FOR someone who has spent the past decade travelling the world riding his bike, barely leaving his hometown for the past year has been an unfamiliar experience for Grant Ferguson. 

However, finally, the 27-year-old is preparing to get back into racing mode. 

This weekend, the mountain biker will begin the defence of his British Cross-Country Series title, with the first event taking place in Cornwall after Covid restrictions caused a delay to the scheduled start in April. 

In normal circumstances, Ferguson would know exactly what to expect from the season. But, as we all know, these are not normal circumstances. 

With such a dearth of racing over the past year, Ferguson admits it is almost impossible to predict how he will perform. 

“I’ve still been riding my bike a lot over the past year but I’m really looking forward to getting back racing,” he says. 

“It’s hard to know what kind of shape I’m in – I usually judge it on how I feel when I race and obviously I’ve not had that so it’s tough to know.  

“I’ve been working hard to make sure I’m in decent shape but I expect it’ll take a few races to get right back into the swing of things.” 

A native of Peebles in the Borders, Ferguson has not been short of routes on which to train. However, almost all of his competitive action has been on the online platform, Zwift, on which riders pit themselves against each other despite being in different locations. 

It has, admits Ferguson, been better than nothing, but without the nuances needed to do well in cross-country mountain biking, there is only so much of it he can bear. 

“Half an hour or so on Zwift is plenty for me. I go flat out and then that’s it, I’m done,’ he says.  

“It’s strange because mountain bike races are about so many things – there’s skills, tactics as well as fitness whereas in Zwift, you either keep up or you don’t. But it’s been good to have it and to feel a bit of competition.” 

Ferguson has been Scotland’s top cross-country mountain biker for his entire senior career – back in 2014, he finished in fifth place at the Commonwealth Games before the following year winning an impressive silver at the U23 European Championships. 

In 2016, he made his Olympic debut in Rio but with the strength-in-depth at the top of cross-country mountain biking in Britain better than it’s ever been, a second Olympic appearance has slipped from his grasp. 

“I had been trying to keep my hat in the ring for Tokyo but I hadn’t thrown everything at it,” he says.  

“It’s very competitive now to get into the GB team, which is great for the sport. 

“But even last year, I knew that Tokyo probably wasn’t going to happen so for the last while, I’ve not been thinking about it too much.” 

Ferguson may not be in Tokyo but he is certainly not short of major championships to target.  

Next year, he will, all going to plan, make his third Commonwealth Games appearance before the World Cycling Championships come to Glasgow and will see all cycling disciplines contest their World Championships at the same time and in the same venue for the first time ever. 

Despite still being only 27, Ferguson concedes he is now closer to the end of his career than the beginning but thoughts of hanging up his helmet for good are, he insists, still quite a distance away. And while this year off racing has been far from ideal for anyone, it has given Ferguson something of a new lease of life. 

“The sport is getting a lot younger than it was in the past,” he says.  

“I still enjoy the sport a lot but I’m maybe not in quite as much of a rush to travel around the world to do every single race like I might have been when I was 20. 

“I’m still very excited to race though and having had a year pretty much off, that really refreshes things. 

“There’ll come a point where the enjoyment completely goes and I’ll have to make a decision about retirement but I’m definitely not at that point just yet.”