I could easily kick this one off with some cheesy metaphor about rainbows leading to pots of gold, the last chance salon for glory in 2018 but in all honesty it’s just another race; and as the seasons roll on and Downhill matures further the prestige associated with the rainbow title for a DHer seems to change a little; not necessarily diminish but shift. The nationalistic flavour associated with racing for your country is something that has always made worlds unique but as the quest for race wins continues regardless of event or track and the battle among the world class for victory stays just as intense we see racers keep their formula as close to “regular” as possible. You may race for France, Germany or Canada but you’ll be pitting, staying, eating and sleeping with your trade-team just as you would at a World Cup. It’s much easier to adapt a well know system to new constraints than it is adapt to a whole new system.
There are maybe three category of “potential” World Champions come Sunday. First those carrying momentum, Atherton, Seagrave, Pierron (Amaury), Bruni, MacDonald, Hart or Brosnan. 2nd we have the unwilling or very meticulously prepared specialists, those with early season injuries or issues that meant a shift in goals, approach and timescales favoured an all or nothing season ending rainbow hunt. A once favoured French approach from the likes of Barel and Vouilloz; this is far less common in the modern age. Although with his mid-season thumb issue and favourable track-record at Lenzerhide, Aaron Gwin could be the dark-horse. Category three is the unlikely victor, the opportunist who capitalizes on their own ability framed best by a total lack of expectation, pressure and focus from teams, media and fanboys. Going back to the year 2000 and Myles Rockwell pounced at the perfect moment in Sierra Nevada, Spain to make the most of favourable wind conditions and grab himself some rainbows. Miranda Miller was perfectly positioned last year in Cairns to capitalise on the mistakes and failures of the other ladies come finals and took home a deserved set of rainbows.
The rainbow jersey is a coveted piece of attire for racers, a nightmare for some sponsors but as we all know once the clock is on the world class racers will give us a world class show regardless of jersey fear!
With the DH World Cup driven in many departments by the needs and desires of Red Bull Media House we’ve seen some positive changes over the past 4 season, out went Tissot for timing and in came Belgian firm ChronoRace. This means 4 split times on course as well as near endless “micro-splits” that RB use on the live coverage for “key sections” and the virtual straight. Sadly for the past few years Worlds sees a return of Tissot for timing and a return to 2 splits on course, a less than ideal online live timing site and as we saw with Myriam Nicole’s issues at Cairns the potential for mistakes and issues in timing – not because of a lack of work ethic but merely I feel due to a crew of timing people doing a one of race and not having the momentum and system in place from 7 WC races.
The World Cup schedule is also pretty set, once summer comes and we have double header (XCO and DHI) races the schedule is very much solid. With World Champs things change and not for the better… for whatever reason Group B DH practice starts at 0730, 30 minutes earlier than a World Cup and with September sunrise in the alps at around 0650, well the first few minutes of practice are quite sombre. Little details like that can change things drastically for some racers, others not so much, it’s all about your support network. DH racing is always on Sunday’s at Worlds and not Saturday like a World Cup – that gives us a very short Saturday A.M. practice session that for some is nigh on worthless. Closer to the World Cup DH schedule of old, where we had 3 or even 4 days of practice!
For 2018 there is a raft of rule changes for world champs also; Riders must now qualify for finals; not seeding actual qualifying. With quotas closer to the World Cup of old; 80 men, 40 women, 60 junior men, 15 junior women etc… With 35 elite female starters that means they all qualify, there are 73 junior men, so 13 unlucky racers who won’t see Sunday. The top 20 men from the World Cup overall season ending rankings are protected. The top 10 women but no protection for juniors. So with less than stable autumn alpine weather forecast in Lenzerheide will this see a return to qualifying tactics of the 90’s for the non-protected? Well no, because even with qualifying and protected status from World Cup rankings, start order for finals and qualis is determined off of UCI DH ranking; not World Cup ranking. Like I said organisational oddities.
Here’s hoping for better timing and T.V. than Cairns!
No title to defend, only a title to win…that’s always the most effective way to view racing. No matter what we will see new World Champions in the junior categories. Bruni will go for triple elite titles but his “on-form” country mates Vergier and Pierron are hungry as possible. Amaury has a seemingly viciously potent mix of youth, experience and support. Most certainly the favourite of the favourites. But a form sheet can’t only be based off of most recent results. Each track has its own unique flavour; camber, gradient, duration, soil types, rock types, pit set-up, accomodations and altitude. The complex addition of factors mean some riders preferred ways of applying and executing technique at race pace sees them rise to the top on a given track. Lenzerheide is no different; high speed, unforgiving and loose. The three previous trips we have taken here for WC’s have been in July, each time hot, sunny and extremely dusty and loose come finals. A September visit may be very different. To date Minnaar and Atherton have two wins a piece here. Nicole won last years race, alongside Minnaar in the mens with Gwin flatting while on course to victory. Aaron has been fast here but pipped by a few metres in 2016 by Danny Hart, off the boil in 2015 and ohh so close last year. Minnaar has a proven track record here, but like Aaron comes in under the radar and most certainly neither are on the form of last July, both rebuilding after mid-season arm/hand injuries.
While we have had a variety of podium finishers here Minnaar is the only male rider to have visited the podium each time the WC has stopped in Lenzerheide. Flashes of expected & unexpected brilliance from Thirion, Bruni, Greenland, Brosnan, Fearon and Lucas in editions past need to be noted also. All or nothing world champs runs are often special but bone dry midsummer conditions are not expected in 2018.
The potential for first times this year is massive, first time overall winner Pierron could polish off his season with rainbows meaning he will be the first rider ever to win his first world cup, the overall world cup and world champs in one season. Former Junior World Champs Walker and Illes could wrangler a podium. Gwin could find his first ever rainbows and Seagrave could join the small club of mainly French riders who have elite and junior titles.
The ladies form-sheet gives a Seagrave // Atherton showdown. A monumental battle for the ages. But as we saw in Cairns anything can happen. Atherton has the pressure to defend after a last round WC win and overall title. Seagrave has nothing but a race to win in front of her. Nicole, Siegenthaler and Hannah are all capable of medals and more if the circumstances are right. French world champs domination, maybe a thing of old, but with Cabirou and Ravenal in attendance a gallic jammed top 5 is possible!
