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We catch up with World Cup star and for­mer Team MBUK racer Marc ‘Slug­ger’ Beau­mont to see how his lo­cal Shrop­shire scene has in­flu­enced him as a rider

we head to the wilds of shrop­shire to catch up with dou­ble world cup win­ner and for­mer team mbuk racer marc slug­ger' beau­mont and find out how the lo­cal scene has in­flu­enced him as a rider

s my knife slices through poached egg and sour­dough bread, I can’t help but think I’ve

landed on my feet with this as­sign­ment. Lud­low Food Cen­tre is fa­mous among food­ies, and as I eat my break­fast in the cosy cafe, I can see why. Sit­ting next to me is two-time DH World Cup win­ner Marc ‘Slug­ger’ Beau­mont. I’m here to find out what’s made him such a ded­i­cated and flat-out rider. Marc’s a reg­u­lar here, and he curses when he re­alises he’s left his loy­alty card at home and missed out on a free din­ner, with the amount we’ve just put away.

Mak­ing tracks

Lud­low is a moun­tain biker’s par­adise. You’ve got Bringe­wood, Hop­ton and the sur­round­ing woods, all within rid­ing dis­tance of each other and all of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. It’s long been home to one of the most thriv­ing scenes in the UK, and Marc, who’s lived here his whole life, has been in­volved since a ten­der age. “It’s the peo­ple that make it good,” he says. “The group that I go rid­ing with, they keep me in­ter­ested in bik­ing.” As a young lad, Slug­ger spent hours in the woods, push­ing his lim­its on his first bike. “It was a sec­ond­hand Trek 820 An­te­lope,” he re­mem­bers. “It didn’t have very good stuff on it. It was black with a green and white fleck. It’s still in Dad’s shed.” He loved to get his hands dirty, con­struct­ing tracks and fea­tures to ride. “I was never afraid to build stuff,” he says. “Like, we had a corkscrew, an over/ un­der! We built it in the sum­mer hol­i­days, it took us three weeks. Who builds stuff like that any more? We built rhythm sec­tions, we had dirt jumps. I al­ways built stuff and I still do be­cause I get bored with generic trails.” These days, Marc does his dig­ging at a se­cret spot near the small town of Craven Arms, where he grew up. As we pull up, it’s ob­vi­ous why he’s cho­sen this place – these hills have hosted na­tion­al­level races, and be­ing here brings back mem­o­ries for him. “I’d go to Hop­ton or down to Lud­low and ride na­tional-level tracks, but on a lit­tle crappy rigid with can­tilever brakes,” he says. To­day he’s on a 160mm-travel Sara­cen Ariel with hy­draulic discs, but the tracks have evolved too, so they’re able to quench his ap­petite for tech­ni­cal and awk­ward rid­ing. I watch as Marc hits a quick suc­ces­sion of tricky, tight cor­ners, with stumps, roots and trees. He

i was never afraid to build stuff. like, we had a corkscrew, an over/un­der! we built it in the sum­mer hol­i­days, it took us three weeks"

when i was a young lad they'd lure me up the hills with choco­late!"

weaves his bike ef­fort­lessly through the gaps, gain­ing speed in each turn as his bike chews through the soft for­est dirt to find grip. Slug­ger’s tech­ni­cal skills are im­pres­sive, and he clearly rel­ishes the chal­lenge of rid­ing dif­fi­cult sec­tions with as much fi­nesse and speed as pos­si­ble. Af­ter push­ing back up, he tells me: “I’ve built stuff be­fore that I can’t even ride. It’ll take me a year be­fore I can! I just keep per­se­ver­ing.”

The next bit of trail con­firms what Marc’s just said. He’s built a big old jump across a forestry track, with a su­per-short run-in and a dead-steep land­ing that pro­pels you into a rooty off-cam­ber sec­tion be­tween trees. The lip is so sharp it’s more like a dirt jump than a road gap, but Slug­ger sends it with ease, al­most sur­pris­ing him­self with his ac­cu­racy and skill. “I’d much rather ride nat­u­ral ter­rain that’s a bit of a risk than some­thing that’s rolling and flow­ing and easy,” he says.

Back to real life

When Marc’s friends started rac­ing down­hill, it didn’t take him long to fol­low suit. He was tal­ent-spot­ted at a young age by Steve Peat and rode un­der the big man’s di­rec­tion for many years. Sign­ing with Royal/ Or­ange in 2001, he raced his first full World Cup sea­son a year later. Then, in 2005, he joined Team

MBUK. It was a dream come true for Slug­ger, who’d been in­spired by the mag­a­zine as a lad – “I’d take what I read in the mags, ab­sorb ev­ery­thing and try to em­u­late it” – and now found him­self reg­u­larly grac­ing its pages. Stay­ing with us un­til 2008, he en­joyed loads of good race re­sults, and re­mem­bers the time fondly. “We used to go on MBUK trips and get, like, six fea­tures in one week,” he says. “There’d be re­ally long days do­ing pho­to­shoots, we’d have mas­sive par­ties in the evenings, then do the same again the next day. It was crazy!”

