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#FoxDialed: Prime Posture – Post Script

By in large the feedback on our (myself and Jordi Cortes’ video) on posture, performance and suspension was positive. People enjoyed both the concrete advice and the more abstract or philosophical discussion about the cyclical nature of problem solving your progression as a rider. There was of course some negative feedback, which is always welcome and often necessary. Much of the more negative replies came on the now infamous Pinkbike comments section. Instead of directly replying to those comments  and getting embroiled in a slimy pig wrestle where both parties become lost deep in the black hole of internet forum fighting, I thought it better to use some of the feedback to fire up my own skull muscle and delve deeper into my own rationale & understanding behind a “prime posture” and share that with anyone willing to read.

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One of the stand out replies on Pinkbike was from a guy who claimed that Jordi or myself recommended a tall posture on the bike but then contradicted ourselves by saying Bruni had the best posture and as we can all see Loic rides at his fastest in a relatively deep “hip hinge”! The discussion then takes off and Amaury Pierron and his “low and aerodynamic” position on the bike gets dragged in. The true details don’t matter so much, more so the overall idea that 1) Jordi or me recommended an upright position and 2) that because successful riders don’t have *the position* that all advice is null and void. The key for me is having some arguments to refute or at least use them expand on my own rationale for a Prime Posture.

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 The stand out issue is that my doodle of prime posture showed a rider standing very upright, maybe skewing people’s own representation of what I mean. Coupled with that was the discussion about how a deep flexion biased posture is something I see in less experienced or skilled riders. Those two parts of our discussion may have led people to conclude that we were recommending a tall, very upright posture at ALL times. Which of course is not the case. If the over-zealous commentators had paid attention to the key kinematic components on my doodle they would have realized that no matter how low or deep in their hip flexion Amaury or Loic get they still at all times display the common kinematic variables of a “prime posture”. From top to bottom they are; eyes up, neutral spine, stable & square pelvis hinged over strong legs stacked on mobile but “stiff” ankles! You can look at 500+ photos of either rider in question or any world class DHer for that matter and you will see all of the above on display. You cannot however prescribe specific joint angles that are the best across all people. As we all know the variables of limb length, strength, total mass, mass of each limb or joint segment, sensory-motor difference and a whole host of variables due to the inherent redundancy or degeneracy of the human motor-system mean that the details of the postural solutions to the balance problem that is riding an MTB down wild tracks at speed are individual. They just share common features, or Principles of Prime Posture if you will.

 

The more upright posture I was describing was a direct antithesis to the heavily flexed posture of the scared novice. It was not a description of the perfect posture we need in all situations. Continuing as the comments did with both Amaury and Loic as examples of low and aero postures we can dig into just what is actually on display and why. As outlined in the previous paragraph, no matter how low Amaury gets he always displays an eyes up, neutral spine and stable hinged hip posture, ditto for Loic. The more experienced eye will see the commonalities of posture not the differences caused by kinematic or anthropomorphic variables. Going further the true issue with the debate is that it’s comparing tomatoes with bananas. We all know that tomatoes have no place in a fruit salad! As spoken about in the #dialed episode posture on the bike is simply a solution to the problem of balance. Riding bikes is a dynamic balance challenge where maintaining our centre of mass over our base of support is critical. Doing so as we successfully negotiate challenging terrain and apply the right technique at the right time is skillful riding. 

A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same "hip dominant" technique
A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same “hip dominant” technique

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What we see Loic and Amaury do is solve their own unique balance challenge in the most appropriate way possible given the task demands. In this case that’s getting from A to B down a gnarly World Cup track as fast as possible. As we all know World Cup tracks are fast, often wide and now have less tight turns and changes in speed than before. Average speeds are high, between 35 – 40 km/h for most tracks, peak speeds of up to 75 km/h and there is a variety of gradients but mostly things are steep enough that a rider needs to have a more rearward bias in posture to distribute weight optimally to maintain the needed blend of vision, control, balance and efficiency. The word efficiency here is key, it’s our motor systems search for a cost effective way of solving movement problems that leads to this low or deep hinged posture for many WC racers. It’s the fastest, safest and most energy efficient way to solve the task at hand. Controlling your COM on your bike comes in two main forms; an ankle dominant strategy and hip dominant strategy. When speeds are low, good riders tend to choose an ankle dominant strategy, cruising along nice and tall, using small movements at the ankles and then knee and hip to deal with the very small displacements of COM caused or demanded by the trail. When speeds are high and especially when speed, gradient and the amplitude of displacement of COM is great, then good riders will use a far deeper more hip dominant strategy to control COM. Again, this is a universal concept that has key similarities between individuals but many small differences caused by the vastly different sizes, shapes and motor learning histories we all have.

