It was back in February when we last spoke to Grant Ferguson (Brentjens MTB Team); he’d just finished a solid 13th in the Herald Sun Tour, ‘Down Under’ against opposition of the highest order – with the race being win by Cameron Meyer of World Tour outfit, Orica-GreenEDGE.
And there was a fourth on GC in Ireland’s Ras Mumhan in April to add to his road credentials.
But tarmac isn’t his first love; his passion involves much fatter tyres, lots of mud – and these days, just one chainring.
His MTB season kicked off in Cyprus where he took a stage win in the ‘Cyprus Sunshine Cup.’
And after a couple of seasons of near misses, the British U23 ‘cross and Elite MTB Champion has finally reached the top of the international MTB slippery pole with an excellent win in the U23 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Val di Sole in Italia.
Second was Titouan Carod (France) who’s the 2015 U23 World Cup overall winner, emphasising the quality of the Scotsman’s win.
On the eve of the Mountain Bike Worlds in Vallnord, Andorra we had a word with the man from Peebles as he put the finishing touches to his Worlds prep at the GB altitude training base in Livigno.
He’s come a long way from getting DQ-ed from the Scottish Hill Climb Champs for riding his road bike up Purrinden with no back brake a few years ago, ‘to save weight.’
Great ride, Grant – I believe this was the last round of the World Cup, how did you do overall?
“Yeah, the sixth and last round so it was nice to finally get the win – my overall World Cup standing isn’t great though because I was DNF in two rounds with punctures/mechanicals.”
[Carod won the competition with 362 points; Ferguson was sixth on 220 points, ed.]
What’s the Val di Sole track like?
“They’ve held the Worlds there in the past; it’s hilly and pretty technical plus it rained overnight making it slippery for the six laps we cover at in the U23’s.”
How’s your international form been, this year?
“I’ve been close to the podium twice in World Cups with two fourth places; at Windham, New York and Albstadt, Germany, just seconds off the podium – and I had silver in the European U23 MTB Championships behind the Spanish rider Guede.
“This win is off the back of us training here at altitude in Livigno to prepare for the Worlds in Andorra.
“I made sure I had a good start – that’s very important – and got away with a couple of French guys; I just waited, had a couple of digs to test them, got away with one of the French guys, chose my spot to attack, got the gap then rode home solo – I was picking my lines very carefully on that last lap, I didn’t want any falls or punctures!”
Are the U23 races well supported?
“There were good crowds towards the end of the race, we started early at 09:00 am before the women’s and men’s races so the crowd built as the morning went on.”
You have a busy season, when do you get a rest?
“I ride ‘cross in the winter then road as prep for the MTB season then into the MTB World Cups which start in May, the British and European Champs then the Worlds then back into ‘cross but I’ll take a break after the Worlds then get the ‘cross bike out of the garage.
“I hope to ride a few more international ‘cross events, this winter.”
How big a representation does GB have at the MTB Worlds?
“The team totals 30 but that includes ladies, juniors, downhill – for Men’s U23 we have two selections; me and Ian Paton who’s also from Scotland.
“It’s not like the road where you have to gain qualification points, it’s down to each national federation to make their own selections.”
I see you’ve gone SRAM single ring x 11 – tubeless too?
“The single ring is a lot simpler with no front changer to worry about and less cable it makes the bike ‘cleaner;’ if it’s hilly I’ll ride a 30 or 32 chain ring if it’s flat then a 34 ring.
“And yes, we’re on tubeless, they have sealant in them and will self seal a ‘slow’ – so unless you gash a sidewall you can get to the pits and in the U23’s were allowed to change wheels.”
“My season is structured to peak for them and I’m obviously going well.
“I’ve ridden the course in Andorra before, three years ago it’s hilly, not too technical but it’s at altitude of course, 2,000 metres and that’s why we’re here at Livigno – which is at 1,800 metres – to get our bodies used to it.
“You have to be careful at altitude because if you go into the red it takes a lot longer to come out of it than it does at sea level.”
VeloVeritas promises to keep a weather eye on the MTB Worlds and monitor Mr. Ferguson’s performance – we’re supposed to be impartial but can’t help but wish him, ‘all the best’ for the race.