The track and venue
There’s some fresh woods at the bottom of the hill but otherwise we are getting the same old “STRAIGHTline” race track. As DH demadns go it’s pretty straightforward. About three minutes in duration for the fastest men, add 25 to 30 seconds to that for the elite females. The track is fast but never overly steep or hugely rough. The bump frequency is one of the bigger demands. Altitude is on the higher side with the start line at 1905m and paddock at 1492m. Otherwise the stats are pretty vanilla – 2.3 km in length with a 413m vertical drop. Changeable weather could however make it a much rougher, wilder and slicker affair rendering certain forest sections “key” but also meaning certain high speed open sections are much less “skaty”.
The venue is nice, a high alpine farming area tuned ski crazy tourist trap. It has stunning views and good accomodation, with the chalets and apartments quite close to the track meaning a good “family” vibe all week – the sunny summer races of years past have meant good times at the lake just across from the finish line with BBQ’s and swimming for sore bodies. Single digit September temps will change some of that though. So prepping for any eventuality is needed.
Maybe a fondu finally?
Fresh venue, fresh track and maybe even some fresh approaches from some of the world’s best for World Cup Finals.
Twice in a season, new venues book ending what has been a super competitive and diverse racing year, Losinj in Croatia was not a “new” track before its world cup debut. It had hosted many Croatian and Slovenian national races but evolved in to a far more refined and demanding beast as a WC track. In stark contrast to all the keyboard warrior dribbling that surrounded the Croatian tracks apparent “easiness”, the brand new La Bresse track that greats us this week has received little attention – likely because everyone, keyboard jockeys included, have been wrapped up in the endless week in week out racing that we’ve had since June, WC’s, Crankworx, National events etc… So where does that leave us? Well we have a new track and a new venue (the 2011 World Cup was in La Bresse town, 2018 has us in the nearby Hohneck ski resort), regardless of how “bike-park” it is, how short it is or any other potential issue, it’s a fresh challenge, fresh scenery and the last chance to punch out a good result so that means BANG motivation will, for the healthy, be through the roof. Absolutely peaking.
As it is World Cup finals a lot of talk will be about points and prizes! As three of the four series overalls are already decided the battles will mainly be for the “podium” spots; 2nd overall is tight and winnable for some but really the only battle in those categories is for the race positions themselves. For every single racer come Saturday – race day will be the only thing that matters; wins and podium pictures matter most. The last title to be decided is the elite ladies. 110 points separate Tahnée from Rachel in First. After chopping the deficit down to 60 points after qualifying in MSA – Tahnée’s less than perfect finals run execution landed her in 2nd and the gap grew to 110.
Unlike all the other races this year finals in La Bresse sees no points awarded for qualifying, it’s all in for finals. 250 for the win! So after a quick bash on the Casio GX4561 – if Tahnée wins on Saturday, Rachel must finish 5th or worse in finals. As we said above; wins matter most to the racers at the cutting edge. So as every race-day gone in 2018 this Saturday will be no different.
Fresh Track (more…)
Next week will be the 21st visit for a UCI World Cup or Champs to the hallowed hills of Mont Sainte Anne just outside Beaupré, Quebec. A yearly pilgrimage that somehow doesn’t seem to to bore even the most seasoned of veteran. Possibly due to the high speeds, the easily shreddable rideable terrain regardless of a weather and the maybe more than anything else the family holiday vibe that grows as the days pass, due in no small part to the MTB community renting every chalet, house and condo along the short MSA strip!
The mountains of Quebec like those south of the border in North Eastern USA are big, but not the imposing “boom” straight up walls of rock that often great riders and racers in the European Alps. Instead MSA gives us big, shallow and long. Three potentially key ingredients that keep the race puzzle here fresh for so many, less braking more ploughing? This lack of steepness doesn’t lead to a lack of intensity though, from the first heavy pedal stroke out of the start house, down the now iconic rolling start-ramp things get fast, quickly and just keep building in momentum from there.
2017 gave us yet another round with a mixed bag of weather. The 4.00 p.m. rain party rolling in on queue again. Un-phased Aaron Gwin displayed all the calm, calculated characteristics that have led to him to wrapping up 5 overall titles to date. Riding under the rain, straighter and faster than anyone else. Bagging in the process the full quota of points on offer in the overall title battle that day.
Coming into qualifying Gwin trailed Minnaar by 253 points – 3 more than you can earn in one week’s racing. Leaving MSA the deficit between the two titans was so reduced that it left the final round in Val di Sole as an all or nothing battle. What we all learned in the process though, was that anything can and will happen and as long as you come prepared and willing, victory on race day is possible.
The 2017 ladies race in MSA was contested under fair and consistent conditions. Although on a more damp, blown out track that was considerably harder to push your limits on than then was ridden in qualifying. Qualis saw Myriam Nicole eek out a 1.491 sec margin on Tracey Hannah. When Race day rolled in though things changed. In now expected fashion Tahnée Seagrave flipped a 4+ second quali deficit into a race winning display of calculated on edge riding. 5.7 seconds faster than second place Nicole.
Rumbling in to MSA this coming week for the 2018 race the only constant is change. Maybe that’s a large part of the reason everyone is so stoked to go racing? In no particular order, on the men’s side, we have the return of Moir and Minnaar from injury, the latter has been rehabbing in style, in the most specific way possible slapping bumps on Morzine’s infamous Le Pléney. The former has already practiced at Andorra World Cup and hopefully is ready for racing. With the return of some, the biggest notable absence for MSA is 2017 winner Gwin, at least that’s the info available to hand at the moment. Race day will tell more!
Pierron (Amaury) has a healthy lead in the overall, but as 2017 thought us with 2 races left anything can happen. On fire at French Champs in Morzine, Pierron is the man to beat, even though his compatriot Vergier had one of the most stunning race runs in recent times on route to his maiden WC victory in Andorra. Luca Shaw will be as hungry as ever although a hungry not quite as grumbling as Loic Bruni’s, 2018 podium first timers Reece Wilson & Thomas Estaque will go good on the long, fast bumps of the Mont. 2017’s FTD title at MSA went to Finn Iles on a dry track, after his first elite podium in Vallnord he’ll be keen to climb a few steps higher at home. Other’s to watch closely are Harrison, MacDonald, Greenland, Pierron (Baptiste), Walker, Mulally and the Eagle Masters.