 

As a visual example of the above principle, hit this LINK to watch Amaury displaying an ankle dominant strategy as the terrain, speed and urgency of the situation dictates that as the most cost effective solution. This is the general neutral position myself and Jordi were talking about. Then watch the following five seconds to see Amaury display his hallmark hip dominant strategy as he shreds some wild terrain at warp speed – HERE. And for arguments sake if you watch all of the clips in the following link from Mont Sainte Anne World Champs you will see a more mixed approach to the balance problem as that’s what the terrain and speed demands. It’s certainly a hip dominant strategy but it’s slightly taller – LINK showing that postures as a strategy to control COM displacement are on a continuum. At all times in the linked videos though, Amaury displays the key movement principles of Prime Posture – vision is stable, neutral spine, hinged hips etc….

 

From here onward I could probably fill 50 pages with endless waffle about the reasons behind how and why individuals choose certain points along the ankle to hip dominant continuum of postural control on a bike. We of course need to speak about the importance of keeping the head neutral and parallel to the ground we travel on as the signals from our vestibular system are key to successful control! The potential questions are nearly endless. Do our postural choices lead to an increase or decrease in the amplitude or strength of the automatic postural responses that are encoded in our spinal “circuits” and brain stem? Does our unique sum of joint angles and inter and intramuscular coordination and length tension relationships caused by our preferred strategies lead to a functional increase in short latency reflex responses or are they still not much to write home about? Are the shapes we make on the bike key to enhancing muscle synergies that drive effortless and rhythmic movement?

A more Upright strategy
A more Upright strategy

 

The questions of why a prime posture is truly prime are pretty far reaching, this little blog post is about refuting the notion that postural choices are absolutes, they exist on a continuum of usefulness or relevancy dictated by the demands of the terrain. Is there an aerodynamic element to Amaury or Loic’s choices? Maybe, wind resistance or drag is one of the key forces acting on riders along with friction, so whether innate or planned, maybe getting low when possible is a choice. I’d hazard a guess though that given the demands of race tracks the deeper hinged, low postures we see are as much about riders femur lengths, torso strength and arm span as anything else.

 

The goal is to ride the bike from A to B as fast as possible. The task is to do so in an energy efficient way while maintaining balance. For this to happen kinematics, kinetics and the redundancy of the motor sensory system needs to be controlled. That challenge is so complex that really the best approach is to focus on the key principles of prime posture. You will see the best of the best share these items no matter what the trail, track or speed demands are.

 

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Real Race Training – #TopTipTuesday

Making the most of Time on the Race Bike – Real Race Training

Training I say? Squats you think? The tide is again turning slowly, but it seems for many involved in racing bicycles, at any level or discipline, when we speak about training, most people’s minds think about the “physical”. Intervals, sprints, strength training, “Vo2” and “cardio”. The specific race training, that “big bang for your buck” on your bike training comes a poor second best. In reality working on areas of weakness and specificity; aiming to arrive in any start-gate truly ready to attack any race course should make up not the majority but none the less a well organised portion of your training time. Especially if race progression is your goal. Here are some top-tips you can apply to your real deal on the bike training as all to often if you search our training advice all you’ll find is FTP, zones, barbells and box jumps.

 

1 – Set a Goal: just like going to the gym to work on maximal strength where you will try to lift the heaviest weight possible for four sets of three repetitions, having a goal for your on the bike training is critical. It sets the tone for the whole session and allows you to organise the details. This can be anything from braking points or visualisation pre-run, to bigger picture work like managing intensity over full runs or hitting top gear after only limited practice run/s. A goal should be individual to your needs but it must be defined both for the session planned and placed within the picture of your overall plan. Short range goals in the context of big product goals. More here from the Harvard Business Review.

