The first time I heard the name Oli Beckingsale was when I had just had my first race mountain bike built up; it was a scarlet red trek 9.9 hard tail and I was in Evans cycles in Liverpool Street, east London. Talking to one of the lads there after I had completed a Thetford 4 hour winter race, I was mentioning how some of the riders had such amazing flow through the singletrack making it look almost effortless as they glided past with a shout of “on your right”. The guy I was to talking gave me his take on the subject and relayed an anecdote about how he was at a race (the name escapes me) and Oli Beckinsale rode past him; I nodded like I knew who he was. He told me how he tried to hang on to Oli’s wheel as he overtook him, and for a brief period could sit there, but then Oli just smoothly cruised away. It was a situation I was all too familiar with; from hereonin though I never forgot that name.
I have since wondered to myself how it must feel to be able to ride so easily and hold such high-speed with the grace that only elite fitness and adherence to a perfect line through the singletrack can give you. In retrospect I now realise it’s all relative and of course these riders have amazing skills and technique but they feel the pain and hurt just like us mere mortals. You could even add more so, as in truth they have a considerable amount to lose – a podium, a winner’s medal, even a professional contract. The hard facts are indisputable though and even accounting for all things relative there is fast, there’s very fast…… and then there’s Oli Beckingsale
In your own words tell us who you are and where you are going
Oli Beckingsale, ex pro cyclist now coach and co-owner of BW cycling (www.bwcycling.co.uk) Dad, fair weather cyclist and general grafter
When did you first ride a competitive race
1989 at the Cheddar Challenge, an event that was an end of season classic and ran for years. Tried harder in the practice lap racing my mates and blew my doors of in the race
Was it a ‘love at first experience’ experience
Cycling and then mountain biking was, from the moment i first rode a proper bike I loved the speed and the independence. My memory is awful but i can still remember seeing my first bike race and the time i first rode a bike fast.
When did you first realise that you had a genuine talent to progress to an international level & how did that feel
I do not and have never looked too far ahead. I cannot remember thinking this at all, i have only looked one step at a time so it was a building process. I have never had this dream to be a World Champion or anything I just find a short-term goal and go and tick it off
What was your first pro race
I turned pro in 1998, having finished a Uni course in 1997. I cannot remember which race it was it was another start to another season. Thinking back turning pro I did not find turning pro a big deal as I was already racing full on at Uni
What bike did you ride
I was riding for Scott UK and think it was their Carbon Endorphin frame, with the funky one piece stays, well ahead of the time. It was fun riding for Scott as they were always pushing bike design and still do
What was the best bike you have ridden & the best you have raced
The progression of full suspension MTB has been nuts and after a slow start I prefer a 29inch wheel for my riding style. I have a Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon with some nice kit and this is the only MTB I own and it is amazingly versatile from Bike park to Wales to old school XC.
Best bike I had when i raced was a carbon Scott Scale that I had got for the Athens Olympics in 2004, me and Thomas Friscknecht got the first two and i could build it up tomorrow and race it
Fat bikes ?
Never ridden one, do not want too and do not get it. I like light wheels on a bike
When did you first see a 29er on the world XC circuit and what did you think.
