Q&A: Chris Eatough
The six-time Solo Mountain Bike World Champion talks to us about his incredible career and how it all began at Bolton School
What do you remember about sport at Bolton School?
The first thing that I noticed was the quality of sports facilities. The playing fields were the best in the area and the pool was clean and new. Then there was the opportunity to try new sports, like water polo and biathlon. They played all the traditional sports, but there were some less common options also. Then I noticed the quality of coaching. In particular, Bolton School coaches always taught sportsmanship and fair play. That is something that will always stick with me, and I try to pass this on to my kids every day.
What first attracted you to mountain biking?
At the time, I was really growing a strong desire to explore the outdoors, and mountain biking was a great way to do this. You can cover a lot of miles in a day on a mountain bike. It is also a great combination of strength, endurance and skill. You need to be strong and fit to pedal the bike long distances over tough terrain, but you also need to be a skilled bike handler to smoothly ride through and over the rocks, roots, streams, and other obstacles along the way.
How did your experience at Bolton School contribute to your mountain biking success?
I picked up a strong basis of hard work and dedication at Bolton School, both from sports and from academics. In particular, I remember water polo being very demanding. The training sessions were hard, but dedication in training paid off on game day. We were a new team and we were usually dominated by the other teams in the beginning, but we worked hard and improved quickly, and the team was soon winning championships.
Why did you decide to compete in long-distance mountain biking?
I started racing just after college. The races I started with were long, but not extreme distances, probably around 25 miles. After a couple of seasons, I noticed that I seemed to get stronger when other people would fade on longer rides and races. So I started looking for longer races where I could put that endurance to use. I ended up in one of the toughest, most gruelling sports in the world, 24-hour solo mountain bike racing.
What were the main challenges you faced when you first started competing?
In the shorter races, other riders just had more pure speed than me. I was very close to my limit for speed, but not for endurance. I always struggled at high altitude, as racing in places like Colorado, at 7,000 to 10,000 feet, I was never as comfortable as some other athletes. There is not as much oxygen and it feels like you are breathing through a straw.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your career?
I think my third 24-Hour Solo World Championship. The sport was peaking at that time and lots of top riders were focusing on endurance mountain biking and they were all gunning for me. The venue and course at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia was also truly world class. I had a strong race and I think it really made me established in the sport.
What advice would you give to pupils interested in mountain biking?
Go out and explore on your bike! Plan out some big rides that will challenge you and try to complete them.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for this particular sport?
There are always new disciplines coming along for mountain biking: 100 milers, stage races and 24-hour races, to name a few. The style of race changes, but there will always be the thrill of riding fast through the woods under your own power. The technology of the bikes will also advance and the format of races will be tweaked, but the essence will always stay the same.