As the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup gears up to return to Fort William, all eyes are on Mikayla Parton, the local rider who has been racing up the leader board, become a pro and landed top sponsorship.

WITH the return of the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup on May 21 and 22, one local rider is gearing up for her shot at the title. Mikayla Parton came to the sport later than most, if not all, of her fellow downhill racing competitors. But for the 24 year old it was truly love at first bike.

“I was just turning 18, which is very late to be starting,” she explains.

“Most people who are competing by that age will have already done two years of junior world cups.

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“I just got really into it at that age and ended up getting a downhill bike the next year [after having a trail mountain bike]. That would have been 2016 when I got my first downhill bike and did my first Scottish race. From there I was just hooked on racing – everything I wanted to do was to get better results.

“I just absolutely loved it!”

The Scottish Privateer [a rider who isn’t supported by a factory team] admits that before she knew it, the sport took over her life. She got to the point where she was entering as many Scottish and British races as she could and steadily her name was creeping up the board. At the end of 2018, she was crowned downhill champion at the Scottish Championships at Nevis Range. The title garnered sponsorship interest from Greenpower, who also sponsor the Scottish downhill series.

“I couldn’t actually believe that they wanted to help me get to the world cup,” she says. “I still feel so fortunate that they asked me because I’m still with the same sponsor today.”

Alongside Greenpower, Mikayla’s main sponsors include Nevis Range, Trek Bikes and Endura. As a result of her support, Mikayla is a full-time professional mountain bike racer. She says: “Luckily, I have enough support now that I can train and race full-time.”

Mikayla raced her first downhill World Cup season in 2019 as a “total rookie”, but the real tour de force came when Mikayla placed fifth at the 2020 World Champs.

“That’s when I was getting better results and got to the point where I realised, wait: ‘This is my job now’,” she laughs.

“It still takes me aback, and I still feel so grateful for it.”

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Unfortunately, the end of the 2020 season also resulted in a nasty concussion and neck injury after Mikayla landed on her head when racing downhill.

Despite her past injuries, which also includes a fractured rotator cuff, her nerves seem unshaken.

Mikayla admits her mum, who is the founder of The Highland Soap Company and also a keen mountain biker herself, was always one to encourage her to try things, even if they might scare her at first.

“My mum mountain biked before me, and for a while she was better than me – which was so frustrating,” she chuckles.

“She used to take me out and I used to get so annoyed at her, saying: ‘You know I can’t ride down that’.”

She stresses her excitement for her mum to watch her race at the UCI World Cup. “I’m so excited for it and it’s even more special because my mum never gets to come out to races, so it will be amazing to have her there along with friends and family.”

Having grown up in Fort William, Mikayla holds a particular attachment to the annual event. As one of Scotland’s biggest cycling events, the Fort William competitions have attracted crowds of more than 20,000 spectators in the past.

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Chris O’Brien, managing director at Nevis Range, tells us: “The Fort William World Cup is an incredible event that puts Nevis Range and Fort William on the world stage.

“Rare Management have done an incredible job as the event organiser, and we are honoured to have been the home of the World Cup for the last 20 years.The role it plays in promoting the sport and inspiring young people to become the athletes of tomorrow cannot be overstated.

“We are so proud of, not just what it means to us, but also how it showcases Scotland as a world leader in MTB!”

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After a two-year hiatus, spectators are invited along to watch their favourite racers. So, how is Mikayla feeling ahead of the race in her hometown?

“It’s not really sunk in yet it will be happening here,” she reflects. “In 2019 I was such a beginner that it was all a bit insane, but now I’m fully in the series.

“Last season was a full season, but we never came to Fort William. It’s so strange to think that the race is going to come to where I live, and I actually can’t wait to just sleep in my own bed at a race weekend.

“The atmosphere is amazing – I’m maybe biased but I feel like it’s one of the best ones [races in the world cup series]. To compete at it was amazing, I can remember my qualifying run and just the sheer amount of people shouting. It was unreal. You can’t really beat a Scottish event. The people in Fort William are amazing. I feel like I have a good support base here of friends and people who generally want to see me do well.”

While Mikayla admits it can bother her she came into the sport so late, and she had to sacrifice her university degree to get to where she is now, she retains a positive outlook: “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this. I’m happy and enjoying riding my bike, I’m trying to enjoy the whole experience.”