Images: Tommy Wilkinson, Ian Linton, Zach Faulkner
Two friends start racing bikes at the age of 12 – both are Inverness locals and filled with a fire to do well. Downhill is their first love and both show early promise, yet their paths diverge as one rider enters the world of XC and the other stays with DH.
Kenta Gallagher and Greg Williamson have been friends for years. Despite this it’s only now that they find themselves competing for bragging rights – on the biggest stage of all.
Greg, currently ranked 6th in the World cup overall needs no introduction to the downhill fraternity. On his day, Greg is one of the fastest riders in the world, riding for the Cube Global Squad. The former TWR and MTBcut rider has always had the raw talent and speed to operate at the highest level of DH, but bad luck has occasionally stalled his momentum. Now, with great people surrounding him and confidence back in his Inverness legs ” Groundskeeper willy ” is starting to blossom.
Kenta may not be so well known: Yet his exploits on the world stage are no less, except, to the shock of many, they were in cross country. A race winner at XCE World Cup level, Kenta represented Scotland to a creditable 10th at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, shortly before dropping the “ Pro MTB dream” to follow his passion for DH. It’s worth noting that Kenta bought himself out of his contract to chase DH, something his team manager at the time decided was the right thing to allow given his enthusiasm for gravity. Let’s not forget that KG is a World Cup Winner.
We caught up with the two riders before their local World cup race rolled into the Nevis Range and grabbed a few thoughts with how things have been going….
DW: So guys, you’re having slightly differing seasons at this point in time – is it bragging rights at Fort William, or are you looking at the bigger picture?
G: Haha! It’s always bragging right with us, but naa of course I think we’ll both look to do our own thing and both aim for our best result possible. ( Greg went on to claim a 7th place finish )
K: haha all day bragging rights for sure…we both have different aims and are both at different levels in our careers- so just gunning for the best we can do on the day! Hopefully Greg gets that bloody podium though!
Kenta is proving to be one of the top privateers of 2016. Privateer of theyear may be an unofficial accolade but it tells the industry you are coming, and mean business….
DW: Right then – serious crack now: How have the first two world cup races gone so far this year? Be honest!
G: Better than I thought… I’m right on target for where I want to be and felt great to get some redemption on the two courses which kind of spoilt my last 2 season’s.
K: Better than I thought as well, I’m always happy to just quali if I’m honest and then just try my best in finals so I’m happy when I get through to the main show. But yeah – 100% better than last year!
DW: You both train together ( and booze, or “try to booze” as we’ve heard on the grapevine…) as often as you can – where are your local spots?
G: We do when we can. We both have the same local spot’s but sometime’s Kenta has to work so we might miss the odd ride. However we both have the same close mate’s at home so even when we ain’t riding we’re getting the craic.. Probably doing something stupid haha
K: Yeah it’s cool when Greg’s around and I’m not working ( As a Barista ) to get out for a blast and learn from him! But yeah we hang out with the boys a lot and enjoy Inverness like the lads we are! Oi Oi!
Kenta Gallagher in the rock garden marshall point 6, on his way to 17th at Fort William
DW: Fort William is a bit of a spectacle – always a few thousands spectators cheering you on. What’s the best things about performing in front of a home crowd?
G: The noise! It’s unreal and that mixed with it being the one race your mates & family can make it to makes it pretty emotional so that pushes me to do well and get that feeling.
K: I’ve never done a finals there as I didn’t qualify last year so I’m bloody excited to try get through to the Sunday and witness it from the right side of the tape! I’ve been there a few times when I was younger – watching Peaty and desperate to be a downhiller!
The privateer life. Building up a new wheel the night before raceday at Windham, 2015.
DW: Greggsy you’re a full time pro , KG you’re a full time Barista! If the chance ever arose do you think you’d make good team mates?
G: I don’t see why not… Guess we’ll just have to wait and see, It’s nearly happened before on Crystal Maze haha!
K: Yeah for sure I can learn a lot from Greg, maybe not off the bike or driving a car – but on the bike I can. It’s a matter of getting the results for me to try make a name and get recognised but I’ll keep trying and training hard for it.
DW: If you had to pick out the best feature in each other’s riding, what would it be?
G: Kenta does the best ‘mech check whip’ I’ve ever seen, I’m not even sure people are ready for it…Think it developed from his high-saddle XC days but it’s the kinda whip that put Nino Schurter to shame!
K: Haha! His road riding aero position is almost as aerodynamic as an arctic Lorry towing a parachute! Ha! He’s smooth – in the bike sense and not the “chatting up” the ladies sense…and decent to watch on the dirt jumps. And he is genuinely jealous of the Nino whip!
DW: What can we expect to see from the Scottish riders at the remaining World Cup Rounds this year?
G: Good times, fast riding and obviously we’re the coolest looking bunch at the races too! We all really want to perform in front of our awesome home crowd.
K: the locals will be going fast that’s for sure! Everyone wants to pull a good result infront of friends and family. It’s gonna be epic!
DW: On that note, Scotland is now right up there in the DH world. Crawfy was the only rider to really make an impact at top ten level before, we had fast guys , and Stu Thomson got a podium, but now there’s quite a few of you. Is this a purple period for DH in Scotland?
K: For us both? What’s does purple period mean?
DW: Like a good period, a golden age.
K: Yeah and it’s only getting faster, with more riders having better opportunities there are more Scots racing at a higher level now.
G: Just what KG said, there’s a good crew of us on the WC circuit now and hopefullyScotland can get a win in the not to distant future!
DW: And you both started in the SDA series – but now the Enduro side is really taking off in Scotland , the SDA series is down in numbers a little. How important was that series for you guys?
K: Yeah the SDA played a big part but so did the Scottish XC series. Didn’t get back to SDA properly after a 7 year break really. Even thought I’m doing the World Cup series , I’ll make sure a get to as many SDA’s as I can .
Since the interview , Kenta landed a 17th at Round 3 in Fort William and 35th at Round 4 at Leogang .Greg continued his consistent start to the season, with a 7th and a 6th place. It’s fair to say the baeys are flying and Scotland are probably in the strongest position ever in terms of results on the World scene. With riders like Joe Connell, Ruaridh Cunningham, Reece Wilson, Ben Cathro and more all chomping at the bit, it could be that Scotland soon see’s another World Cup podium come its way, and maybe more.
As our editor Tommy Wilkinson says ” Last year I’d been chatting with a very influential person in the Scottish DH scene and we had been asking the question about the pshyce of Scottish sports people, and weather there was an issue there. Some might take umbrage at that, but we need to be candid when looking for routes forward. Now, I can sense that isn’t the case. Scotland has a renewed vigour when it comes to DH and being top dog in Scptland by default now means you are internationally fast. The domestic competition has helped raise the global performance and guys like Greg and Kenta will continue pushing along with Ruaridh and the others. A world cup win is now not unrealistic and it’s a fun time to watch how things develop”