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2 – Define Your Process: A goal is only achievable with a process to get there – take that first example of working on ‘braking points’. Without a process that goal stays pretty abstract. Aim to define what features that require braking you are truly struggling with, define if you need to brake more, harder, less or more consistently. Define two to three spots on a track where the consequences of good/bad braking points will be evident. Try different braking strategies and then try to time a section that allows you to learn from different braking approaches. Consequences & knowledge of results are a must. We deployed many of these ideas with Thomas Estaque & Hugo Frixtalon HERE

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3 – Focus: staying focused on the task at hand and your goals is a challenge as riding bikes is FUN! This however is also a  key area that many riders, even the best, struggle with at the races. Staying focused on the job of building a race run. You can try many things to improve focus during training. Key words – like “focus on” and then imagine yourself hitting a light switch. OR try riding a fun track between your focused race training runs. Nutrition can help too – planned lunch time, high carbohydrate snacks between runs and stimulants like caffeine could help.

 

4- Own your Mistakes: The best race training is training that is challenging enough that you make errors often. Mistakes are normal and are a great opportunity to learn. Instead of getting angry or upset about an error, own up to it, learn from it and take the opportunity it provides to grow. A mistake, from being a little off line to a huge crash is the outcome of many choices. So dissect and investigate where the mistake came from, see if you can change it short or long term and then move on. Move on happy in the knowledge that you’ve learned and grown as a racer because of it.

 

5 – Rest & Reflect: Rest between runs, especially timed or full runs can be an area often overlooked. Riders want maximum bike time, fun time or feel more is better, when in reality, better is better! Learning (whether emotional or motor skills) requires time for adaptation to occur. Short term and long term. Acute fatigue can be beneficial at times to help teach a rider how to adapt movement and technique for a tired body, but often the best  training happens with a minimal level of freshness and readiness. Likewise this rest time between runs allows the rider time to reflect on lessons learned and experiences gained in the session. Resting for minutes, not seconds between runs can allow you to adjust your goal and processes and make sure you are doing what’s needed to meet the goal set out at the start of the session as well as mitigate the risk of injury.

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2019 – Things I Learned

2019 thought some big lessons. Here are ten things I learned.

Experience is only valuable as a lesson learned if its thoroughly reflected upon. Things I learned is an attempt at concise and brutal reflection on the bigger lessons learned in 2019; hoping to apply these experience in 2020. Aiming for better processes, better actions, better outcomes and above all else even more love for what I do.

In no particular order. Except number one, that’s first on the list because it is telling so much when observing the behaviors of others.

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1. The Little Things – there is nothing only the little things, how you do one thing is how you do everything and how you do the small things is ALWAYS HOW you do the big things. Call it attention to detail, call it neurosis, call it whatever you want; but if you care enough to fold your kit just so, match your goggles to your gloves, clean your spoon and your cup. Care enough to clear up after others just so the space you share is organised, care enough to bring your compression tights or pack extra goggles for race runs (tear-offs and roll-offs). The details matter, micro dictates macro and how you do the little things is how you do the big things. always.

2. Act Fast – act fast on experience, specifically.  Too often in 2019 I waited to act. Waited to see the outcome of the next step, next choice or an athletes next move. When in reality I had a very good grasp on what the outcomes would be because I had seen those exact patterns before. Patterns often belie the inner workings of any system, especially a human system and while perfect prediction is next to impossible, an effective guess with just enough room to move is often a possibility. In 2020 I will act a lot faster on experience.

3. The Mind is the Key to Performance – Say no more. The mind matters and matters the most.

4. The Mechanistic Paradigm is Useless – as a methodological filter it has seeped into every facet of physical training and preparation and as a result performance. Riders, athletes and the public believe in the predictive powers of “science” so much that they think models of training based off of lactate threshold or V02 max trump all else. As a result the body is viewed as a machine. Where an input gives a known output. Always. This of course couldn’t be any further from the truth. As a human, the complexity of what goes on inside out bodies, how that interacts with the complexity of others in our environment and the environment itself is still so far beyond our powers of investigation never mind “models” of training that the only paradigm you need is the human paradigm. Predict at your peril, instead by ready to amplify or dampen the response to any decision or input. This comes from experience and not much else.

