Catching up with the Santa Cruz
Cool, calculated, and consistent, Mark Scott has been steadily rising up through the EWS leaderboard since its inception in 2013. A former British national downhill champion who found his true calling in the world of enduro, Mark is astonishingly one of only two riders to have completed every EWS stage (and race) in its six-year history - the other being Florian Nicolai.
Based in the Scottish Tweed Valley with some of the UK’s best natural trails on his doorstep, Mark is poised to improve upon his overall EWS ranking of 8th in 2018. After a successful off-season in preparation for 2019, a new team dynamic with Krunk Shox on board, and a brand new bike with the new Megatower, Mark’s eyes are firmly fixed on the podium this season.
Interview by Olly Forster, photos by Sven Martin / Santa Cruz
What age did you discover mountain biking and start racing?
MARK: My first race was in 2005 - so I was 12-years old at the time, but before that, I’d been riding my BMX around in the streets with my mates, building wooden pallet jumps and stupid shit to jump off.
It all changed when a guy came into my dad's [car] garage and told him about the then-new trail center at Glentress - this was back when it was all kicking off, probably around 2003? My dad bought me this 24-inch mountain bike from the supermarket, which I ended up breaking the forks off…
My first race was in 2005 although my results didn’t really come through until the year after when I could legally race in the Juvenile category. I went from being sixteenth to third in the space of six months and I really don't know what clicked? That year, I was consistent throughout and I was lucky that my dad could support me. We quickly set about competing in every [downhill] race series that was available to us in the UK: the Scottish Series, the [English] Midlands Series, the Dragons (iconic and now defunct Welsh race series) and the British nationals. We did plenty of trips in that old blue [Ford] Transit van, camping in fields...and by 2007, I'd won every series title going and was the juvenile British national downhill champion.
That's sick, living the dream then?
Yeah, pretty much. My dad was his own boss, so he could take time off and we could go racing. After competing in the UK for a few years, we headed to Portugal - as all the Brits did at the time - with a view to getting some UCI points and racing a Maxxis Cup. After winning that, I was like, right, it’s on, I'm ready for the World Cups!
Can you tell us about your first World Cup?
My first World Cup was in Maribor, in 2010, back when there wasn't a junior category. It was hard for juniors coming through to get any sort of [real] support as we were all lumped in with the elites at the time. I was the third man from last down the hill and it was absolutely pissing with rain the whole time, but somehow, I managed to qualify and make finals. Coming in 78th might not mean much, but I was over the moon and so happy to be there and as a first-year junior, it would have been my first World Cup podium had there been a category like there is now, which was a bit shit...
And from there?
I still had a little bit of help from my dad at the time, but it was kind of crunch time for me after two years in the Junior category. I was getting older and I was still dabbling at school and getting some good grades - they were really helpful, letting me do these races and catching up on [school] work when I needed.
But then in my first year in Elite, things kind of started fizzling out. I was privateering hard and not really getting anywhere in the results and I'd been racing for a good eight or nine years at that point - you just you can't really sustain it without proper support. I was 18-years old and looking back, I didn't really have a fucking clue what I was doing or what I wanted to do, or if I could even ride a bike for a living or whatever…
So when did the possibility of enduro pop up?
I think it was 2012, at the Val-d'isère World Cup. My dad had come out to help me and I remember that the 'privateer pits' were a mile down the road from the main pit area and my dad just lost it, he was like “this is bullshit, there's no help for privateers.” That weekend, however, there was a Super Enduro going in Italy, just a short drive away in Madesimo. I'd brought my brother's trail bike in the van with me and I remember looking at my dad and he was like, “let's f**k this off and race this Italian enduro”, and we did!
I bet that took some courage?
Yeah, it was a big move, packing up and leaving the World Cup like that because it's all I've ever wanted to do...but yeah, f**k it, why not and I ended up second or third in that race. Straight away, I was proper buzzing again and it was kind of the beginning of what enduro was to me. I'd done a few UK ones [prior] so I’d already dipped my toes in, but I'd never been to the Alps and raced a proper enduro race. There were 12-minute stages, like five or six of them...it was just a battle to survive, but man I just loved it!
So what was it about enduro that really put the hook in you?
