Dirt School: Innes Graham's EWS Roundup

Dirt School: Innes Graham's EWS Roundup

After his incredible result at the opening round of the 2022 season here in the Tweed Valley, sponsors and the local community rallied together to send Innes out to the following two rounds of the series in Petzen/Jamnica and Val di Fassa. 

Full coverage of the race and stages can be found over on the Enduro World Series YouTube channel, so instead of diving into the racing we sat down with Innes to discuss what goes through the mind of a racer when trying to prepare themselves, and their bike, for a race on unfamiliar terrain. 

TVB:  You’re obviously very well accustomed to the trails here in the Tweed Valley which are typically no more than 5 or 6 minutes at their longest. The trails out at Petzen/Jamnica couldn’t have been more different, with stage times coming in at 13-15 minutes! What was your game plan going into those stages to account for the big difference in riding time?

Innes: Before practice started I managed to walk a few of the stages in Austria. Like you said with a riding time close to 15 minutes for one stage, I knew that was going to be the biggest test for me. I basically just wanted to pace myself through practice safely and figure out how hard I could push for the race. I could hardly do a full run to be honest! 

TVB: Did you adapt your riding style or bike setup for the change in terrain and longer runs? 

Innes: I’ve never really altered my riding style at all throughout my racing career, not to suit a certain location anyway. I did think a lot about bike set up though, and altered my tyre pressure, going up about 2 PSI front and rear. 

Suspension-wise I was already on quite a soft set up but I did think about going softer and more progressive. I ended up sticking with what I had previously been riding just to keep things consistent. I think in certain situations it’s really beneficial to have a softer setup to soak up unexpected impacts and just try to reduce fatigue as much as you can. 

TVB: So fairly similar to what you've ridden in the valley then. The biggest change was going up tyre pressure?

Innes: There’s just bigger compressions, more rocks and stuff out there, so more the damage prevention you can do, the better. Trying to reduce fatigue and avoid punctures was huge. I had a lot of flats in practice so I changed tyres ahead of the race weekend, I just didn't want to deal with that on Sunday. Unfortunately, I still got a flat on the Pro stage on Saturday about halfway down the stage.

TVB: There’s a huge amount of information to take in on each stage. Line choice, how hard to push and certain features to be mindful of. What are you looking for when you’re walking each stage and how do you internalise all of that information to key into when you’re racing?

Innes: Yeah, so I didn't manage to walk every stage, You'd be out for days if you did. I chose to walk ones that I thought would be key in the race. So for instance the longest stage in Jamnica I walked, then I went over to the trails in Slovenia. You probably won't be able to remember a whole track by walking it but knowing what to expect before your practice was definitely something that I knew would benefit me. 

TVB: So you look for a general flavour of each trail and then maybe a few key features to pick out on your way down. 

Innes: Yeah exactly, I like to think of key parts as "landmarks" on a trail. So like I said you wouldn't be able to remember the whole track after walking it but you'll get to a point where you recognise a feature that kind of gives an idea of what's coming up, I think that was a massive part of my preparation on trails I’m unfamiliar with. I also used my GoPro to record all my practice runs and watched every stage as much as I could ahead of the race. 

TVB: How did you prepare, both physically and mentally, for these rounds?

Innes: Riding 3 days a week with our BASE Programme keeps my riding sharp. I’ve also been working at  the gym a lot and using a fitness tracker to get myself up as close to par as possible. 

TVB: These are big days out in the hills, how do you keep yourself fuelled and amped up to ride at your best?

Innes: My go-to breakfast would be rice pudding, throw some honey, seeds and nuts on top of that and you’re ready to go. While I’m out on the bike, I just use a mixture of gels, bars and carb powder in water. Ideally I’ll take on about 80 g - 90 g of carbs per hour.

TVB: A lot of what you talk about on the BASE course concerns race tactics. How did you put that into practice over the last two rounds?

Innes: So what we teach at BASE is basically the foundation of my own riding and racing and that's why I strongly believe that what we teach is the best advice. I guess we always rely on a certain saying: “trust the process” , the process being any step that will benefit you racing at home or when you're away. Stuff like going to bed early, eating the right foods, walking a track and watching GoPro footage back, cleaning your bike and making sure it's ready to go for the next day, stuff like that.

TVB: There’s a phrase I’ve heard used on BASE before “ride the easy bits hard and the hard bits easy”, I guess that’s about pacing your riding and trying to minimise mistakes?

Innes: Ah, that’s a Ruaridh Cunningham classic! Essentially yeah, pacing your efforts on a stage is super important. It's hard to believe that Richie and Jessie for example are pacing it but for sure they will be. There will be sections where you should reign in your riding and keep everything neat and tidy and then others where you should just be emptying your bags. That's something we talk about on BASE and it's something that's just become more apparent from racing against the top guys in the sport.  

TVB: Any riding highlights?

Innes: I guess my goal after the Tweed Valley was just to prove to people that I'm not a one trick pony that can only perform in the Tweed Valley. It's been a huge learning curve and some of the most physically demanding trails I've ever raced on but landing some top 10 stage times and staying within the top 10 overall is something I’m really proud of. 

TVB: Have you got any other racing plans this season? 

Innes: A dream of mine would actually be to complete a full international series, I never managed to do that when I raced Downhill I don't think. So if we can figure out the logistics to make that happen I'll definitely be out there at all the following EWS rounds along with racing the final Scottish Enduro Series rounds. It's so important to me to be supporting and inspiring the younger generation that race those smaller local races.

To learn more about Innes’ bike set up, check out our in depth bike check here.

Photos by: Kike Abelleira

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