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5. The Ecological Validity of Testing – knowing the limits of your investigatory powers is key. Test results from a stationary bike and a real bicycle may yield different results over the same time/distance/output. Always ask two questions is it specific and is it relevant? Then is it repeatable? From there figure out what your question to be answered is before getting your data. IF you do it the other way then you’ll probably just make the data suit your biases. There is much to be done in 2020 on the testing subject. Someone once said “if it gets measured it gets managed” but there ain’t no point in managing something that just does not matter.

6. Talk – it’s the best way to build relationships and achieve goals. Face to face if possible. The energy, honesty and intimacy of two humans sharing facial expressions, emotions and body language will always trump a text or an e-mail.

7. Authenticity – no matter what just always be you. The athletes who are always true to them selves are most often the most successful. Those who try to be what they think others need/want them to be often fail.

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8. Hic et Nunc – Here and Now – be present, drop the phone, drop the attitude, drop the image. If you want to make the most of a situation or circumstance be focused, be present and be in the hear and now. 2019 thought me this in spades.

9. Process – every year, every month, every day, every minute. It rears it’s beautiful face! 2019 was no different. You’ll only truly enjoy the destination if you enjoyed every minute of the journey. More HERE

10. Athlete First – this is a guiding principle above all else. It forms a core of the Point1 philosophy. From physical prep to building a career to answering questions with the big picture and long-term success in mind being authentic for me really does mean ATHLETE FIRST! Just because two athletes compete in the same sport doesn’t mean they need the same training. Just because it looks good for me, the coach, doesn’t mean it’s the decision I am gonna make.

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Unstable Ideas

Unstable training is characterised by the “athlete” having to control either the position of a joint or many joints and/or centre of mass in such a way to maintain balance in the face of non specific perturbations while potential having to carry out some gross movement.
On the surface, especially from the perspective of the casual observer “unstable” training in relation to MTB performance makes sense. The MTB environment is crazy, has wild bumpy, rocky and muddy terrain and from the 3rd person perspective there is alot of swift and unpredictable movement happening. But the plot begins to thicken once you take the first hand experiences of accomplished riders. While wild moments happen that require sudden movement, MTB is often quite “calm” (from inside the helmet); especially when being done correctly. Hence its appeal, the reward our brain gets comes from the chemical environment created when challenge matches up to ability. A perfect state of competence.

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What actually happens on your MTB, at least for riders who are more than “novice” is that visual perception guides much of our action. This is why looking out of a turn early, looking far ahead enough on the trail at all times and being strong and mobile enough to keep a stable head is CRITICAL to performance. The visual and vestibular systems interact with the rest of the body to allow us to make preparatory movements, posture changes and positional changes on track so we can fully exploit the bodies visco-elastic and muscular properties to smooth out the trail, deal with the impacts and perturbations and of course, most evidently, apply the right technique in the right dose at the right time (skill)! This leads us to a position where the perspective on “unstable” training changes. While unstable training mainly challenges the muscle, joint and tendon (maybe skin too) mechano and proprioceptors & subsequent reflexes to act fast enough or the brain/spine and muscles to carry out the best course of action from that information – MTB requires us to be read the terrain to allow the body to be 100% ready to interact not just react to the perturbations of the track.

Now “reactive” and reflexive skills are needed, but these are too fast and too specific (in my experience at least) for them to be trained on a Bosu ball. Where classic “unstable” training has it’s place is in rehabilitation from injury. The proprioceptive function at injury sites or even above and below injury sites can be severely hampered after said injury so in this case general overload of balance systems and reflexes is very warranted; repetition in the safer gym environment, I even go as far as adding in unilateral and TRX type work in almost all training plans to keep a minimal dose of balance and control challenging exercises in a program. But when it comes to training that actually has a long term non rehabilitative performance enhancing effect…..well it’s all about repeatedly producing as much force as possible in the shortest time while maintaining the shapes or “posture” needed to execute technique while controlling center of mass. The more force we can produce the less “activation” a given movement requires, in theory this means less noise, less fatigue and better fluidity to your movement. On top of that the structural changes that quality plyometrics, heavy compound lifts and other high force moves create likely lead to changes across the structures that work across all joints in the body that must be controlled in order to create those key postures or “shapes” as Stuart McMillan would say.

