Ireland's first and only pro mountain biker has sights on world glory
Irish mountain biker Greg Callaghan admits it was a "dream come true" when he turned professional just five months ago. Now the Dubliner is already surpassing even his wildest expectations amongst the world's elite.
The 23-year-old Rathfarnham native currently sits in second position of the Enduro World Series, a competition that brings together the cream of the world's mountain bike riders in what is a test of technical, endurance and climbing skills.
Wicklow was the venue for the second leg of the series, with eight events stretched across three continents in the battle to be crowned number one.
The Irish leg will live long in the memory as not only was it the first time a world series event has ever taken place on these shores, Callaghan crowned the weekend with victory, the first Irishman ever to finish top of the pile
Callaghan currently trails overall leader Justin Leov of New Zealand by just 100 points and the incredible journey thus far is taking the highly-ambitious rider by surprise.
"My aim at the start of the year was an overall top 10 finish and one race finish in the top three,” he admitted.
Those goals have been readjusted after a scintillating start to the season – he followed up his victory in Ireland with a third place in Scotland to keep the pressure on the leader –but the success and acclaim he is currently enjoying has not been without sacrifice.
Days of training twice-a-day, five times-a-week while maintaining a regular job are now fading into memories as he recalls ploughing "every penny" he made working as a courier into the sport he loves.
With a family steeped in in motorbikes, a passion for two wheels was evident from the age of eight when he first got on a bike. At the age of 15 he progressed to mountain bikes. Just two years later and he was competing at a serious level.
Callaghan quickly became one of the most respected riders on the circuit as he was able to compete with the best professionals in the world while maintaining a regular job.
"I earned a lot of respect. They saw how hard I had to work just to get to the races."
2014 was the year when the sacrifice finally paid off for the Dubliner and was offered the opportunity to join the professional ranks, but when did he realise a full-time contract was coming?
"I finished 16th in the World Series last year, with a best finish of 8th," he says. With 30 pros in the reckoning, he stood out like a sore thumb.
"I knew at the halfway point of last season that things were about to change. A few offers came in. After all the years of sacrifice, it really was a dream come true.
"Now I'm the first ever Irish rider in any mountain bike discipline to make it onto one of the big 'factory' teams.
"Recovery and preparation are the two biggest differences I have noticed. My body has time to rest properly, which makes the training sessions even more valuable."
Turning pro on New Year's Day was a landmark occasion, yet his life hasn't been completely turned upside down. Sunny training camps in Italy and Malaga were quickly marked down in the schedule, but he never had any intentions of up-rooting.
"Dublin is a pretty good place to base yourself," he says, "I have the mountains and trails right at my doorstep."
Local knowledge proved beneficial when he was the star of the show at the first-ever World Series stage in Ireland. The huge support he received, where thousands of spectators flocked to Wicklow to cheer on the local hero, was nothing short of "ridiculous" he admitted.
I don't know what to say... what an incredible weekend!! massive MASSIVE well done to Niall and his crew for making this happen and giving us Irish the opportunity to race at home. If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't even be racing enduro, the man is a legend. Thanks to everyone who came out and made the day so special, it'll never be forgotten. There are way too many people who have helped me to get here to name them here, thank you all! Off to Scotland now to try and do it all over again!!!
"It made a big difference on the day, making that much noise, everyone wishing me luck," he said. "To look up and see the triclours and hear people cheering you on, it was fantastic."
"It was 32 minutes of racing, so a lot can go wrong, but thankfully I was able to hold out and take the win."
Next month Callaghan and his fellow riders will head for Samoens the French Alps, the half-way point of the season, and preparation is fully underway to not only consolidate his position, but to keep the preussure on Love at the top of the standings.
"I'll be in the Alps for a few weeks beforehand for training. I'm going to do my utmost to pick up more points. With events in USA and Canada soon after, it will be a big month for me in the context of the season."
Callaghan believes his win in Wicklow, the highly successful bike-to-work scheme and Coillte's efforts around Ireland to develop quality trail centres means that mountain biking is going "firmly in the right direction".
Similar to his own position in the professional game.