The ladies race gives us one the most interesting title battles in years – even after a DSQ in Leogang, Tahnée is just 80 points behind a resurgent Rachel Atherton. After missing two races Myriam is back, a much needed world class rider in the field. Three ladies with the pace and killer instinct needed to win but with three totally different approaches to doing so, watching how the week unfolds as we build to race day will be most interesting. The eagle eyed analyst may have seen how the split times and sector demands of the shorter and longer tracks have played out for the women this year. With a pattern emerging. MSA’s length and high speed impacts may favour the brave, but the brave and conditioned even more.
At least one new section, dubbed “Tarzan” otherwise pretty unchanged from the past 2-3 years – no matter what, racing will be fast, straight, high speed whether in or out of the woods. We would say bikes take a hammering but those days are beyond us now.
What “approach” does it take to win at MSA? Well I don’t think I’ve personally attended enough races at MSA to know the finer details just yet, but from the experience I have at the venue it’s directness and confidence on the less confidence inspiring sections that counts. Race strategy is built by race tactics…tactics for practice, for each run, for sections, for sectors and finally for the race run it self. Braking just at the right time, some call it late braking, is crucial; as carrying the huge speed generated as free momentum into the subsequent sections here is paramount. No point in not using those speeds built on the flat out piste to keep your wagon wheels ploughing over rocks and boulders as you transition from open to wooded sections.
Subtle but convincing changes of direction on the loose, fast piste sections, total conviction and commitment to line choice in the slab infested woods, wet or dry, braking just “late” enough, soft transitions from edge to edge of you tyres and no let up in the “fitness” abilities needed to take the hits, deal with the impacts and hold and coax the bike from line to line, rock to boulder!
So maybe that’s the formula, total subtle committed conviction!?
All Images – PC: @Red Bull Content Pool
This is downhill. The real deal, for two weeks only the keyboard warriors will slink away from the clavier, curl up their powerful pinkies and maybe, just maybe sit back in awe of all things DH. Drooling over the “pit-bits” photos, living dangerously vicariously through the practice days RAW footage all building towards the Red Bull T.V. climax on the Saturday! Val di Sole and Vallnord, big, wild, natural and gnarly. “Proper” DH tracks some will say, rightly so as many others will agree but that’s not quite enough to truly grasp the challenge of winning on either of the next two venues race tracks!
Val di Sole’s “black snake” race track is just over 2km in length and drops 548m, doing so at a very constant gradient, apart from the start and finish run in the track snakes it’s way down the hill in an often fuss free direct manner, steep, wild and requiring full attention at all times. The punishment dished out by the big impacts is made worse by the constant steepness, a gradient that requires a fine balance of holding your upper body in a stable posture, supported by your legs but always finely adjusting weight distribution to hit your lines, maintain traction and pound the key pockets on track that allow you to change direction, brake and do the fatest job possible. Mixing those upper body demands that see the riders hit instantaneous double G figures with the need to brake quite often but VERY precisely means hand, arm and leg fatigue are rife in practice and racing. It is as specific as fatigue gets so a healthy body, quality conditioninging program in the past weeks and months and some smart & timely recovery strategies throughout practice are key. Basically the black snake requires relaxed, precious and powerful riding, directness pays massive in time gained but it comes at a heavy price. Payhed for in physical ability and mental acuity!
In contrast, Vallnord’s WC DH Track dropping 643m from La Pal ski resort to the town of La Massana does so over a longer 2.5km! That extra length and the logistics of crossing a road with a bridge and bringing the finish line to the “town” means Andorra’s track has much more variety in terrain, soil and gradient than the VDS beast. Still a true “natural” challenge, Vallnord’s track has a flat, flowing top, some high speed tech and then eventually after some high speed hits, berms for the TV and rocky off-cambers it “breaks”! A very marked change in gradient that often sees the beginning of where the race is won or lost. Some riders seem to “reset” finding better flow, feel or less fatigue on the steeper bottom third of the track. Others crumble under the duress or just don’t handle the distinct change in rhythm too well. Bike set-up, accumulated fatigue, mind-set, pacing, tactics or strategy. Vallnord could be seen as just as much if not more of a “challenge” than Val Di sole… the reality being though, as I’ve waffled about before…it’s just different!
Everything changes but everything stays the same? Well 2018 see’s the VDS race hitting the Valley of the sun in early July – prime thunderstorm season, and as I sit here in Val di Sole finishing off this waffle it is raining heavy outside, it’s still a toasty 24c but it ain’t gonna be the dust on dust race we’ve had for out previous 4 visits. Trackwalk will tell the tale but there’s been talk of a few small changes to the bottom half of this classic track. With safety and spectacle in mind. Taping width and direction have been decisive here in the past with the 2017 race having one of the best mixes of speed, challenge and technicality in many many years, all made possible by simply taping in a wide track that allows the riders to use the hill to both generate and scrub speed as needed.
Andorra is a week away yet and I’m sure there are those in “the know”, rumours are a brand new bottom section of track being used, possibly negate the chat above about the big break in gradient. But for now sticking with the known knowns is all we can do! Fingers crossed for as much fresh track, fresh challenge and fresh dirt as possible. As natural as Vallnord is, it’s a well used hill, with many years of world cup racing and seasons of bike park useage under its belt the track is down to bedrock in places meaning “lines” don’t come with choice.
Anyways, from here on in it’s track-walk, practice, quali and finals. Same old, same old. Make sure to tune into Instagram to see the same adjectives used daily, wild, rough, gnarly, natural etc… Friday night you’ll see “time to turn it up” or “bring the heat”. We are halfway through the season almost, the top dogs are pretty set, the top 20 contenders even, but what’s not too clear is who’s gonna take control in the overall, the men’s race is so tight, the women’s too. Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang sees here 174 pts back, the mens race doesn’t quite have that issue other than Gwin’s crash in Fort Bill.