Just all the time you actually spend on the bike - it's a whole day's event. It wasn't spent waiting in the car park, sitting in a lift queue, in a truck or whatever...going up the hill. It was a kind of turning point for me and I was realizing that you can do all the same things I’d been doing on my DH bike, but you're on the bike all day. I then started hearing all these rumors about the EWS starting and it was egging me on a bit.
I wasn't sure at first, but in the end, I thought, f**k it, why not and I raced my brother's [26in] Orange Five for the rest of that year before investing in a green [Santa Cruz] Nomad for 2013. I’ve always enjoyed road riding and longer days on the bike and I was getting more into that...plus I was always a bit chubby as a kid so it kind of motivated me to get my finger out and do something about it. I turned up at Punta Ala for the first EWS in 2013, and that was it...
And you've started and finished every EWS stage since its inception. Is that right?
Yeah, that's right. Every single race since the beginning. I’d never really thought about it until about two years ago until someone told me and I was like, “f**k aye I have!” I've had plenty of mechanicals, broken parts and flat tires along the way, but I’m not a pussy...I always finish the race.
Allan Cooke once told me how you and Iago are two of the most honest racers in enduro...
Yeah, I'd say that for sure...I'm not dogging on the Frenchie's, but they've got a different mentality when it comes to race day. At some races, it's horrible to be around some people - they're just there to win at all costs...I mean, it's enduro mountain biking, not XC, or road racing. You have to talk to each other because you're gonna spend the next six hours of the day with them pedaling between stages.
Let’s talk about veganism...how long’s it been?
About a year and a half I think? I've always been a bit dairy intolerant, so I cut that out about two or three years ago and the rest was easy.
Is it hard, eating properly while on the road?
It depends where you go. Spain is probably the worst place to go if you're vegan - it's just quite an old school place, especially on the road. A lot of the rest stops on the highways, it's just bread and meat. You’ve just got to try and grab as much fruit or whatever as you can. But as soon as you get to a city and into your Airbnb, you're straight to the supermarket. You sacrifice six hours going hungry and then that's it.
What about staying healthy - how do you approach risk versus reward, especially during the season?
That's always the hardest bit, to be honest...I was actually just chatting about this with Krunk. One of the easiest races ever, for me, was Whistler, 2017 when I got third. I was just in the zone and I've been trying to replicate that ever since. When you're in the zone, everything just comes super easy and nothing feels like a risk. You're just doing it - putting your wheels where they need to be.
When you have that kind of mindset, it just comes together, but when you start thinking, “this is going to be sketchy”, then that's the wrong place to be in your head. You just try to be as smooth as you can, focus on each stage at a time and then sending it as hard as you can without letting anything to creep into the back of your head...
Would you say that your approach is different from Iago's?
For sure. I've always been a racer. Whatever the conditions, we're racing - if it's raining or whatever, I'm not gonna go easy. Iago sometimes gets a bit sketched out by the rain. He's such a sick rider, but he can overthink things. I've always had that ‘British terrier’ mentality and keep f**king plugging away, you know. Obviously, I don't want to ride in the rain, but I find it funny when it starts raining and everyone's panicking.
Which EWS rounds are you most looking forward to this year?
The first one is always good, just because I just want to go racing again, irrespective of where it is. To be honest, I just kind of treat them all the same and try to do well at all of them. Obviously, Whistler is a highlight - it’s just great hanging out in Whistler! The French ones...you've always got to be ready for a f**king war with those as they'll be some of the gnarliest you'll do all year. There are all sorts to look forward to, you've just got to take one at a time as they're such big events.
What would you say are your own strengths and weaknesses?
I'd say consistency is my strength. I'm usually always there or thereabouts in the results - in the last four years, I've gone 14th, 12th, 9th and 8th in the overall. Just being able to kind of do well on all sorts of terrain as well. My weaknesses...needing some sauce...some raw speed when it counts. Just trying to get that into me a bit more you know, be a bit more like Martin Maes haha! Racing's a hard game for sure...
What would you say are Iago's strengths and weaknesses?
Obviously, he's a super stylish rider. He's got the skills to deal out the style with his signature tweaks and stuff like that, but I've also seen him do really well in stages that he's already written himself off on. He'll confess to hating or struggling with a stage and then crush it in the results - he's extremely versatile and if his head is in the game, he's really quick too. His biggest weakness is the rain though!