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So while there is a time and place for unstable or instability training it’s not very often. Training to improve stabilisation reflexes or proprioceptive function is useful but alone it won’t get you very far. The mountain bike athlete can see what challenges await – the premise of unstable training is that you have no idea what is coming next and while to the casual on-looker our placed perched on top of our mountain bike looks like a balance challenge in reality it is a very stable place, especially for the capable rider.

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The magnitude and accuracy of the activation of top down controlled muscle action that is needed for sport skill can only truly be trained while doing the sport. Improving our potential to perform in the gym is what the work done between those four walls is about. The more force we can produce and the better our visco-elastic and skeletal muscle is at dealing with the demands of maintaining posture while executing technique the more robust our movement is on the bike. Basically better biological tissue function leading to true biological degeneracy. From that comes the illusion of effortless control as seen by the by-stander. We all want to ride like this but unstable surface training will not help you get there it will only help you back from injury.

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The Hawthorne Effect & the Power of Routine

The Hawthorne Effect – when an individual changes how they normally do something because the know they are being observed. It may be a phenomenon of sorts and surely affects individuals to different degrees and in different ways. As a concept it may or may not be even real but for your MTB performance it’s a useful anecdote to abuse.

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When racing a MTB in the gravity disciplines your only true opponent, the enemy so to speak, is the clock. It also happens then, by default, that the clock is an “observer”. Furthermore, due to it’s unwavering objectivity, it’s also the harshest of observers. It doesn’t lie, sugar-coat it’s feedback nor strive for long-term improvements by giving you a short-term boost through white lies. The clock counts seconds and that’s that! Observers come in many shapes and forms in MTB, from fans track side to your friends behind you on a ride and they all could potentially feed into the “reactive” change in behavior that hallmarks the “Hawthorne Effect”. Just how many times have you messed a corner or jump up when your friends get the camera out?

Narrowing focus onto the power of the clock and we, or at least I, see how it steamrolls and amplifies it’s impact. The clock in all it’s beautiful objectivity becomes much more to the racer than minutes and milliseconds. The clocks unwavering ability to tell the truth amplifies the impact of all the other observers the racer knows are there. The opinions of others, based off what the clock says, all of a sudden become much more tangible. Fellow racers, family, the “fans”, the keyboard warriors, the rivals, your own sense of self and that inner ego monster!? The opinions of those individuals suddenly carry weight, they come backed by evidence. So as an exercise in humility and true emotional control, racing is the pinnacle. Excuses can be made but if that narrative doesn’t add up at least in part to the clocks story then time wins. You suck!

Now you may not experience any semblance of the Hawthorne Effect when you are put on the clock, or you may actually benefit like many racers do. I coach more than one rider who are that cliché “clutch performer” – they race better than they ride! In their case the clock and the added observer power that comes with it increases their potential to execute! They rise under pressure.

Many riders, of all levels, however experience variations of performance reduction due to being observed. Whether by the clock, friends or otherwise. The motivation that others garner from that objective observer counting in seconds & minutes slips and becomes a massive hindrance. As a result, some riders choke, perform worse, can no longer control emotions nor feelings. Everything and nothing can overwhelm them and the desire to protect your own image of themselves, their ego, takes over. The reaction to observation leads to negative outcomes.

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A solution you ask? Routine! If you’ve worked with me as coach then “routines” would become a commonplace talking point. Often rearing it’s head as the “process”. Control the controllable and focus on the actions that lead to good outcomes not the outcome itself. But that whole performance paradigm – based on a process focus – can miss the simple power of specific routine. Specific routines for specific situations. The easiest to describe is a race day routine. As that’s often when the clock mediated Hawthorne Effect rears it’s ugly head. Race day will always be on a schedule. Your start-time being the cornerstone. Everything else works toward that moment. You know you are going to be “observed” in one way or another so deal with it! While the scrutiny on offer may change depending on the race or venue or many other variables your routine can stay the same and with that you can perform as close to optimal as possible.

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Without a routine the only defense you have against the negative impacts of expectation and scrutiny are your own thoughts and mental skills, while you may be lucky to have a strong character or have developed even effective coping skills to deal with race day “nerves”, on their own as your sole strategy to craft a race day performance, they are energy consuming and potentially wasteful. The “routine” approach gives you a seamless and effective strategy that consumes minimal energy because it becomes process.

