Sunday 4 December 2016

Back in the Saddle - Professional mountain biker Greg Callaghan on his return from injury

Ireland's only professional Enduro mountain biker, Greg Callaghan, 24, tells our reporter why coming back from injury has sharpened his sights for the World Championship

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

Mountain biker Greg Callaghan
Mountain biker Greg Callaghan

Last May, Dubliner Greg Callaghan made headlines when he won the Irish leg of the Enduro mountain biking World Series, aged just 24. Almost immediately following the triumph, however, Greg was injured during a training session, which impacted the rest of his season. Despite the setback, he managed to finish the year at number 10, and hopes to build on this progress throughout the 2016 season.

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Last May, Dubliner Greg Callaghan made headlines when he won the Irish leg of the Enduro mountain biking World Series, aged just 24. Almost immediately following the triumph, however, Greg was injured during a training session, which impacted the rest of his season. Despite the setback, he managed to finish the year at number 10, and hopes to build on this progress throughout the 2016 season.

Greg has been fully professional since December 2014, when he was signed to the one of the biggest teams in the sport, CUBE Action. The Rathfarnham native's love for two-wheeled action goes all the way back to his childhood.

"I started out in motorbike trials because my dad and my uncles race, so I was always mad for motorbikes," Greg says. "But the issue with motorbikes, when you are young, is that you need to wait for someone to bring you out. So I had my own bike for cycling around and messing on; I went up to some local jumps and just started riding there and all the guys that I got to know there told me I should go up the mountains and try some mountain biking.

"Once I gave that a go, I was hooked. It was great because it was something I could do by myself, so if my dad couldn't take me out on the motorbike, I would go out on the mountain bike."

Greg started out competing in downhill racing, before switching to Enduro - a stage race discipline involving both up and downhill racing.

"I started competing on a small level when I was about 15 in racing downhill, which is a very different discipline," Greg explains. "I just turned up to a few races and had a go, but I did fairly well. Then as I got into juniors, I got selected to be on the Irish team for the European Championships in Slovenia in 2009; that was a turning point where I realised what I could do and how hard I could push on the bike.

"After that I kept racing downhill and I did a few more World Cups and world level things, but I was never going to make a job out of it; I loved it, but it is hard for an Irish person to make it in downhill because it's more about bigger mountains, speed and bigger tracks, which we don't really have here.

"Then Enduro came along - a stage race where you have seven stages in a day and it can be on any kind of terrain because all of the races really differ depending on where they are in the world. You could be in Chile one week, New Zealand the next or Ireland; so once you are on a bike you are training for it. When Enduro came along that suited the kind of training I was doing and love doing. It was a just great fit."

Luckily, this change of discipline was a rather smooth process for Greg.

"Despite the fact that I didn't have that much experience at Enduro, I was already at a better level, so I stuck with it and I raced all of the European mountains in the World Series that first year," Greg says.

"I said to myself 'Right, I can definitely make a go of this; the top guys aren't that far ahead of me...' I knew I could definitely bridge that gap and that is when I started putting everything into it; working as hard as I could."

Over the last three years, Greg has worked closely with renowned fitness and physical preparation coach, Chris Kilmurray of Point 1 Athletic Development.

"We do most of our planning on Skype as Chris lives in France," Greg explains. "In the off season it's just about training, day in and day out, doing all the work that nobody sees in order to prepare for the season when it starts the end of March and until the start of October.

"I do most of my training here in the Wicklow and Dublin mountains," Greg adds. "I train six days a week and most days I would have two sessions a day, so I'd be out on the bike, either the road bike or the mountain bike in the morning and then in the gym in the evening.

"In winter, I do a bit of running and swimming too, rather than just cycling. My coach Chris gives me very detailed plans, so everything in the gym is done for a reason; one session might be all about explosive power on the bike and another could be to simply maintain strength, so that you are not fatiguing when you are riding.

"Then you might have a session, which is more about injury prevention because we do crash, so it's really about making sure that your body can take the hit."

Last year saw Greg's first significant injury since reaching world level, which required a stint in hospital for knee surgery. "I had a really good start to the year and was sitting on second in the World Championship, but then I was training in Austria and I crashed and broke my hand and put a big hole in my knee so unfortunately that meant I had to miss a round and was coming back off injury then for the rest of the season.

"So it put an end to the hopes for the year, but it happens," Greg tells me. "The goal for this year now is to build on last year's win here in Ireland and go on to win the World Championship."

Nutrition is also extremely important for Greg. "Nutrition is massive for any athlete; I always make sure that I eat to what my needs are for that day or week's training," he says. "You definitely can't just eat what is in front of you, which has been probably the biggest change for me since I began to pursue this sport seriously, as opposed to when I was just riding for fun.

"It was one of the things that I really needed to improve at the very beginning and I have had to work hard on. I probably eat more protein in the day than anything else, but it's not a case of me not being able to have this or that; it's more about eating good quality food than anything. I don't limit what I can eat."

Greg's success to date was recognised last December at the Excellence in Sport Awards, where he received the award for Outstanding Achievement in an Alternative Sport.

"It was a massive honour," he says. "What I do may not be mainstream quite yet, but it is my world and it is a huge sport around the world. Yes, it is still a very young sport, but it is growing very fast, so it's a really exciting time to be involved."

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