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Brendan Fairclough: Zero to Hero

Dirt take a look at Brendan Fairclough's rise through the ranks. Words and images by Victor Lucas.

Brendan Fairclough: Can the young dog learn new tricks, roll with the changes and kick ass at the next level?

Dirt takes a look at Brendan Fairclough’s rise through the ranks…

Taken from Dirt Issue 63, May 2007. 

Everybody starts somewhere, and if you dig around in the old race results you’ll find interesting stuff sometimes. Here’s one from October 2000. At the Pedalhounds Short Course DH Series in Cranleigh, there were 60 kids in the 12–16 Youth category. Lots of names you’ve never heard of, but a few that you’d recognise. One of them was a 12 year old kid from Hampshire called Brendan Fairclough. It was his first year racing downhill and he finished 15th that day. Not bad for starters.

It’s obvious that Brendan just loves to ride his bike, and while he’d be the first to admit it, he has never really trained hard enough; he kept racing, having fun and his results got better. Good enough to get him noticed by people with a keen eye for talent. Like Steve Peat, who (from near obscurity) brought him onto the 2003 Royal Racing/Orange team and started giving the kid some expert advice. By 2004 Brendan was dominating the UK Junior category in both DH and 4X.

2005 saw his big break. He somehow managed to get himself into third spot at the downhill World Cup in Pila, Italy. Then he took silver at his first Junior World Championships in Livigno. Things were beginning to move at a pace, but a string of bad luck caused a few problems in 2006…bikes going missing, mechanicals and a crash in the New Zealand Worlds in his last year as a junior. But he picked himself up from that disappointment and still managed a near amazing fifth place at the ’06 World Cup finals in Schladming, and then took the first ever overall World Cup title for Junior Downhill.

Click through to view the full gallery of Brendan Fairclough before reading on…

At this point it was obvious that Brendan Fairclough had talent and ability, if maybe not the discipline and preparation that’s needed to compete at the highest level. So in steps Martin Whiteley (HRC Team Director), and makes him an offer that no racer could refuse, ‘How would you like to ride for Honda?’ To find yourself being offered a ride on the biggest factory team in the world, in your first year as an elite racer, must be pretty amazing.

Martin Whiteley has been around this sport for quite a while, and he knows when the time is right for changes to a rider’s career. And this will mean big changes. Riding the most highly advanced bike, with the most thorough factory support there is. Everything is planned ahead and all the arrangements taken care of for a full seasons racing. The only things the rider needs to worry about are training, racing and winning. Simple, but serious pressure all the same.

As a new team rider, time on the bike is all important. Especially when there’s a team of highly skilled Honda Racing Corporation technicians waiting to analyse every setting, corner, jump and bump to the finest degree. It’s never too early to start this stuff, so in March, Brendan travelled to the Team G–Cross Honda base near Granada, in Spain, for some ‘time on the bike’. Aside from some testing, Brendan also had a mountain of new race gear to collect. When he finally opened all the boxes and got himself kitted out, he said he felt like he had ‘borrowed somebody else’s gear’. He could hardly recognise himself in the photos. The bike and kit may be new, but the familiar Fairclough style is certainly there too. Ragging through loose corners, foot out and bars dragging in the dirt. It’s the kind of riding that makes the crowd go ‘whoaghh’.

Whiteley described Brendan’s riding to us, ‘There’s a sense of effortless fluidity in the way in which he traverses the most difficult of technical sections, but when he needs to, he can carve like a hybrid skier/moto-crosser, with stability where gravity dictates otherwise.’

After just a day of checking bikes and shooting photos, Brendan Fairclough left with the team for his first real race of the season. The Maxxis Cup race in Portugal, with a full line up of pro racers, it was like a mini World Cup. Turns out that his new team mate Matti Lehikoinen finished 4th and Brendan finished 8th after a puncture in his second run.

It’s a good start to a season full of opportunity, and Whiteley describes one of the big goals for Brendan ‘This is a rider who has tasted top level podiums early in his career, so we need to build on that and work towards consistency on all types of race tracks, not just those that feel right for him. He’s coming to a team that has two of the easiest going guys on the circuit, but who happen to be very disciplined and highly trained professionals, and he can learn from them.’

So the big question is – can the young dog learn new tricks, roll with the changes and kick ass at the next level? It’s too early to say, the full story will be told on the race courses around the world, and it will certainly be exciting to watch.

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