Reece Wilson’s trajectory to the upper echelons of downhill has been nothing short of spectacular. This year it’s all come together for the Borders lad, grabbing his first podium in Fort William then backing it up in a chaotic Val di Sole race, but for those paying close attention it's been a rapid rise for one of Britain's hottest talents.
From-six years-old-though, Reece was always penned as a moto guy. Following in his father’s footsteps he raced for Scotland and was top ten ranked in the country for his age group. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with Ruaridh Cunningham at 16 that he ever even picked up a mountain bike at all.
"Fuck man, for never riding a mountain bike properly before, you're actually alright.”
He says: “Ruaridh had a motocross bike that was an absolute heap of shit and my Dad is known as a bit of a wizard.” Reece’s dad (or Ruaridh's Dad's, sister's ex boyfriend) soon had the bike on a workstand and arranged for the two lads to go riding together.
“I had no idea who he was, I'd never met him but Ruaridh lent me a bike from a shop and we went out on a trail ride. They had to push me around because I'd never done any form of training before. I was basically just an anchor but it was a real good laugh and by the end of it Ruaridh was like ‘fuck man, for never riding a mountain bike properly before, you're actually alright.’”
Reece didn’t take much convincing to tackle some local downhill races that winter and ended up beating the local rippers like Callum McGee to take the series. By July of the next year, Reece was racing SDA and BDS rounds. He says: “I was completely off motocross, I wasn't enjoying it anymore and mountain biking was taking over.”
With the bug fully caught, Reece signed up for the BASE mountain biking college course (“gym for two days, a bit of classroom work then riding your bike all week”), and started following his mountain biking dream.
Rauridh got him a spot on the Unior downhill team and just two years after first throwing a leg over a downhill bike Reece was racing the Fort William World Cup in the newly formed junior field.
"It was probably not a beneficial move for me at the time, and definitely an immature decision but I just wanted to have fun."
He describes it as a pretty daunting experience: “I was definitely pretty naive, I didn't have a clue what I was going towards. I'd only done SDAs and BDSs but the vibes are totally different. Everyone was on their turbo trainers, nobody knows who you are and it is really intimidating. There are all these big names in Red Bull hats floating around and they're all looking at you and not talking. Yeah, it was crazy.”
It was a baptism of fire but Reece soon found his moto background gave him a penchant for longer tracks, picking up two 7ths at Fort William and Mont Sainte Anne. He controversially missed out on Worlds to an all-England team that year but would impress again soon after in his first senior year with two top 30s.
It was enough to catch the eye of Eddie Masters and the Bergamont team, who gave him a totally different outlook on downhill from the “square” Unior team. He says: “That was an exciting time. Going onto Eddie's team was a massive shock to the system. Hindsight's a funny thing, it was probably not a beneficial move for me at the time, and definitely an immature decision but I just wanted to have fun.
“Eddie was giving me opportunities to go to New Zealand for a month that I wouldn't have had elsewhere. The people Eddie knows are unbelievable and everybody loves him so I ended up meeting a lot of people. The bike was actually pretty good but the constant partying and late nights and then being expected to perform was challenging to say the least.”
Wilson’s results were still improving though despite a barrage of tough injuries and five operations in three years. His breakthrough that year came at Fort William with an 11th and a sign that he wasn’t “just pissing in the wind”.
"After Fort William, everyone was pulling out the usual ‘oh local boy, he always goes well here, it's just the bike’, it was frustrating."
It seems ridiculous now but Wilson very nearly didn’t have a ride for this year on the back of that. On the verge of calling it quits for a season, Reece sent one last email to Commencal 100 and thankfully it came off. He describes it as an "awful" deal but he knew the Commencal was the bike to beat and was even close to buying one before the deal came through.
It may not have been ideal but it sounds like Reece has landed on his feet. On a bike that’s “hands down the best [he has] ever ridden” he’s settled right in to the set up. He says: “For being such a small team there's a lot going on. We're the b-team so we've had less limelight on us and when Commencal want to try a new rear end or try offset bushings, they often come to us first. It's almost like being on a factory team out of a 4x6 gazebo. You don't have the buzz, you don't have to deal with teammates you don't like, all that stuff makes a big difference.”
After his first off-season without injury and the deal in the bag, he headed to Losinj full of hope but disaster struck, three runs in and he stacked. A full yard sale that was lucky not to write him off for the season. It was a sharp reality check but one he now looks back on as a crucial learning moment.View on Instagram
He says: “I think I was taking myself pretty seriously at that race but I was really glad it happened, I'd thrown my weekend away and I had a full reset. I went and sat down by the sea and I was like "Fuck man, you need to stop focussing on the racing and look where you are, bike racing has allowed you to do this and you need to just relax, enjoy it and believe that the speed will come.’”
And come it did. Four weeks of chilling before Fort William and Reece was ready to race again. An average qualifier hid what Reece had left in his locker - a ride for the history books as he lay down a stunning fourth place on home turf.
Tears in the finish area with his family and total confusion followed - he was seen frantically asking “where do I go, what do I do?” A bewildering day has now given way to calm reflection on a result Reece had been building towards for five years. Over late night drinking sessions with Ruaridh, he truly believed he could always do this - what racer would put themselves through the suffering and sacrifice of training if they didn’t?
He says: “I told myself that was going to happen and I believed it could, and it did. It was a shock but I was like: ‘No, this is where I am now and I believed it was where I deserved to be.'"
“It's crazy but I've accepted it now. At the same time it kind of sucks because you go to a race now and you get 20th and you feel like you've done shit.”
The rest of the season continued strongly, and a seventh place at Val di Sole was a result that Reece values almost as much as the Fort William podium. He explains: “After Fort William, everyone was pulling out the usual ‘oh local boy, he always goes well here, it's just the bike’, it was frustrating. At Val di Sole I was real close to repeating another podium on a different track with different conditions. I proved that I was all round and not just a one off, so that was the coolest.”
You feel it’s a dream that’s only just beginning for Wilson. With the prospect of his favourite track as the next round and his first Worlds highly likely, the boy who only started riding six years ago has plenty more still to come.