Rad race tracks for rad riders. Here’s hoping for some wild weather and a good shake up in who from the top 20 men make it into the top 10 or even the podium.
Make sure you tune into Red Bull TV, more support, more views = more races.
Now we’re eating road! Back to back World Cups are what we all want, like other series at the pinnacle of performance in their disciplines and sports, the rolling weekly circus keeps the fans, media and spectators keen, with not enough down-time between events for the lingering taste of race day blood to dissipate!
Fort William needs no introduction, nor does Leogang. It’s wall to wall hardpack and balls to the wall speed. One track held in high esteem, “Fort William’s” Nevis Range monster snaking it’s way down Aonach Mòr, sixteen years after its debut as a world cup it’s still crunching wheels, hurting bodies and crushing dreams! Leogang’s “Speedster” track has gotten progressively faster, straighter and arguably easier in recent years! But as we’ve said before, easy doesn’t mean simple and racing it well seems to be something that eludes many riders, male and female, with time gaps between 40th and 1st always wider at the much “easier” Leogang compared to its Scottish counterpart.
As race week for round 2 in Fort Bill has just landed the excitement seems genuine, the riders, racers, fans, teams, staff and media are beyond keen to get racing….training no matter how real, how “specific” or meticulously planned becomes monotonous, stale like bread! So you’ll se a glut of social media ramblings about how excited everyone is to go racing. Even though the track is well, the same it’s length, physical challenge and speed seem to keep the riders attention captivated. No let up! The same seems to hold through for those who put in test time and British national race time too. Although the risk of coming in over-down and as a result being underwhelmed come race day is real. In the men’s field it has happened plenty in the past and will be the case again today. There’s a lot to be said for testing and training under the eye of the clock, but the dosing can tip over into the too much of a good thing category quite quickly especially with the much needed principle of variation being so tough to come by at the “Fort”! Those with that winning formula know the value of down-time, the off switch and variety of stimulus.
Leogang, as I waffled about in the 2017 edition of “Hurly-Burly”, is a venue that everyone loves. The track takes a bashing from those who skirt the top ranks, but the venue is simple, central, efficient and stacked with quality accommodation! So invariable riders and staff moods are high, food is good and with a few days down time between events most people hit Friday’s Day 1 practice with fully stocked motivation. 2017 saw some serious safety issues with riders having to judge entry speeds (at nearly 80 km/h) for the final jump but otherwise the track was the same old story, gone were the rock gardens, up went the speeds. Should this track be raced every year…..no is my answer! But it always seems to provide an spectacle in all categories come race day. So mouth shut and tools up!
Fort William’s bog, lets not call it a wood, but 2017’s bog is gone, gone forever. Now like the Leogang rock gardens of years past it’s man made rock sections. The replacement for the “bog” of 2017 is awkward as nature never intended, but from the rider feedback to date the section provides a good challenge and an interesting break in rhythm from the high speed, new in 2017, section just above there. Coming storming in, arms tingling as you anchor down heavily!
So with this new addition after last years bog protests the famous Fort Bill track is 100% hardpack and with a record dry spell hitting the highlands the loose over hardpack will become more and more treacherous as race week wears on. Meaning, potentially, that like so many of 2017’s sweltering races the word of the week will be patience. Pushing as hard as traction allows where it allows it and being supremely patient not to push to hard to often in sections that don’t warrant or reward it. For such a wild piece rocky hill, lightness of touch always seems to pay come race day.
Have got, need not!
“Skill” is the application of the right technique at the right moment in the appropriate dose to achieve a desired movement outcome. Well that’s my definition at least and neither fort Bill nor Leogang demand the full spectrum of MTBers technique toolbox. Again though that’s not to say that neither track provides a challenge, they just don’t provide the full spectrum of challenge like a circa 2007 Schladming did or arguably Mont Sainte Anne does to this day. What 2018’s rounds 2 and 3 do demand though is pristine mastery of high speed change of direction, pumping and crisp choice of lines over the granite boulders of Fort William.
Benchmarking changes or improvements in the ladies field off of the performances of their male counterparts allows us to dig into both inter and intra individual changes quite nicely. Always keeping the “context” of any result up front and centre. Fort Bill’s physicality sees bigger percentage gap between the ladies and men’s winners. So a winter of smartly heavy strength work for the ladies could see that gap drop just a little. Defining worthwhile meaningful change is a real challenge. Comparing two fast dry races like 2015 and 2017 in Leogang, we saw that the ladies winners, Atherton & Seagrave respectively were both exactly 30 seconds behind the male winner Gwin. Following a similar line of investigation, 2014 was an odd season for the male field and as mentioned above longer tracks = bigger sex gaps. Expression of Strength being the defining characteristic of performance?
The list of potential useful statistics coming into these two races is long. Therefore huge Potential for paralysis by analysis. Pretty stable track layouts when comparing too previous years means “key sectors” can be dissected. Past performances of individuals lined up with present performance potential in the light of current constraints is the essence of using analysis and stats to your advantage. Always remembering that while the clock doesn’t lie “performance” and outcome are not the same thing.
If you are after some straightforward stats though, we’ve visited Leogang 8 times before, Fort William 16. In the men’s field Aaron Gwin hold 50% of Leogang’s victories. 4/8. The Fort has been around much longer allowing Minnaar to rack up 7 victories over a VERY impressive time-span. A period spanning a serios changing wheel-sizes, bike design, reliability and competition structure.
The easy money is put on these two riders at those two venues. For me the potential of massive upset provides a lot of excitement. The ladies races are far less clear cut, other than Mosely and Ragot, Atherton is the most prolific winner at the Fort but by no means dominant, ending a stunning victory streak under her own volition in 2017 at the Fort she’ll look to redeem herself this year. Confident and healthy Seagrave and Nicole will make for a battle royale. Leogang is even less clear cut than the Fort for the ladies. Seagrave rolling in as reigning champ will mean little unless that momentum is kickstarted on Anoch Mòr!
