Friday, 14 June 2013

Kenta Gallagher - On Top Of The World

Kenta Gallagher in his Team GB kit (photo credits to Scottish Cycling/British Cycling)

The 24th of May 2013 will be a day that will stick in the memory of Kenta Gallagher for the rest of his life. This was the day that the 21 year old full-time cyclist won his first - of hopefully many! -World Cup races.

We at the SXC had a chance to catch up with Kenta at the third round of the British XC series the weekend following this fantastic result. At Hopton Woods in Shropshire he managed a respectable 6th place following his exertions in Europe.

At the second round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, Kenta managed to put a difficult start to the race season behind him and show the form that has been promised for many years. As a short, sprint specialist, the new Eliminator race suits his riding style. Bettering his previous best result of semi-final qualification, Gallagher cruised into the finals, where superior skill carried him safely through the first rocky section. As two fellow competitors – there are four in each race – dropped out due to mechanicals, Kenta knew the final sprint would be decisive. He dropped back on the approach to the finish straight, then stood up to put the pressure on the pedals and sprinted past his German opponent.

“It was a really tough course. It is short racing, but you’re pushing at 100% for the duration. Of all the Eliminator courses on the World Cup circuit it’s one of the toughest. The start is fast, and then there’s a difficult rock garden section to negotiate and avoid any mechanicals. There is a long drag to the finish line and I knew that would be the most important part of the race”

Photo copyright Rob Jones
It was a moment of pure release and emotion for Gallagher who joined the Great Britain squad in 2010 as part of the Olympic Academy programme. In the two years that followed, Kenta was the British Under-23 XC Champion and in 2013 moved onto the senior Podium Programme. Kenta is currently riding for Superior-Brentjens Mountain Bike team, founded by Bart Brentjens, a fellow World Cup winner and also Olympic and World Champion.

“I’m really lucky to be part of such a world-class team. I get to ride a new Superior 29er which is a fantastic bike, and I’m supported by some of the best people and companies in the bike business. Riding for Team GB allows me to travel around to lots of countries, and they help with my training and racing schedule.”

To reach such dizzying heights of the sport you love is a grand achievement for a boy who came last in his first race and didn’t race a bike again for months following that disappointment. Kenta began racing in the Sprogs Under-12 category in his first SXC at Contin, close to his home town of Inverness, in 2002. The Gallagher family soon became regulars at the SXC races, with his younger sister Yuka proving that speed and fantastic bicycle handling skills run in the family.

Kenta as the 2011 National Champion with his Mum and sister Yuka (pic (c) Yuka)
“In 2002 we went along to Contin to try out mountain biking at the SXC race. I entered into the Under-12’s category, and managed to come last! I was so disappointed that I didn’t want to race anymore, but fortunately a few months later I changed my mind and was back racing regularly at the Under-12’s races. After that, I moved into the Juvenile category and starting taking part in the British series races. I’ve also raced in the downhill series, which was great fun and a really good way to help improve my bike handling skills.”

Despite having the opportunity to travel the world to race and ride his bicycle, Gallagher maintains that his favourite place to ride his bike is on the trails around Inverness. It’s what he’s grown up with and loves, with miles of tight, twisty trails a stone’s throw from his home. Looking at these tracks, it’s easy to see how Kenta so quickly developed into a world class cyclist, with an abundance of roots, rocks, technical challenges and big hills.

Kenta at the SXC series race at Cathkin Braes

“Definitely, my favourite place to cycle is back up North in Inverness. There are so many trails to choose from that I could ride my bike all day and not get bored. It’s riding on the natural tracks like these that helped me develop my cycling skills and always make sure that I enjoyed cycling and it never became a chore”

Kenta is a fan of the traditional style race courses, such as the red route at Lagan, Pitmedden, Drumlanrig or Glentress. In fact, he seems to be quite happy riding a bike anywhere in Scotland! Gallagher is a bit more sceptical about flat, man-made courses though, preferring the more natural, rooty, technical options. He does, however, believe that the Commonwealth Games course at Cathkin Braes will make for fantastic racing due to it’s fast and close nature. At the recent SXC series race at Cathkin Braes, Kenta took second place behind his team-mate and fellow Scot, Grant Ferguson. There he praised the support of the spectators on the course, who helped create an event with a world cup feel with cowbells and banners. Should he achieve Commonwealth Games qualification, he looks forward to the support from Scottish fans.

“I love coming back to Scotland to race. While there are fantastic trails all over the world, I’ve always enjoyed racing in Scotland. I think that the British Championships coming to Glasgow is another great opportunity for the Scottish riders to do well, similar to 2009 at Innerleithen. The crowds will be loud, as they were for the SXC race there, and come the Commonwealth Games, the crowds will be better yet again.”

These days, Kenta is left with little time to return to Scotland to race in the SXC series as his time is limited by international travel and the chase for UCI world ranking points and qualification for larger races. Gallagher believes that it was through the SXC that his love for mountain biking grew as he enjoyed the events, not simply for the racing, but for the whole day out with his family and friends. Going away for the weekend to race bikes and to enjoy the competition was a large part of his childhood and helped him to become the successful, driven racer that he is today. Hopefully in the run up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games as the big teams bring riders to test the Cathkin Braes course, we’ll see more of Kenta in Scotland and pinning on a number to race in the SXC series.

Kenta on the podium at the recent SXC race at Cathkin Braes

“At the SXC races I had a great chance to develop and grow as a mountain biker. It wasn’t all about the racing, though the winning always was good! Meeting up with friends from all over the country and enjoying the atmosphere at the fantastic SXC venues was the best part of the weekend. We’re lucky in Scotland to have some of the best trails in the world, and racing in the SXC series gave me the chance to get out and ride them.”

Many thanks to Kenta for taking the time to speak to the SXC, and well done again on such a fantastic victory. All the best to Kenta, and his fellow Scots who are racing in Val di Sol this weekend at the third round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.

You can watch this weekend’s World Cup race on Redbull TV, found here;

Check out Kenta’s team on their website here;

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