was the Kiwis who dominated the top slots, with competitors from South Africa, Canada and the host nation nipping in ahead of the Scot. Those will all be absent from the Europeans in August, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier.
“Mountaining biking in Europe is massive, so, although New Zealand won’t be there, we will be up against the top Europeans. The current world champion and the current Olympic champion will be there and Switzerland and France are big nations in this sport, so they bring a lot of firepower to a race like this. It won’t be easy. It is going to be an elite field.”