Because the tracks change little, last years results will certainly sway the bookies odds, but other than the victors of 2017 & maybe podiums, the results sheet can leave you less than optimally informed. “Form” that lovely mix of fitness – fatigue + motivation is a transient quality. Comes, goes etc… Key things like physical preparation and team environment not to mention bicycle performance all play their roll. The mental puzzle solving that underpins all DH performance is the one we need to look at coming into round 2. I’m hazarding a guess at 2-3 newish faces on the Fort William podium but an experienced packed Leogang steps for the men and well for the ladies “recent form” points to a 3 way battle between Myriam, Tahnée & Rachel.
A side-note to it all is watching how practice and racing goes at the first of this double-header for those who have camped out at the Fort for a week before versus those who fly in Monday. A little jet-lag versus a little over-exposure!
The stand-alone season opener in Croatia means many companies and teams probably have some “new tech” to showcase or hide in Fort William, do we really truly care? Emm no, but rumours are a certain 27.5 stalwart team have a 29er ready but won’t ride it. Santa Cruz have a new bike, some guys kits will match their hubs and pedals, the main point is that if you’ve not tested it don’t race it. Throwing back to 2017 and there were a scandalous amount of racers bending 29” wheels in Fort William and struggling to hoard tyres for Leogang to come. The self-inflicted wheel size head-fuck of 2017 is all but behind us I think, so I for one am stoked to see results with asterisk added on come Sunday!
The excitement to go racing again is HUGE! I can’t wait, can’t wait to help athlete’s do their best all week long. Faced with classic tracks and venues, motivation and attention will be keys to performance. Practice builds race-runs, it’s not just their to convince yourself you know what you are doing or to burn brake pads. So managing motivation and expectation will be the name of the game.
Classic track, classic venues are in every great sport; F1, MotoGP, MX, Alpine skiing, Soccer, Sailing and Road cycling. We however don’t have the luxury of black tarmac or a fresh covering of snow. Unique in demands, DH needs some unique solutions to allow us all to keep the motivation peaking. Races like Leogang and Fort William on bi-annual rotation in the future….? Yes please!
This won’t be the only “preview” you read this week; but it will have a different perspective than most. I’m no journalist and don’t want to be, I’m a coach; maybe a performance enhancement-ist? But what I certainly am and always have been is a BIG fan of racing. Bikes above all else. So being as unbiased as I can, which isn’t simple, here’s my take on the 2018 UCI DH World Cup season to come.
The title fight is only seven rounds long, which in plain speak is not enough. More should be done to make it a longer championship battle, but unlike the “title-fight” in MMA, boxing or some play-off riddled team sport, DH provides us with a lot of the answers from Round #1! There’s little waiting, we get the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania rolled into one – with live coverage – everyone races the track and the clock decides the outcome. Simple, and that’s a big part of the reason why we love it so.
The UCI are much lambasted at regular intervals by fans, keyboard warriors, media and media-warriors alike, the race track in Losinj and it’s tarmac finish adding fuel to the fire for 2018. While much if not all of the blame for a slow moving & somewhat stagnant World Cup calendar lays at the UCI’s door – if we are gonna blame & shame I feel we have to give credit when due also. Otherwise we are just engaged in dogma and displaying nothing more than terrible cognitive bias in attitudes towards the “big house”. Mercedes-Benz and parent Daimler need little introduction and they have chosen the UCI MTB World Cup to promote their new range of off-road vehicles. Will we see DH racers cruising alpine streets in loaner X-Classes like the ski-racers in their Audi’s? I doubt it, but it is a positive step and the first major external sponsor since Nissan.
Spicing a much too long off-season up with pre-season races is steadily becoming more and more par for the course, gone are the days of private tests sessions and one “whatever” works pre-World Cup race to help you remember those between the tape feelings. Now teams, with bigger ambitions and either bigger or further stretched budgets are hitting a host of pre-season events with a plan and focus. Crankworx Rotorua is high on the list for some, even though it’s half a planet away from most teams HQ’s. Windrock in Tennessee, USA is fast becoming the winter hot-spot, even though it’s most often freezing cold there all winter. But the quality of the tracks and services Neko Mullally and team provide are second to none. From testing camps onto races, this past off-season has painted a pretty decent picture of who has built form, carried World Cup 2017 momentum or found a seat on the puzzle bus. From the Pro GRT in Windrock to Portugese Cup in Lousa, British National Series in Cwmcarn, local French races in Peille, the aforementioned Crankworx Rotorua right up to the “why is it not a World Cup” iXS Cup in Maribor, pre-season has painted quite the pretty picture in terms of depth of and diversity of preparations, talent and tanacity.
Every season has the “this will be the most competitive ever” preamble attached to it, but 2018 has does have a seriously spicy flavour. One I’ve not come across in my years on the scene. Regardless of how utterly crap you, the internet warrior, thinks the Losinj track will be it will separate the best from the rest, no questions asked. But having a quick gander at the percentages, spreads and placings of the first races of the year, especially the British National, Windrock, iXS Maribor and Portuguese races and there’s a depth in numbers coming to do battle in Losinj that is providing some serious excitement and intrigue. Bar a few genuine up and comers or first year Elites in the men’s fields the top 10s or even 15’s in above pre-season races were genuine World Cup top 10’s. A stunning amount of ability and hard work getting fine-tuned in the one place at one time over a few weekends. A few notable absences though from these pre-season races, I’l be keeping my cards close to my chest here, but I’m predicting 2 fresh or fresher faces on the Mens Elite podium in Losinj and at least one noticeably absentee.
The women’s field lacks the depth the men’s field has for obvious reasons of participation numbers; but the heavy hitters have all been out and away from training laps & sparring only and got the gloves on in proper race environments this winter. Most journalists and fans seem to still trump placings over percentages when reviewing and I suppose that is simply because the gotta get the info across quick in social size bites. If you do however take the time for analysis and analyse in context (crucial) then what we have on our hands in Losinj is Chinese torture ready, razor sharp ladies that will be separated by razor thin margins. Off-course I’m a little biased here; but I’m very excited for it.