What makes the EWS special?
A lot of it is just the variety - we get to go all over the world and explore new places and not go to Mont Saint-Anne every year or places like that. The DH scene seems to be stuck in a rut as far as venues go, constantly going back to the same places every year while the EWS has really branched out. This year, it's got nine rounds and it's sick because when you travel to these places, the local Santa Cruz riders just want to take you out and show you the best trails they've got - it's like a highlights tour within a day or two of arriving. It's mint!
How did you land at Santa Cruz Bicycles?
It was 2015 and I was riding for WideOpenMTB and Nukeproof at the time, with support from Hope Tech, who was helping me out with accommodation and getting me to and from the airports...stuff like that. I was traveling with Loosedog quite a lot that year too and he was with Santa Cruz’s UK distributor, Jungle. We were both privateering [the EWS] so we'd hang out a lot after the races and that's when I met Allan Cooke (Santa Cruz sports marketing manager).
This was before Santa Cruz had an enduro team, but what was really cool...it didn't matter I wasn't on a Santa Cruz, I was always welcome and spent heaps of time with those guys at the races. I was also one of the highest ranked privateers that year too and by the time we'd rolled into Colorado, I'd started talking with Allan about a ride and by the Whistler round, I'd gotten together with Iago and Loose and put a proposal together for Allan. By Ainsa, the last round that year, I had my contract and I've been a part of Santa Cruz ever since.
Big changes then this year with a new team dynamic...
Oh yeah, big changes! It was a good program last year, you know Allan's always done a sick job and obviously, with Loose, you know his heart's not into racing anymore and stuff like that...I think it's going to be a step forward for the race team this year and we've kind of streamlined it a bit more towards just racing. Our goal is to get on the box and do it our own way. We've kind of gotten the reins a bit more this year so we can really start something special with Santa Cruz. It's small right now, but I feel like this is the start of something...
And Krunk Shox?
I've known Krunk for two or three years now and we got on immediately. We're on the exact same level and he's one of the most mental guys I know...but mental in the best way possible...you'll never meet a more dialed guy. Having him on board this year, it was just meant to be. We both share a lot of the same views on racing and he knows exactly how to get the best out of me. Most of these top guys have always got someone in their corner, someone they've been working with for a long time and I was like, let's get Krunk on board, as part of the team. He's a dialed mechanic, a dialed chef and he'll just crack anyone up as well - he's not afraid to take the piss out of anyone, it doesn't matter who you are - if you can't laugh at Krunk, then there's just something wrong with you.
And a new bike?
Yeah, you know, I think the Megatower is a step in the right direction. I've been on the Hightower for three years now, and I think this new platform will be hard to beat for a long time.
What's your approach to bike setup?
I'm not super fussy like Greg Minnaar. Pretty picky about my bar and brake lever positions. I kind of get to a good place with my suspension early on and don't stray too far away from that. Tire wise, I've always sworn by the [Maxxis] DHF until the Assagai came along. In the wet, I'm reluctant to put the Shortys on, especially on the back due to all the rolling resistance pedaling between stages.
What are your goals for 2019?
I'd love to be in the top five overall, I know I've had the consistency, especially at the start of the year. Like last year, I was sitting in the top five after a couple of rounds, but then I hit a rough patch and picked up a small injury in Austria and kind of lost my rhythm from there until we got to Whistler. If I can balance it all out between training and racing, I’ll be good to go I reckon...but I'm really confident about this whole new setup. I’m definitely pushing towards top five overall, although I guess that would also mean top five race finishes as well. I've been doing it long enough, you know, so there are no excuses anymore and it's time to put it all together on the day and it should be good.
So what does the future hold for Mark Scott?
Hopefully plenty more races and plenty more Santa Cruz Bicycles. I don't like to look too far ahead, but yeah, I’d like to race my bike for the next ten years or so.
I guess they're at a critical point thanks to this whole doping scandal - it's hard to say, but I guess the UCI has come in and there is going to be a lot more tests, which is a good thing. It’s been very grey for a long time and at the end of the day, it's the athlete's responsibility to check what they're putting into their body. If they let stuff slide, we’re just gonna get laughed at and everyone will be dogging on enduro. I hope they do the right thing.