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.
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.
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