Ben McIlroy (19) is one of the fastest teenage mountain bikers in Australia, winning both the Junior Enduro National series and National championships in 2016. He began his international career in early 2017 with a 12th place (Under 23 Junior) at the New Zealand Enduro World Series (EWS) and impressively went on to place 1st (Under 23 Junior) at the Tasmania EWS round.
Ben lives in the small town of Mount Beauty in Victoria’s North East, it’s a pretty famous Mountain Biking destination that has produced a number of stellar riders who have represented Australia in all disciplines, Ben hopes to be the next athlete from the small town to make it big on the world stage.
I caught up with Ben at a secret spot called Milk Run which has been 4 years in the making. Thanks to the dedication of a few young locals who dream of riding smile-inducing trails up in the moody hills surrounding town.
Matt: Last year you finished up your final year at High School, how did that go for you?
Ben: Pretty good! For the amount of effort I put in to Year 12 I was pretty happy with what I got out of it, I tried hard in the subjects I liked such as Physics which enabled me to get into my chosen course at University (Mechanical Engineering at Vic Uni). I’m pretty keen to do that but I can only defer the course for 1 year, so 2018 will be my Gap year. It’ll be interesting moving from Mt Beauty to the city, training will be harder but I’ll have good access to Gym and road riding but not as much time mountain biking, which will be frustrating. I’ll have to build up my base fitness instead of focusing on skills.
You had a pretty up and down Summer here in Australia, talk us through that?
Yeah, I got a new bike before Rockhampton National Enduro but crashed and fractured my ribs and tore some muscles in there too. I couldn’t ride for ages after that and just before Enduro National Champs in SA I broke my collarbone and AC. I think because I hadn’t been riding as much I was always super excited to get back on the bike and just go super quick but I’d just end up crashing. I guess it was a learning curve as a junior, trying to be consistently quick…
Do you still have a passion for racing mountain bikes now that you’re moving up out of the junior ranks?
Yeah definitely. Racing in Australia is pretty blah at the moment. If it wasn’t for all the people I ride with, I wouldn’t race as much. I want to say that organisers put on good events like Mount Beauty does but there’s always issues with timing and little inconsistencies. If all my mates weren’t at these races it would be kind of hard to enjoy racing. I don’t want to rag on all the races, but it’s been a hard Summer…
Matt: What about DH, have you considered getting into that scene?
Ben: Not really. I would like to race a few Downhill events just because it would make me a better rider, but I haven’t made it a priority.
So the trip coming up looks pretty awesome, you’re going to be overseas for 4 months riding and racing world class events in Europe and North America with a whole bunch of mates, thats living the dream isn’t it?
Yep, pretty much! There’s nothing better than riding bikes around the world with your friends.
What are you most looking forward to?
Everything is going to be a new experience, I’ve heard really good things about the EWS food stops, apparently there just massive. Just the overall epicness of bigger races and everything that leads up to it. I think the racing will be similar to the NZ and Tassie EWS events but the competition will be tougher. It’s going to be so good starting the trip with Dave (Ludenia), he’s just going to be the best to go travel with.
How did the new bike come about?
It was all a pretty last minute kind of change, lots of people helping me out over the last year just so I could ride. The new Rocky Mountain was organised through The Ride Cycles in Melbourne. Shimano have been a constant huge help for me over the last few years and I have a really great relationship with Mitch and Toby there, it’s not like I’m just sending emails to a company hoping for parts anymore. They’re my friends as well as my sponsor which only really comes after a long time. It was amazing having the big Shimano shipping container at the Tasmania 2017 EWS at Derby, I felt that I had the support from everyone there. To win the Junior race, it just made the whole weekend.
What was it like winning that race? A Life Highlight?
Yeah it was pretty sick to win an EWS. It would be cool to win one in Europe because the completion will be a lot tougher, but yeah it was sick, it was so cool having everyone there and people cheering my name as I raced past. It definitely felt a bit like I was a Factory rider.
Do you have any expectations for the 2018 EWS events?
For the first one I just want to get through it and not get injured. I definitely will be wanting to win but I have no idea what the pace is going to be like and theres always the element of luck with flat tyres and mechanicals too. It wastes so much energy to have to deal with all that extra stuff at a high end race and that can be the difference to winning or losing.
Anyone you would like to thank?
Chris (Panozzo), Dave (Ludenia), Mum and Dad, everyone at Shimano, Fox, Aaron from The Ride Cycles and everyone over at Cyclepath in Bright.
Ben’s overseas adventure starts this weekend (12-13 May) at Round 3 of The EWS at Olargues-Montagnes du Caroux, France. Follow his trip for the next 4 months on his uniquely funny Instagram page. All the best mate..
Photography and Words by Matt Rousu