Rider Announcement: Isla Short

Gravel would sit bang in the middle of any cycling Venn diagram, the dark coloured overlap where curious roadies, crossers and MTB riders meet.

Isla Short raced a bit of cyclocross years back but just two road races - one of which was the 2018 Commonwealth Games no less - but is a big deal in the Scottish MTB world. She’s won a number of international UCI races, is a former British XCO title and even has a World Championships top 10 to her name.

By entering The Gralloch Isla, who lives in Aberfoyle, is moving into the middle of our imaginary cycling Venn diagram, so what can we expect, how’s her MTB season so far?

IS: “I haven't really started my race season yet. I just joined Ghost Factory Racing and it's my first year back on a professional team in four years, so it's been really nice getting used to that top level support again. I was out with the team in South Africa in January, we did a stage race called Tankwa Trek which was really fun, a good training block. I’ve just done two XCO races so far, but I call them my pre-season races because they were in February.

“This year we have eight World Cups, which will be the most World Cups I've done in the year, so I'm just really embracing the time at home and the good training blocks.”

How much time do you spend away?

IS: “The first World Cup is on May 14th in the Czech Republic, then I’m probably away two weeks out of every month. This year, I'm trying to manage that travel a little bit better because every year our season is getting bigger, this year we finish racing in October. Even though I like travelling for work I love being home as well.”

Why the switch from being a privateer?

IS: “I really liked the idea of the challenge of doing something different and seeing if I could work with brands and sponsors that I really believed in. I really enjoyed doing it but over the past couple of years it became increasingly difficult to focus on being an athlete and focus on my performance.

“Commitments with logistics and budgeting and media all became so much that training ended up being the thing that I had to get out of the way in order to focus on all this other stuff. Just trying to race the full World Cup season as a privateer is is really difficult, especially during the COVID years.

“I'd had Ghost on my radar as a team that stood out to be a little bit different in terms of their perspective on performance and racing. They very much respect their riders as humans above and beyond medal potential, and I think that creates a really special environment within the team and actually success is much more likely because we're all very comfortable and we know that we're respected outside how we race.”

How did cycling start for you?

IS: “Cycling was introduced to me when I was very, very young. The whole family would head off into the north of Scotland or even France and Germany on our tandem or our triplet. We would cycle tour and camp in different places, so cycling was very much ingrained in my childhood.

“It was a very natural process for me to go from it being a family hobby to me then pursuing it a little bit more seriously. That initially was just racing on the weekends, heading down to the nationals all around the UK and just having fun, then realising that I was quite good at it.

“And I've ended up not needing to look for another job. It’s a huge privilege to be able to do it as a job.”

How important has Scottish Cycling been?

IS: “I think Scottish Cycling did a really good job of creating opportunities for young riders and it's done in a really inclusive way. I think that’s a big reason why we have so much success as Scottish mountain bikers because there was such a nice balance. There was no pressure when we were younger, it was very much, ‘this is what bike racing is like abroad, let’s go and experience it.’ That was amazing for us as youngsters.”

“Me and Cameron Mason have a very similar trajectory in that we never won when we were kids. We were both little and it's taken both of us a long time to show that success, and obviously we love to race because we weren't winning when we were younger, if we just wanted to win, if we had that pressure to win, then we wouldn't have kept going.

“Paul Newnham in particular, he's the mountain bike coach in Scottish Cycling and he does a very good job of creating weekends with Scottish kids and not just honing in on ‘this person could be a future world champion.’ It was just a really nice environment to be in.”

The Gralloch is your first UCI gravel race, why do it?

IS: “A few reasons. Duke's Weekender is is the only gravel event I've ever done and I really loved it. There was no pressure for me because my job is not to win gravel races, I love to race and sometimes the pressure that comes with it being my job can kind of overshadow the enjoyment.

“This year I really wanted to make sure that I added in some races that allowed me to just race because I love to race and that's why I've added The Gralloch because it's just gonna be an amazing event. The first ever gravel UCI event in the UK, it's in Scotland.

“And I know I'm just gonna have a really great weekend. It's gonna be a nice reminder about why I race bikes and yeah, just something different. It's all just a bike race and the more different races and different bikes I can race on then the better.”