For Marc, the lo­cal scene is a place of so­lace away from the crazi­ness of the race cir­cuit. “Rac­ing is re­ally fake,” he says. “No­body re­mem­bers two Sun­days ago – they only re­mem­ber the last one. No­body knows, for ex­am­ple, that I won a World Cup in 2010. It’s like it’s just gone. For me, the purest form of moun­tain bik­ing is at home – be­ing with my mates re­minds me why I ride a bike.”

Marc still rides with some of the peo­ple he first went bik­ing with. “Kevin Cherry and Mark Prichard used to coach me up the hills,” he rem­i­nisces. “When I was a young lad I kind of knew what I was do­ing tech­ni­cally but I couldn’t pedal. They’d lure me up the hills with choco­late! Then I’d just tear off on the down­hills. An­other guy, Mark At­field, was re­ally good, way bet­ter than I was, so I looked up to him. He stopped rid­ing for a bit but now he’s al­ways ask­ing if I want to go rid­ing. He helps me build shit and I coach him to do it. He just sees me as the dick­head who lives across the road!” Last year marked Slug­ger’s re­turn to the World Cup scene af­ter a year out work­ing as a pre­sen­ter for YouTube chan­nel GMBN. Af­ter a rough start to the sea­son, re­turn­ing home to Shrop­shire gave him a con­fi­dence boost. “It helped me re­build my spir­its and re­alise why I race,” he says. “Es­pe­cially last year, be­cause I’d been out of it and come back. My re­turn had to not be

about re­sults to start with. It had to be about lit­tle build­ing blocks of get­ting my con­fi­dence back and en­joy­ing it, re­ally. At the start of the year I was pres­sur­ing my­self to come back with a bang and stick two fin­gers up to ev­ery­one, but I didn’t go about it quite right and it didn’t pan out like that.”

Marc fin­ished the sea­son 58th in the World Cup stand­ings. That may not sound that im­pres­sive, but he racked up those points at just four rounds, af­ter a full year away from rac­ing. While he ac­knowl­edges he’s not get­ting any younger – “it’s been 15 years since my first World Cup, I’m a vet­eran now! Now Peaty’s re­tired it’s just Min­naar and me!” – he feels he can still raise his game. And you’d be a fool to bet against him. Af­ter all, this is a man who’s won not one but two World Cups in the past (Vigo, Spain, in 2007 and Val di Sole, Italy, in 2010), putting him firmly in the all-time top 10 of Bri­tish down­hillers.

Su­per sender

It’s clear that Marc is as mo­ti­vated as ever to push him­self harder and fur­ther, and that his off- sea­son train­ing back home in Shrop­shire is an im­por­tant part of that. His love of the kind of tech­ni­cal rid­ing found in his back­yard does mean he’s not a mega fan of the bikepark-style World Cup tracks, though. “The ath­letes have de­vel­oped so much that the ter­rain isn’t chal­leng­ing them so much any more,” he says. “It’s all down to fit­ness now, which is why you’re get­ting loads of peo­ple within sec­onds of each other. It’s be­com­ing like a 100m sprint. I fin­ished 26th at Leogang but if I’d gone a sec­ond faster I’d have been ninth.”

It would cer­tainly be rare to find any­thing like the lat­est gully cre­ation at Marc’s se­cret spot in a World Cup track. He’s built a med­ley of hip jumps and step-ups that re­quire some se­ri­ous skills. Slug­ger drops in, puts in some de­ci­sive pedal strokes and speeds down the gully, hit­ting the first jump and pump­ing the land­ing. Boost­ing high and styling it up, he leaves me won­der­ing how he’s man­aged to go so big when there are so many dif­fer­ent things go­ing on. “Down­hill needs to be about peo­ple rid­ing tracks where not very many other rid­ers can do the same thing,” says Marc. “It should in­spire peo­ple to ride their bikes.”

Slug­ger’s foun­da­tions in his lo­cal rid­ing scene have played a big part in his suc­cess, and so has hard work, both plug­ging away on the World Cup scene and spend­ing the hours graft­ing at his lo­cal spot. Take a leaf out of his book, get out there and get in­spired to ride!

Marc likes to re­ally push him­self – he’s built stu that it’s taken him a year to learn how to ride

Top Slug­ger slay­ing it on his bike... Above … be­fore head­ing to more gen­teel sur­round­ings for a chat with our Al

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