“Greg, Greg, Greg, Greg”, the chanting rose in intensity around the finish arena. Justin Leov had arrived at the line and had set the current fastest time, but as Enrico pushed the microphone towards Justin his words had sparked an explosion of cheers “there’s still one man left on the hill”. We were in Carrick, Ireland and the Emerald Enduro was almost over, could the Irishman be victorious. The atmosphere was fizzing with electricity, photographers jostled for position to catch Greg Callaghan coming down the hill and it was hard to tell what was going on from the noise. Then a rider wearing a distinctive blue jersey broke over the the final corner to the finish arena, there was a moment of silence, then it just went mental.
The crowd detonated with noise, barriers were knocked over and fans stormed the high-fiving winner. Leading a procession of fancy dress, beer cans and noise, Greg was carried by the wave of revelry into the arena where he was engulfed under a mass of jubilant bodies. Cameras fired as beer fizzed and sprayed through the air. Greg was hoisted up into the air, Ireland had its first EWS winner and it had been done on home soil. As Greg punched the air, his dad carried aloft beside him, there was not a dry eye in the house. It was a moment that will be remembered and cherished by all who were there. Ireland had put on an amazing show, and had been rewarded with a fairy-tale ending.
With Ireland’s formidable reputation for partying, we all worried for Greg’s life that night, but survive it he did, and he went onto reinforce his position with a 3rd place in Scotland the following week too. We caught up with Greg to find out more about the young enduro superstar.
What a day Greg, what was that like?
It had been mental all day, I had a whole minute in the start gate, and for the entire time everyone was just screaming “Greg” it was just crazy. I thought they were loud at the start, but it just kept getting louder and louder
At the top rock section of Stage 7 it was crazy, Riche went down first and everyone realised that I was next and it went wild, I was not even in sight but I could hear everyone going crazy from the start
Did that make you more nervous?
Not really, everyone was having the craic and wanted me to do well, everyone seemed so happy to have the race in Ireland and to see Irish racers competing with the best, I think they would have been just as happy to see me come down in 10th
Did you ever think you could win that round?
It definitely went through my head lots of times, ever since I was a kid I have dreamed of standing on a podium like that. I guess I kind of knew there was an outside chance that I could have won, but I never really thought it would happen. Coming into the race I did not really have numbers in my head, and I don’t like to set such specific goals, as if it does not go to plan you are never happy. I prefer to focus on the process as a whole and to take each stage as it comes. Hopefully if I do it like that the result will come.
That’s an interesting approach, do you think that’s why you always seem to have pretty consistent results?
In downhill I always used to focus on a number to finish, and I started to realise that for the whole weekend I had been fixated on that number. After reading up on other sports stars I have started to realise that focussing on the end goal is not always the best way to get a result. For me I find that focussing on the process is more effective, so I try not to set too many goals.
At what point did you know that you had won?
When I came in from lunch Enrico told me I was second, and I was like “agh, I didn’t want to know that, but that’s awesome.” So I tried to forget about that for the rest of the day, I knew that it was between me and Justin and when I got to the bottom of the final stage, my dad ran up to me and said “I think you have won”, but we still had no idea. I knew I had a cushion going into the stage but it was hard to tell
Had your dad been timing you against Justin?
Maybe, but I don’t think he was as composed as that really, but he knew that I had a cushion and I knew I had not made any big mistakes, even when Justin said “I think you have won” I still needed to see it written down.
So how was the final stage, you must have been super nervous?
I was kind of focussed on that top section as I knew it was so sketchy, I had a line in mind through it, but it was quite techy and I knew it would cost me a lot if I got it wrong. I could have ridden the main line, but I knew the outside all the way was fast so I thought ‘screw it’, I got a little loose in a few places but it worked really good.
So what happened after the event, we were all worried for your life?
Ha, I think a lot of people were, it was pretty quiet really. We had dinner with the team then went to the after party which was pretty quiet. I think most people had done most of their partying on the hill. I had to keep it steady as I had Scotland the next week.
Your Facebook must have gone nuts?
Oh yes, I did not have WiFi in the field, so as soon as I got back to Wicklow, the phone was just flat out with messages.
There seems to be a huge support from fans in Ireland?
It’s been amazing, even when I am racing abroad so many people get behind me, I get so many messages from people and they just love seeing an Irish man racing with the international riders, but to see it all in person was just amazing.
What was your route into mountain biking?
I started out racing motorbikes, my dad used to race motorbike enduro at an international level and I got really into trails riding. My dad would take me along and I really enjoyed the scene. I had a little bike that I used to knock around on, and started to spend some time down at the jumps. I met some guys who took me to a DH race and it just escalated from there, I got more into bikes and less into motorbikes.