it was 2009 that i first saw them i guess, looked weird and wrong. I was late to them because the sponsor i choose, in hindsight I would have ridden faster on one with my strengths and weaKnesses
You have said Houffalize is your favourite course, in 3 words without mentioning Belgium or Belgians words tell us why
History, Hilly and location
Think the UCI world cup has messed up by not sticking with some traditional venues, the winners list at Houf is insane and then it just stops.. Some organisers have difficulties but MTB could do with some monuments like in road cycling
Did you see the courses change over the years you raced
Massively, when i started as a pro we raced for 2-2.20hr race time with 5-6 laps then when i finished 1.30hr with 7-8 laps so less hilly and also the racing had more/harder tech sections
Who impressed the most over the years
Thomas Frishknecht was fantastic and was great to race alongside him in some big races. amazing athlete, humble and pushing boundaries of bike design
What was your favourite & worse race
In the UK I always like Newnham as a venue and always hated Sherwood.. In the World Cup it would be Houf as a favorite before they messed it up in 2012 and stuck it on one hillside
Can you remember one attack or manoeuvre that you still feel proud about
A muddy World cup in Switzerland in 2000 and started 60th or so on the grid. On the start loop it had a massive grass velodrome like bank and the whole field rode at the bottom, I rode right at the top and into the top 10, then held it together all race for 14th place, a massive PB at the time
And likewise What about your biggest mistake
Worlds in Rotorua in New Zealand in 2006, I was flying and riding in 5/6th place but made some silly mistakes with my fuelling and blew so bad on the last lap that i went back to 23rd and had to walk an uphill
Give us a rough idea of the training schedule a pro XC rider would have done
Was very varied, from 30 hour road weeks to 10 weeks with split days on the MTB and the turbo trainer. world-class MTB is hard to train for as such a mix of skill, endurance, speed and strength
We obviously know about the scandals that have hit the road racing scene over the decades why don’t you think there has been such a similar problem in XC
There have also being some big ones in MTB but just less well published. Jerome Chiotti admiting to doping to win the worlds in 1996 and giving his jersey back is pretty big. MTB riders have the same coaches as road and the train with the same guys so there has been the same level of doping at the same periods as the road. Clean athletes have lost out in the past big time but less in this generation
You raced for a small time on the road how would you compare that to XC
I saw myself as a cyclist and always raced both disciplines and found the road complimentary. Would suggest all up and coming MTB riders to race the road for experience and training
Can triathletes handle bikes ?
In the majority yes, but many new triathletes are coming from a running and swimming background so have not learnt the cycling skills yet. How many cyclist can swim!
Where do you think UK XC riding is heading
I went to Newnham for the last British XC as I had a number of coaching clients riding and the event was strong, good course, good expo, good field sizes and a massive Junior entry
If you do one thing to make it more successful what would it be
looking at the event in Newnham I think they have got it right, well then guys at Fully sussed who organised that event certainly have. One thing I like was they put a wooden pallet riding area and there were young kids playing on this all day. This is something I saw at a Swiss Cup 15 race years ago, teaching skills whilst having fun
Considering all the resources that appear to pushed into road & track racing do you think we are ever likely to see the combination on talent at a world level that yourself & Liam Killeen had
It is the athletes that are most important not the resources. The GB funding helped myself and Liam get to a high level but we would have done this on our own. You need race organisers with good courses which we have in the UK to get people into the sport but the determined, talented athletes will get there from that start point.
The swiss are the strongest nation in the world but their MTB programme has a bigger budget. And we can not forget that our downhill riders are the best nation in the world and receive minimal support
Who do you tip for future success NPS etc
There is a new crop of Juniors who were going fast and looked solid when I watched at the last National, they are good technically, riding elite lap splits and fighting with each other, that was great to see and will bring each other on.
Did you ever consider going down the endurance route after the XC days
I did some marathon riding and enjoyed it but for a UK-based rider the professional options are limited. Being in Europe all the time and earning little money was not an option for me.
What’s your favourite trail
Some local singletrack on a weekday in the sun and I am a happy boy
Do you miss the pro circuit
I miss racing but not the circuit. I had some good times with some team mates but more often than not it was waiting to race in shit hotels
How’s life without the buzz of racing
I have a business now and that has the same motivation, I set a goal, work out how to get there and put my head down.. Nothing has changed in that respect
Any future secret plans that you can divulge, hook ups etc
The big thing for and hopefully not a secret is the constant development of BW cycling, this is never-ending and my goal after cycling is to make this successful
I have some great XC riders that I coach and that is exciting to see them progress. I still do some work and product development for Endura and they are always have something up their sleeves.
On your site you quote all your physiological data how important do you feel this has been to your success and how did you use it.
I trained with Heart and then power during my career and like the application of sports science. I am far from a scientist but am good at using the best bits of what they do to further my racing and now my clients.
’10 grams here 10 grams there’…does it really make a difference
XC MTB is a power to weight sport so to a point yes. But at the end of the day you need a solid competitive bike, that is the priority.
Bristol – Massive Attack Portishead or Roni Size
Depends on the mood, but Roni has a bashing during my turbo and gym days
Do you know how magnets work or is stuff like that just ‘magic’
I am very efficient with what i learn, if I can see a reason for me to know something and i can use this knowledge I am on it, if not that I am happy for it to just happen