Teams, trucks, brands, suspensions & diameters
Michelin versus Pirelli, Bridgestone versus Dunlop. Brands, manufacturers and constructors in Motorsport is the perpetual story-line with one or two always having the upper hand, regardless of race-track. Often dominating results sheets for golden periods because of engineering triumph, financial clout or plain complex luck. DH has had similar dominating story lines, luckily for us the pilots input matters even more when their mass is four times that of the machine, so technical advantage is negated slightly. But we have had across the board for nearly two decades a series of two horse races. Sram versus Shimano, Rockshox versus Fox, Maxxis versus Michelin or Schwalbe….the core “contact” components ,the stuff that really matters on a push-bike. But 2018 has a storyboard that’s quite a bit different. Four or five worthy tyre manufacturers, producing quality prodcut in a variety of sizes and configuration. Rockshox, Fox, SR Suntour, Formula, BOS and DVO all seemingly producing suspension that works, yes some brands have an advantage but the diversity is startling and good to see.
Wheel diameter was the hot 2017 topic and the infancy of the sport and infantile minds of some competitors shown bright, botched and chopped wanna-be 29er bikes, riders and teams talking of 10 sec margins on basic test tracks…Lourdes came and went and left us with no answers because of divine intervention. Fort William was a perfect, classic, playground and the line was drawn. Bikes that work, work and wheel-size may not matter too much as a solo metric. With 12 months of maturation and engineering some riders and teams will have good 29ers dialled, the above pre-season races have pretty much told the story, Santa Cruz, Commencal, Intense & Devinci all have real-deal and fast 29″ wheeled bikes. Along with suspension, tyre and parts suppliers that make good product. Other brands have finalised “production” 29″ wheel bikes coming for Fort William. Regardless of how “good” they are, we will see a split. The ladies all on 27.5″ bikes, the men split 6/4 or 5/5 in the top 10 or so between 27.5″ & 29″ bikes.
Morphology and anthropomorphics matter when talking wheel-size, longer limb levers, especially lower body suit the larger diameter wheels better; but the complexity of the interaction between the rider and bike and sprung and un-sprung masses not to mention the system of complex elastic springs, levers, motors and struts that make up the human body is far to dense in degeneracy for a “simple” formula for guiding riders towards either wheel size to work.
It’s a golden age of diversity though and it’s a pleasure to be involved in it.
Juniors & Freshmen
Sophomore is an odd word, but it means second year and there are some second year elite male and female racers who should perform well in 2018. Most eyes though are on the junior class of 2017. Climbing into the big ranks in Elite men, Finn Iles and Matt Walker will excel; that’s nature & nurture. There are many more riders jumping ship too though, with Seagrave and Hartenstern being two of the higer ranked 2017 racers moving up, What success for a first year elite means is governed by the previous success and failures of others. Top 10’s are the benchmark, Bruni, Greenland, Vergier, Bryceland and Fearon all transitioned to elite with ease. With elite podiums and World Champ podiums for some in Freshman year. It’s a long shot but a Freshman World Cup Elite win has not happened in the “modern era”. 2018 has a good a chance as any,
The Junior ladies category is usually forgotten, but branded Red Bull racer Vali Hoell may change that. Judging by results to date she is fast. how that speed will translate to the rough and tumble and terribly early Group B World Cup starts we’ll wait and see.
Junior men is a ripper of a category; some dislike it. But I think it has many merits. 2018 has a list of racers longer than two arms. Both first and second year racers. Kade Edwards is the 2nd year man to beat. Daprela, Edmondson, Tyrell and Canyon Factory Racing’s Kye Ahern are all first year shredders with support and race-smarts.
Emotional management is the key to junior success. Broken bikes in Croatia may prove to be the catalyst for broken dreams…
Round #1 Race-Track
Haters gonna hate – having been to the venue and raced this track in 2016 I know what we are in for, it’s not easy, not really “fun”, not very long but he venue is nice. Is it good enough for a world Cup? Well that depends, on it’s own as a standalone race I feel it lacks too much to be considered a World class challenge. It will make for exciting racing and the world’s best will make it a spectacle. While the track is not easy from a simple technique execution/application POV it is not deep enough in choice to make it a challenge. Depending though on where RedBull TV place their cameras and how the short track is split up in terms of split times and TV time we could get a sensational showcase of our sport for the world. The street section is relatable for the public and I feel there is far to much being made of it as a negative. It needs some dirt wall-rides and rollers, but that’s that. What the venue, track and location provide is a showcase. If I was courting potential sponsors, especially out of industry sponsors, I’d bring them to Croatia; selling them the idea of our traveling circus as the vessel from which they showcase their brand to the world is easy done in Croatia, Mercedes Benz onsite, live to the world seaside in the Adriatic. It has it’s merits as much as it’s downfalls. I’m trying to see it like the “Monaco F1″ of World cup DH; the issue being thought that F1 has 21 + races, DH does not.
What would make sense and appease us all is a season opening double-header. Losinj for the seaside fan-fare to kick things off then on to Maribor four hours away for a back to back round 2. Maribor did have a joint World Cup bid in with Graz, Austria (for XCO) for 2018. What happened there I don’t know. But seaside to pre-alpine diversity is what MTB allows, unlike or winter alpine cousins and should be capitalized on. The larger issue still glaringly obvious here thoughis this; the UCI make & enforce rules, they shouldn’t also have a sole hand in promotions and planning of the series, there they need the vision and expertise of external agents, just as Moto GP, MX GP, F1 and others have. Someday maybe?
The track in Losinj will provide good racing; the organisers have done their best & then some; the terrain, gradient and altitude availbe is at the VERY lower limit of what should be allowed, but like Brazil, Canberra and PMB before it the racers there to win will win. Instead of pushing against the venue & the organisers we should embrace it for what it provides in-terms of exposure and push instead to have it paired with a polar-opposite challenge on back to back weeks in future.
