Scottish , Maxxis Cup and European champion, just a few titles that Sam Flockhart has claimed in his mountain biking career. After much success in racing downhill, racing for Lapierre International Racing alongside Sam Blenkinsop and MTB legend Nico Vouilloz, Sam is now a serious contender in the enduro circuit flying the flag for Intense Racing UK ran by Saddleback.
I sat down with Sam, easy to do as we share a home together, and here’s what he has to tell us about his life in the racing scene…
After having so much success in your racing, why did you choose to leave downhill?
“I stopped enjoying it, it became more of a task. There were a few outside factors, a lot of it came really young and I didn’t know how to handle it very well.
When you’re away for months every year, I was only 16 and even though I was quite mature for my age it was a lot to deal with.”
What made you want to get back in to racing, and why race enduro instead of going back to downhill?
“I wanted to get back into riding, I got a bike sorted out and thought I’ll go out and get fit again and start having adventures, start hooking up with old mates again. I fell in love with riding my trail bike because you could just go away up the back of the mountain and ride down then head back up no bother and ride some of the downhill tracks. I seen Enduro come on the scene and start to take off and I thought “I’ll have a bit of that”. My first year was meant to be a chilled out year but I ended up spending a wad of cash and doing numerous trips abroad.
I chose enduro over downhill because it was more fun I thought, it’s good to ride the one track in downhill and do run after run, get the trail dialled and I do still miss that feeling but when you’re riding all these different tracks in the one day and then racing them, they could be 1800m above sea level and the views, the places you get to see, the back places that you wouldn’t think there were tracks there, you just get lost riding around, and getting to ride with other racers and have a good laugh, it’s good fun.”
You’ve just finished your first year racing for Intense Racing UK, how did you find this year?
“Yeah it was good, when I started racing again it’s where I wanted to be again, I knew it was possible but I knew it would take a lot of hard work and a lot of luck as well to get there. I eventually got there and I thought this year I’d give it my all and it seemed to go not too bad, I had a really good spell mid season where everything seemed to click, the bike, myself, training felt really fit, no stress inside or outside racing. I had 4 really good results including EWS results.
Things could have been better on other races, like it’s a lot of racing is down to luck as well, you could be riding really well down the top section of a track and then on the flat simple bit of track next thing you know your chain snaps or you get a puncture or something breaks for no reason, a few things like that happened this year which is really frustrating because you can’t control it. Once its done its done and you just move on.”
You’ve done pretty well this year, what was your biggest success of 2017?
“Erm, biggest success? Probably achieving the process goals, like the small goals that I’d set with my team and my coach, and a few others at the start of the year.
I wanted to get some top 30 stage results and I’ve done that, I wanted to get top 40,top 50 overalls, I’ve done that. Probably just the world series and knowing that I do have the speed and I’ve got what it takes. Consistently making my way up there, that in itself is a massive goal.”
There’s obviously a lot of fun in racing, whats the best part of racing for you?
“Travelling, definitely traveling, being very fortunate that I’ve got such a good team behind me that support a lot and help a lot of it become possible by getting me to the races and doing everything they can.
Just having a good laugh I suppose, just going out riding with your mates and just riding a bike. Like I said in downhill, you don’t get to chat to your mates too much, I mean you do but I don’t think you do as much as you do in enduro. The atmosphere in enduro isn’t as tense. In enduro there’s no egos, there’s nothing on show like that.”
Then on the flip side, what has been the most difficult part of racing for you?
“Probably managing time, trying to split myself between all the other things that I do. you’re doing a full-time calendar with all the races, that was 15 or 16 races this year I think, you’re on a full-time training schedule, and I’m working full-time as well so you’re working like eight hours a day and then before you even think about going home and sitting on the couch or doing your stretches you’ve got your two hours of training to do, then you’ve got your dinner to make. We always try to make a fresh dinner so you’ve got that to think of so there’s a lot of stress and juggling and it can get on top of you.
I’ve also got my wee dog, wee Jackson, as much as I want him to be at the races and be running around and probably stealing folks food and being a general pain in the arse, it’s trying to manage that as well. You don’t want to keep laying him at your parents doorstep, but even though I know he’s spoiled to bits, he’s still my dog and I want him to be with me. That’s one thing I take seriously is trying to spend time with my dog. He can barely stand travelling 30 mins in the car on the way to work in the morning so not sure he’d enjoy the travelling.