Routine – a DH race day example

Morning Practice – two runs; key sections to work on, line focused not “feeling” focused – or vice-versa!
Post Practice – hydrate, relax, de-brief with friends, coach, mechanic, adjust race run plan based on practice knowledge
Downtime – occupy yourself with something else, shit-talk, coffee, relaxation, massage etc…
Meal time – set a specific time and type of meal – keep it enjoyable but effective
Warm-Up – specific start time for Warm-Up – content set, specific to needs and track demands.
Music – playlist for warm-up
Your Mantra – repeat to yourself your pre-race mantra as needed starting with four minutes to start – e.g. “enjoy executing”!

The above may seem rigid, but it’s simply an idea, the key is to have a routine in place, it can be anything you want, have any focus, as long as it’s pre-planned and timed to allow you to control the key variables that you know matter to your performance come race run.

Without a plan, the pressure created by the observation of others can crack you. Worse again without a plan you may find yourself at the mercy of your emotions, lead by feelings that can severely impact performance…. doubt, fear, vulnerability, irritability etc… these feelings can take over. They then occupy the “working memory” in our brain and make what should be simple pre-race tasks feel monumental. Secondary to that, this hyper-emotional state means we feel our movements internally, so instead of riding like you can, you force it and try to make yourself ride like you want to. The end result is poor performance, constrained by knowing that no matter what; your performance is on the clock and all eyes are on that same clock.

Whether the Hawthorne Effect actually exists is largely irrelevant, it’s just helps us give a name to race day and riding situations we have all faced. Most importantly if something has a name then it becomes more tangible. If you can define it you can defeat it.

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Things to think about // EWS 2019 – Rounds 1 and 2

5 Things to think about

 

  1. Wheelsizes – Business, party or full on orgy? Does anyone care? I think the answer is YES. But you must care for the right reasons. Isolating the diameter of wheels as a sole variable that will make or break your performance will most certainly just melt your head and break your brain. 97.5 is here to stay, at least medium term. Yes, a Class A ball ache for a privateer carrying different diameter tyres etc… but it’s gonna work as proven in both DH and EWS races. My hunch is that the mass of a rider and kit on a bicycle so greatly outweighs that of the bike and wheels that the 27.5/29 mis—match is negatable. On average a rider will be five times heavier than their bike. All that mass shifting to apply technique…. well you see my point. Last year 27.5” bikes dominated races, as did 29” bikes in both men’s and women’s racing. Now 2019 is here, fresh faced and fighting fit and the first two races where won by a variety of wheel diameters in all categories; the common denominator was a rider/bike/suspension/technique quadrant that was dialed in. Synergistic bliss allowing for optimal technique application under time and fatigue duress on stage. There’s a lot more to all that and a lot more time invested in preparations than the diameters of tyres.

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  1. Ladies Racing – Big healing vibes to Mrs. Ravanel. Bon retablissement! Taking big leaps in thought from small data sets is dangerous, that said the gap between first and second for the ladies in 2017 in Rotorua was the same as the gap between first and seventeenth in 2019. Over three minutes. We know from more than a few seasons now that when Cecile is on it, she really is ON-IT! My experience tells me that a large chunk of this is to do with her very healthy focus on executing fast riding on demanding trails in training and far less hours devoted to “number crunching” chasing fickle physiological goals than her competition! Dare I say somewhat like her compatriot Morgan Charre;. a RAD rider! Cecile’s absence doesn’t detract from the other ladies racing though. All anyone can do on an individual sport is improve themselves. One trail, one rider, one clock. So, watching the battles unfold will be really exciting and with riders like Noga Korem, Bex Baroana, Katy Winton and ALN racking up experience the gaps will be closing across the board regardless of names missing from start-list!