New School Rules
Again the UCI took serious flack from the internet navigators when it was announced that only the top 60 men would now qualify for finals. A reduction in the ladies numbers for 2017 made little difference in fairness, but the men’s change has the potential to cause issues. Tyres, wheels, weather etc… making top 60 a true cliff edge. What the keyboard warriors don’t know is it is the Trade teams and Red Bull Media House not the UCI that pushed for this and other changes. It makes sense in my opinion, especially come race day too further professionalize the sport. It’s not a rule set in stone either which is worth noting. The “protected” rider change has also been pushed by a handful of teams and individuals. There is still the potential for 20 protected individual males, the top 10 from the overall in 2017 are on TV and guaranteed for finals come race day all season long and then up to 10 more riders protected if they are top 10 overall in the 2018 standings and through some bizarre turn like the weather in Lourdes the current protected top 10 from ’17 are not in the top 10 of the current standings! In reality though we are likely to see between 12 to 16 protected Elite male races in 2018.
The new rules mean that practice matters even more, planned, concerted efforts in timed training and qualifying “game plans” are all going to become more “norm” in 2018 for those who feel the pressure at the edge of the bubble.
Racing kicks off in 5 days; Day 1 murmurs and whinging about the track will subside come Quali day and the sea-side after parties will be as wild as ever. It’s been waaaaay too long since Cairns.
One word that means everything and nothing to so many, whether in the “fitness” industry or not. From rider to racer and everyone else involved “conditioning” is a word that most often in most peoples unsaid, unwritten definition overlaps with the word “fitness”.
Fitness for the lay man, conditioning for the “professional”? Who cares, as it likely does not matter once solitary gram. What we mean is the ability for your body (brain included, they cannot be separated) to deliver & use adequate amounts of energy so you can successfully complete what your sport demands at any given instance. The energetics of movement maybe? Attempts to break that down into measures of ones ability to transport and use oxygen, burn substrates, use enzymes, contract, relax and control muscle, make decisions or pin point percentage substrate usage are all worthwhile uses of scientific investigation…helping further the body of knowledge coaches use and abuse in helping athlete’s prepare.
The “problem” as it stands now though is two fold and caused in no small part by many peoples perception of the above scientific investigations being the zenith of human investigation into sports performance…simply, the view held by many that scientific investigation has all the answers. As a result, depending on your sports culture, the training process can be largely dominated by percentage based systems, classifications of physiological metrics. On the surface this seems to make sense for our “conditioning” but it has in no small part contributed to blinkered views of what conditioning is and how to achieve it. To the detrement of thousands of athletes once they face the heat of true competition.
Instead of subscribing to a system created by others for the masses, the best approach, to date, in my attempts to help others achieve “fitness” and to condition athletes is to be a scavenger. While not as glamorous as a hunter metaphor, there are few scavenger species close to extinction. Basing near all decisions on a singular training model like % of FTP, % of 1 repetition max, velocity, % of V02max etc… is utter madness! What’s even worse is your foolhardy gym warrior approach of doing what’s “hot” right now – that being as I type, still, somehow, Tabata timing – 20″ of work 10″ of rest for 8 reps!
If we back pedal to the start – What is conditioning? The ability to deliver, use and exceed the energy requirements of meeting your sports demands for every last second of competition, from pre-practice to race run. For the Enduro racer this is everything from track-walks, practice, race stages, post stage recovery, pre-stage prep and doing it the week after or day after if demanded by the calendar. By definition it is “fitness” – suitability for a task.
So a narrow definition of “condition” will very like get you beaten, or killed! Why? Because performance cannot be categorized by physiology alone. A solution to this problem is to become a blood-thirsty scavenger.
Take what you need from any models avaialbe, use, modify, abuse & discard. Remember that all models are wrong but many are useful. The next time your on the bike, in the gym or planning your or some other persons training you may think of this post…..with that in mind below are some conditioning buckets we try to use when planning training so as no matter how big the fire you encounter at a race you will have enough in reserve to dampen the flames, a buffer if you will, not a physiological one, but a performance buffer.
The above are just some examples – methods and means can be best guided by the application of a varied but effective and evolving ecosystems of training. The ecosystem you create by how you organise and categorize your training sessions and their desired & undesired outcomes is what allows you to build a plan that has some semblance of order that allows you to help deliver a prepared and conditioned athlete for competition. In an ideal world the above table would actually be some sort of beautiful chart where the possible relationship and connection between each approach to conditioning is explored……but I just don’t have the time or skills for that.
The above holistic approach to designing the conditioning focused elements of a plan allow for a more complete understanding of training load also. Providing a handy port of departure away from classic, linear, input//output metrics like Training Stress Score, TRIMP, distance, time etc… training load and stress can only be understood when the emotional and subsequent autonomic state that it occurred during is understood and as an extension of that the “outcome state” each session creates too. As a recent study found, perceived success or failure of a session, the emotional impact a session has and the location & result all effected rating of exertion – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29502448
The simplest measure of preparedness, conditioning and fitness will NEVER be found in a lab or quantified with numbers, being conditioned for your event/sport means meeting or exceeding demands at all moments and that requires the confidence to know you can do it for it to actually happen. So even if you have the physiological systems conditioned to deliver, use and express the use of energy as movement you are not conditioned unless that can be expressed under the global demands of competition, whether that’s a large crowd, a fresh opponent, a different air temperature or a changing surface. Conditioning = Fitness and Fitness = ability to complete a task. No caveats, no excuses.
P.S. – I’ve probably done a poor job at articulating my views on what conditioning is and how to achieve it…..but a blog is pretty much nothing more than a place one attempts to organise thoughts…..and that is all I did (more…)
From our perspecitve a “coach” shouldn’t have the add on title of Sports, Strength, Technique or Defense…multi-discipline is the only discipline when performance come race-day cannot be broken down and is most often only ever measured once.
Here you’ll see Charlie Harrison smashing a seated box jump – often I’ll get asked for “sports specific” exercises and often I’ll reply that there is none. But in reality exercise selection in the gym should be about what the athlete needs so they can always have multiple correct solutions for a movement problem they are facing on track.
The measure of how quickly your muscles produce force is termed rate of force development, an awkward thing to measure and controversial at best due to this difficulty in measurement.
For the MTBer, unlike many other sports with clear defined demands, we have the joy of wildly various demands given the track type, soil, gradient, length and frequency of features on trail. As a result you have to be above adequate at many different ways of producing force (strength). If you are a ski jumper then you always take off the ramp from the same position, give or take a few millimeters, an MTBer however will have to “pop”, “push”, “pull” or “punch” any given place on a trail, over a time frame dictated by how fast they and bike are moving over a given trail feature…..add in the changing dynamics of suspension at different speeds and ohhh boy do we have some options.