By having a glance on your social media pages, it looks like you have this perfect racers life, what do people not see behind the scenes? Is there things missing from your “highlight reel”?
“Its more so in the off-season where you have to do all those things where you’ve got full-time work and training and cooking and it all gets on top of you. The social media side looks great but you don’t see the fall outs between myself and my girlfriend, you don’t see her crying, you don’t see me crying, you don’t see me having a terrible day and just thinking “naw”.
You just run yourself into the ground sometimes, you try to prevent it by eating right and resting but something’s gonna give at some point, whether that’s me or her or family, sometimes we have a few family fall outs because we take it so seriously, not in a sense that it becomes daunting and you don’t want to do it, but we’re all so in to it. All the things that aren’t nice do happen now and again, but it’s quickly taken away by all the good times when you get good results and things come together and you start talking to more people and become generally happier during the season. It makes the arguments and the tears and the upset so much more worthwhile. If anybody was to say things are perfect all the time they would just be lying because it’s not.
It’s hard, I’ve been to a few races and inside I’ve been so annoyed at something like a mechanical, and I’ve had it where people want to come and talk to you and ask whats happening and you just instantly start smiling and saying “Never mind, it’s alright” but inside you’re still raging. It’s going from happy to sad,happy to sad, because you don’t want people seeing you being miserable, and sometimes doing that it makes you pretty tired at the end of the day.”
So you’ve ridden your bike all over the world, where’s your favourite place to ride – worldwide and locally?
“In the world probably for variety of trails and different fun and training needs it’s got to be Whistler. It’s got to be the best place definitely. Squamish is insane that’s probably better because it’s not as saturated.
Best place in UK? Scotland or South Wales, pretty much every weekend I go down to the borders, down to Innerleithen/Peebles/Glentress direction and there’s always a good crew to ride with, you’ve got the local boys like Ruaraidh (Cunningham), Gary (Forrest), Mark (Scott), Lewis (Buchanan), all of them so like all your competition are from down there but because we’re all mates we just go out riding together and it’s really good fun. Got the worlds best riders on your doorstep, like wee Marky,know what I mean, its cool.”
MTB and coffee seem to go hand in hand, where in the world has the best post-ride coffee?
“We were probably sitting about 1700m up in a place called Valberg, round the back of Valberg and it was a 2 hour/2.5 hour hike a bike and it wasn’t even a cafe, there wasn’t even a pub or nothing it was just this woman making us coffees, it was like 50c for an espresso and that is the best coffee I’ve ever had, but coffee shop wise it’s No1 in Innerleithen, go check it out.”
You’ve had a pretty busy year, what are your plans for 2018?
“Because the national season was cancelled for 2017 it seems to be kicking off again in 2018 so the team is real focused on the UK market so there’ll be a lot of UK racing going on, national and few others like Ard Rock and the Scottish series. I’m also trying to fit in what will be a full world series, looking at eight races in total, if I could go to seven that would be fantastic, gonna be a busy year next year and just want it to be consistent throughout the whole year. 2017 was four really good races and I want to build that a step at a time.”
You have a wealth of racing experience, got any advice for riders looking to get into Enduro racing?
“Get a credit card.
But seriously… I’ve got a guy from Scotland under my wing who is just now towards the end of the year starting to really take my advice on board, never too late, but he seems to be enjoying himself a lot more. Just kind of cliché but just have fun, find a crew to ride with and if you can mix it up with the guys and the girls that would be good aswell. Keep it smart, if you’re out taking a few video clips etc you don’t want to be going full whack, save it for the race stages. Just enjoy it really, don’t take it too seriously because that’s where you start getting yourself in a bit of a tiz and end up spoiling it for yourself, and I know because I’ve done it.
I’d recommend for variety and fun and friendly atmosphere, the Scottish Enduro Series, I’m sure there’s other series like it in the UK but the SES is the premier enduro series. It’s always sold out, theres a good variety of riders from beginners, to people like myself and others who have been racing for a long long time. Look into that series, the guys are really good they’ll look after you as well. You’ve got a rough start time, you start as a cluster, theres no stage start times and they also have the short course category, its fun and challenging for the beginners and the elites and everyone through the ranks.”
Last question for you, what’s on your MTB Bucket List?
“I want to backflip my trail bike at a race. I definitely want to do that.
I want to do the Trans Savoie, race the Megavalanche, I was so close this year but never got to go, and Trans BC as well and probably a million more!”
Many thanks to Sam for giving us an insight to his racing life, stay tuned for more “Blethers with…”.