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  1. Tasmania Race Duration – curious geek stat – Tasmania 2017 and 2019 were nearly identical duration in-terms of minutes raced. For both men and women, I’ll let you go search out the details yourself, but 2019 had 6 stages, 2017 had 7 but the BIG BUT was that 2017 was a slog of a race, wet and wild. Anyways, Isabeau won both editions, there are some little details in that day of racing for the ladies that stand out but really, it’s the men’s racing that has some changes. 2017 saw Adrien Dailly take the win; three seconds ahead of third place and twenty-four ahead of tenth. 2019 saw Mr. Maes on a racing roll and with it putting twenty-three seconds into third place and over forty into tenth. So quite the change from 2017………. But this is where critical analysis of performance and not just results needs to be slammed down on the table with a fat SLAP. As I repeat ad nauseum when chatting reflection with athletes – the clock does not lie; but it never tells the full story! Not taking one ounce away from Martin’s stunning performance, a dry race allows for a far higher chance of a “perfect” race. Perfect? What I mean is a race where a rider executes each stage to their liking, executed with precision based off a plan and a strategy that then gets adapted to the race, bike and rider conditions to optimise speed from A to B. Along the same lines of thought a perfect race or excellent performance can leave you with a big winning margin. Judging by the time gaps down to tenth and twentieth, Martin had a stunning day. Likewise, simply comparing two data sets, i.e. 2017 and 2019 races isn’t enough to draw conclusions. Context matters in analysis, for example Greg Callaghan was on track for victory in the 2017 race in Tasmania, even after a crash on an early stage broke a bone in his hand. He threw the victory away with a slide out on the final stage, without both of those crashes he would have had a twenty second winning margin. Ifs and buts!

 

  1. Single Stage day – following on from above, Tasmania gave us a single practice, single timed stage Saturday; partially to fulfill EWS 80 scheduling but also to reduce the physical load on the racers and make the racing about bike riding and not training volume, this is something we will see more of at EWS racing. It is also something that Martin Maes got very right. Most likely because of a business as usual attitude. The damage done on this stage whether by Martin and Isabeau over others or by individuals poor performances inflicted on themselves was noticeable. A stunning Sunday performance could turn things a-round a little, but a ropey Saturday was suicide! What was learned – this is probably a practice and mindset “thing” that will need to be trained and thought about – reflecting on hard racing lessons learned!

 

  1. The Future nowto talk briefly about training philosophy the “global” demands of a sport or event are broad, the universal or unifying themes of events; some sports like swimming or athletics have very straightforward distances or durations. Even soccer for all its stochastic wildness has two halves of forty-five minutes each. EWS has big days out on your bike, carrying some kit, shredding hard and aiming to recover fast (between stages & days), but things get muddled fast. One day or two-day races, prologues, one-or two-day practices, four to nine stages, sea-level, high altitude, mud bog or big alpine loam. I mean the aforementioned list could wrap around the world.  After two races characterised by fairly flat stages that required a lot of rider input to make, maintain and craft speed – round three in Madeira is going to dish out nine stages of what could very easily be steep, wild, loose and loamy racing. What is guaranteed is that none of the nine stages will be like anything raced in Rotorua or Tasmania and maybe even none of the nine will resemble each other at all! I can’t wait.

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Anatomy of a Race-Track // 2018

Somewhere between reflection and hindsight, “Anatomy of a Race track” have been a staple in post-race analysis for us in 2018. With many repeat venues and repeat tracks on the UCI World Cup circuit it has proved pretty fruitful to dig into the key characteristics and core features that (or break) these tracks. Having these “anatomoy” posts to look back on and review before we hit the same venue again or even race at different tracks that have similar characteristics allows us to set tactics for practice and racing that meet strategic goals.

The usefulness of digging into the core features of a given track is probably a lot less “rigid” than I’m making it sound but in a nutshell lines, sectors, sections, tactics and techniques needed can be more readily quantified and qualified if we use some standardised review and reflect systems… Anatomy of a Race Track is just that. Review & Reflect.

For your conviencene here’s the 2018 season’s crop of AoaRT all in one spot for your scrolling pleasure. Comments & Questions welcome. Enjoy.

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The Opener

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.

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Title Sponsor

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.

X-Klasse trifft Mountainbiking: Mercedes-Benz Vans wird Hauptpartner des UCI Mountain Bike World Cup und World Championships

Pre-Seasoning

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.

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What is? – Conditioning…?

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”.

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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!

Kaos Seagrave at Redbull Hardline, UK September 2017.
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

 

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.

table con blog
Some of the ways we try to design training sessions to improve conditioning….am attempt to control the interaction between the many layers that make up “condition” without solely reducing them to their supposed component parts.

 

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

Wyn Pump
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

 

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

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The best of 2017?

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.