Back to the seated box jump – what we often see with MTBers is that strategies they use on the bike to jump, pop or send it are very different to those they use with feet on terrafirma. As a result, a coaches job is figuring out ways to create transferable physical qualities in the gym. It’s not about doing an exercise with correct technique, we are not here to “workout” we are here to train and it’s all about transfer. Choosing, modifying, cueing and adapting exercises to get that transfer.
With the seated box jump the task constraints and goal are clear. You go from seated to on top of the box in front as quick as possible. Your movement strategy choices are limited. As a result it’s all about concentric force production, no room for a dip, drive or counter movement – the box for landing on is there for two reasons, none of which are to do with willy measuring contests on the internet. 1) reduce the landing forces so we can do more reps focusing on rapid concentric force development. 2) without something to jump onto or over the athlete will have to muster motivation from more abstract places in their own brain……may work for some, may work less for others.
This is one tiny piece of a large psychical performance puzzle. But at all times it’s individual specific first!
The aim of exercise selection should never be to improve a given metric just “because that’s what everyone else measures” – the exercise should be choosen to have a positive effect on the atheltes ability to perform under pressure, pressure of environment, social scence, time, duress, fatigue and their own cognition.
With the seated box jump we hope that if done well, often enough and progressed the athlete will find a new tool in their on trail tool-box of movement solutions. It’s not about some generic title like “he’s more powerful” – instead it’s “wow look how fluid Rider A looks in that section”, followed by feedback from the rider saying how they feel less fatigue and at one with the bike. If they don’t have to dip before they pop off a small natural lip it’s maybe a hundredth of a second saved, if each precious pedal stroke is more forceful over the same angular velocity, if transitioning between absorbing gravity’s influence on them in a berm to exerting their own forces onto the berm happens 1/100th faster – the coach has done a good job. Best of luck measuring that.
Becoming an annual reflection I think, but what was the very best ride of 2017?
Some years, like 2016, there is a sure-fire stand-out. Fresh single-rack, the best of friends or the wildest moments? Some years maybe it’s no so clear-cut? Maybe it’s that all the rides were mediocre or the inverse, maybe every time those tyres touched dirt it was sensational wild times.
Reflection is what makes this sort of otherwise useless blog post important (to me at least)! The lens we see the past through is constructed from those very experiences we are reflecting on….but that lens , I suppose, is easily changed in tint, hue or shape by the outcomes of those very reflections!?
Curbing all that philosophical yip-yapping, 2017 had bike shredding in every month! From January to December, maybe the first time for me in years, but what it also had as mind-bending savagely good trails, people and times in each of those months. So a very “best ride of 2017″ is just not possible to nail down. Via the scary power of social media though below is a collection of some of the highlight moments. From shredding with Point1 athletes on endless alpine gems or wild berms to getting barreled in the berms of Champéry’s “coupe du Monde” track. 2017 delivered. Some of the most enjoyable rides were probably the solo, 6 a.m. missions to the top of whatever hill or mountain was above the World Cup h venues, praying to find a trail that was not only good but would bring me back to the apartment in time to whip up a decent breakfast at 6:45 a.m. for FMD-Racing!
Anyways, all going to “plan” 2018 will dish up a double portion of the same……cheers bikes, you’re class.
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Makes dreams but destroys tyres! 😂 Champéry is RAD. Sickest turns in the alps! #dreamy stuff. World Cup Track is running all-time good. Merci @bikeparkchamperymorgins @nukeproofbikes @foxheadeurope @high5sportsnutrition @wildernesstrailbikes @hotlineseurope #high5fuelled #nukeproof #mtb #dh #champery #foxmtb #foxheadeurope #slappinbass #jïzz
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1300m straight up meant endless awesome trail the whole way back down! @kelangrant was a happy man transplanted from the germ bird to the Alps! One of the finest Alpine rides ever! @nukeproofbikes @foxheadeurope @high5sportsnutrition @hotlineseurope @wildernesstrailbikes #mtb #morzine #ews #training #nukeproof
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Ahh lads. End stage rehab on the broken arm with @frasermcglone. Every turn between Morzine & Champéry and back was shredded and not one backpack or knee guard was used! 😂 Sensational morning out! @nukeproofbikes @foxheadeurope @high5sportsnutrition @wildernesstrailbikes @hotlineseurope
17 days until the start of the 2017 EWS season and 49 days almost to the minute until racing will conclude at UCI DH WC #1 in Lourdes.
The freshness of it all, new teams, new riders on new bikes, colours, kits, venues and new ventures. Wheel size or watts the shiny new things are what keep so many people coming back for a fresh dose of race fever. Whether rider, racer, industry hack, journalist, spectator, coach, fan or fan-boy…this “newness” each season drags the heart-rate a little higher, pushes the addiction a little deeper and keeps the glint of hope shimmering in everyone’s eyes.
Wrapped up with the freshness & newness is the sameness – a must, the blend of fresh and same-old keeps things authentic, keeps DH and Enduro what they are – racing can’t change too much from the basics; A to B, fastest wins. That’s what we are all here for. Displays of preparation and execution against the clock.
Driven by instinct maybe or more possibly culture, the “players” whether fans or media keyboard jockey will speculate. Bench racing; who’s on the up, who’s got what to prove?
The athlete’s in all this need to be strategic, strategy implies purposeful thought. Getting sucked into speculation and expectation is a recipe for disaster – tactical nightmare, shuffling emotions about as best one can only partially dealing with the physiological fall-out inevitably linked to emotional reaction.
2016 is gone. Those with paper to fill will talk of the title defense, the rising star or failing veteran. But there is nothing to defend.
Whether your name is Rude, Ravanel, Callaghan or Winton. Atherton, Gwin, Seagrave or Minnaar. Races can only be won. There is no defense to make. Each week, day & racing minute are opportunities for action only. If you aim to write some history, there’s only one way to go about it.
Races & Championships are only won, never defended.