Has your dad always followed your racing?
Yeah, I learnt a lot from watching him race over the years, and now he enjoys watching me race. He has helped me a lot over the last few years and I have worked and struggled to fund it financially
What did you do to fund the racing?
I used to work as a courier with UPS, driving my van all round Dublin. Jumping in and out of the van all day did some damage, I now have plenty of imbalances in my body… ha-ha.
Has your dad got into push bikes now?
Ha, yeah, he has always wanted to try it, there was a race at Bigwood and I messaged him to say “I’ve got a second bike if you want to try it” expecting him to say no, but he was super excited. He raced it and loved it, coming 4th in the vets. He was stoked and is mad for it now.
The first time you hit the main media was when you won the Red Bull Fox hunt, back in 2012 I think! Until then we had not heard of you. Do you think it’s harder for Irish racers to get noticed?
Perhaps not noticed, but it is certainly harder for us to get the competition and to get to races. To get to races in the UK is really expensive, and before Niall changed it all with his series we have struggled to get top level riders to visit and race in Ireland. It has always been a big gamble to get to races overseas, you are never going to just turn up and start winning international events, so it involves a lot of persistence and determination, and in the end money! But since Niall started his series, there are now a lot of fast local racers.
Getting on to that, there seems to be hundreds of fast Callaghan’s out there?
There were five Callaghan’s racing at the weekend along with a cousin from my mum’s side too. Killian got third in the juniors which was awesome.
Where’s your favourite place to ride when you are back home?
Threerock for sure, I can ride from the door and no matter where I have ridden in the world, I can go to Threerock and scare myself. I can come back from the gnarliest race, thinking ‘I’m the boy’ or ‘I’m invincible’ and some little root and Threerock will just scare the life out of me.
Is it true you have poor vision in one eye?
Yes, it’s something to do with the connection between my brain and the muscle in my eye, but I have pretty much no vision on one side. It does mean my peripheral vision is a little lower but it’s grand really. I notice that when I ride road bike I tend to offset myself to one side over the stem, but on the mountain bike it’s fine.
So it was a big change for you to join the Cube Action Team, what’s that been like?
It has been amazing, it’s such a massive change from last year. It’s probably one of the most professional teams in the pits and there is certainly a lot less to worry about on race day. Everything is done for you so you just turn up and do your best.
Do you still use your van for local races?
Yeah I still love it, staying in the van and relaxing.
So back to bikes, everyone always talks about the high stack heights you guys run on the Cube bikes, what do you think?
Yeah, it’s funny that everyone seems to focus on that, I think it’s just coincidence really. Scott Laughland is really tall, and Nico has a very upright riding style, and I have always had my bars set that high. The Cube does not have a super tall headtube so perhaps it’s just that.
What size bike are you riding and have you had any custom changes to it?
I ride the 20 inch and it’s pretty standard really, I beefed up the 140 mm a little with tougher wheels and forks for some of the more aggressive stages but that’s it really. We are riding the 2016 Fox suspension which is great and they help a lot with the setup and optimisation, getting it to feel really nice.
Your riding is always described as ‘consistent’ in the media, is that because you are dialling it back to 95% or do you have the luck of the Irish?
I hope that I know my limits, I like to be quite calculated and know the stage well, knowing where I can push and get wild and know where I need to ease off, but generally I try and ride flat out and hang onto it, ha-ha.
In practice how do you approach learning a stage?
I quite like to session corners and features. If I see a group stopped I will always pull over and session it for a while. I guess from a DH background I like to know where I am going. I will watch the head cam a few times and make a plan the night before about where to push and where to change gear.
What’s it like travelling as a mountain biking couple (Greg’s girlfriend is Endura Bergamont Team rider Katy Winton)?
It’s great, I love it. It’s nice to be able to relax between races as normal people, or head to Lake Garda for some holiday time. It’s easier to enjoy the race circuit when you share it with another person.
Are you working with a personal trainer this year?
I work with Chris Kilmurray from Point1, he’s an Irish guy who I have trained with for the last two years. He lives in Morzine and we have a great working relationships. I do a bit of gym work through the winter, and then we move into race specific training during the season.
It must get pretty intense when you ride with Nico and Scotty?
Yeah, it’s great. I have generally trained alone before, so if you want to go fast you can, and if you want to go slow you can, but with those guys it’s always full gas hanging on, ha-ha. But during the race prep we do our own thing as each of us has a very different style of practice.
So lastly is there anything you would like to say to the Irish fans who supported you?
Thanks for the support, it was amazing and I will never forget it. It really did spur me on and there were occasions where I felt totally out of my depth but I got through from the excitement from the crowd. You’re all legends.
Words and photos: Trev Worsey
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