It’s mid-January and as unlikely as it seems, Dublin is basking in some rare winter sunshine below us. “I’ve always called Irish winters character-building” Greg says laughing as he pushes his new race bike, which is already clarted in thick mud, back up the trail towards me. That new race bike is a Devinci Spartan with the Irishman deciding that the time is right for a “fresh atmosphere” and joins the Unior Devinci Factory Racing outfit, creating a dynamic duo with Kiwi Keegan Wright. Both Greg and Unior/Devinci are coming off the back of long relationships with their respective previous team and rider, so it’s rather fitting that the two join forces in the quest for racing success; something the two are mutually hungry for.
Greg has been racing the Enduro World Series from the very beginning and has been able to grow with the sport. His story is one that has been well documented and for good reason, a sort of rags to riches fairytale that saw him go from working as a delivery driver to standing on the very top of the EWS podium. Although, by his own admission, the last two seasons have been frustrating at best, especially following on from the lofty heights of 2017, a year where he was fighting at the front all season, eventually finishing third overall with a handful of podiums and a win to boot.
It doesn’t take him long to gather his thoughts when I ask him why his ‘18 and ‘19 campaigns failed to gather momentum: “Small things can happen and knock you off your game… There are so many factors that can affect a race and there’s just been a mix of them over the last couple of years. That’s where I think this new environment at Unior/Devinci is really going to help me, I feel like I’m going to be happier at the races and feel like I’m in a better position to perform my best on the day. At the end of the day, a happy rider is a fast rider.”
Racing is a puzzle, an ever-changing Rubik’s cube of factors you can and can’t control. A physical and mental battle with yourself, the clock, and your competitors. Greg is placing the pieces together he can, and positioning himself to react in the right way to the ones he cannot: “Ever since then  I’ve believed that’s where I can be. I’ve shown in stage results that I still have that speed, it’s just been putting it all together that has been the problem. I feel like having a new bike and new people around me will make it easier to put those race weekends together and put them into the results I’m capable of.” The EWS field increases in breadth and depth year on year, meaning there can be no compromises in your approach and execution to stay at the sharp end of the sport.
Training is perhaps the most important factor for any professional athlete and can take a racer from zero to hero. Having a good relationship with your trainer is key and Greg is now entering into his 8th year working with fellow countryman and Morzine living Chris Kilmurray of Point1 Athletic: “I first contacted Chris at the end of the first EWS season, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in training. I was just riding my bike loads and towards the end of that year, I could definitely see there was a difference between the professional guys who knew what they were doing and were ready for the races, where I was just kind of winging it and getting okay results. Chris came to a few EWS and did a few different enduros and learned a lot about it. It’s pretty cool that he can do that as he feels what I feel and sees what actually happens at a race. It’s hard to actually explain the fatigue you get 12 minutes into a stage or whatever, it’s good for him to feel that and see what it does to your riding posture or the way you think or behave on the bike… We have such a good knowledge of each other now that we have this massive knowledge base that we can dip into if we need to. He knows how I respond to what it says on a training program or what he says to me, there’s transparency. I can be honest with him, if I feel bad on a day or miss a session, I know he’s not going to judge me or give out to me. It’s on me if I don’t do something right, I can tell him that because that accountability means a lot. Being accountable for your own actions. Say the weather is crap and my ride is a bit shorter than it should be, if I tell him that we can adjust the week to suit what’s happened. Where if I just tell him oh yeah I did everything… Then we’re not getting the full benefit from that week.”
Greg is Dublin born and raised and despite getting to sample some of the World’s more exotic riding locations over the years always finds himself drawn homewards: “I’ve thought about living in different places and chasing better weather but at the end of the day, I think Dublin is as good as anywhere to ride and train for enduro and just be involved in bikes… Dublin has a pretty booming scene. The amount of tracks we have to ride, the amount of different hills you can ride and the amount of people you can ride with is pretty amazing. The other day we started a ride with 3 people and before we knew it we were a group of 15, just from bumping into people you know who join in on the ride.” I can believe it too, this morning alone I’ve lost count of the people we’ve bumped into who’ve stopped for a chat and a nosey at Greg’s new bike and kit.
There is definitely a lot of national pride in Ireland. If you attended the EWS in Wicklow or seen any coverage from it you’ll know fine well the level of passionate support behind the likes of Greg from the island’s riding community. “We don’t have a massive history of sporting success” he begins to explain before adding “so when someone does well and someone from little old Ireland makes it on the world stage we get behind it so much.” I quiz him on the impact that those EWS rounds a little over an hour down the road might have in the future: “I think we can even see the effects now. I think having a local win it had a massive effect, for everyone to see the world’s best riders on our trails I think was pretty eye-opening… Then I guess to see your man from down the road beat them, I think it might have made a lot of people realise it’s possible. Okay, they’re all human. They’re just people riding bikes so it’s not unachievable to get there, compete with them, and make a career out of it. I think we can see that there are more riders than maybe 6 or 7 years ago that are pushing on to try and get there. Hopefully, that’ll keep going and 5 years from now Ireland will be a big nation in mountain biking.” You’d have to agree and feel that it might only be magnified by the direction Greg is heading in with Unior/Devinci. He seems to be in a good place and has the recipe for success moving forward. What he mentioned earlier stuck with me, a happy rider is a fast rider.
Photos by Ross Bell