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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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Coiled – World Cup #1 2019

Actual Rule & Organisation changes

Probably the biggest change of note is for ladies racing. The top 5 ladies in the “current” overall standings get “Group A” practice for 2019; a change that should of happened long ago. For those that don’t know the WC practice sessions are split into two groups, A and B with B usually being juniors, ladies and elite men ranked outside the top 115 or so (this changes depending on entry numbers), Since 2018 the top 10 junior men get Group A practice on Friday and a spot in the timed training session but then get shoved back into Group B from Saturday. Historically the ladies have always been given the rough end of the stick getting Group B practice for all sessions. This means usually eating breakfast at around 0630 most days to then get body and bike ready for practice at 0800; with early season April or late season September events not to mention potential ice-cold Alpine mornings mid-summer Group B get a rough start, having to bed in a track while also dealing with cold tyres and suspension. Only to get back on track the next day to find to totally decimated by the top dogs in Group A. Anyways, long story short the top 5 ladies are now in Group A all weekend long AND get an extra hour more than any other riders on race day morning too. So a plus for the ladies as environment nurtures performance, genotype/phenotype etc… So this, at least in my opinion, a big positive change for the sport. Exact details and issues TBC!

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Elsewhere after Tahnée Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang 2018 the “outside” the tape rule has again been re-written for clarity (after being changed toa far more rigid rule after Rachel Atherton’s out of course victory in Windham 2015). The rule now reads that the course must be protected with tape or barriers and “If a rider exits the course for any reason, he/she must return to the course between the same two course markers where he/she exited. In case a rider fails to return to the course as provided for in this article, the commissaires’ panel can disqualify the rider.”

This is quite a change from the previous version of the rule; now more specific and reintroduces the possibility of interpretation

The other rule(s) of note are to do with final runs, qualifying and TV. Last years bonafide shit show race run orders based off of qualifying but not should now be sorted. Basically the Top 10 from last years overall are protected from the year and as such will most likely always be on RB TV. The next best 10 in the current seasons overall standings are also protected (same as last year) but now any 5 riders who are not in either of the two previous groups who qualified in the top 5 will take their spot in reverse order in finals as it was until 2018. Sorted!

No need to mention the wheel-size rule change as it has been well covered!

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Pre-Season Competitions

Same old, but different – there’s always been the need, want and desired for riders to brush of winter cobwebs and hit some pre-season events, sun, dust or not. Mainly aiming for any race on a rough track that allows you to ramp up the real-deal intensity and get a feel for what racing is again (just simply to remind yourself you have not forgotten) and dig into the limitations of your off-season preparations to date.

Not that stakes are any higher than before now – but it does seem that budgets are growing for many teams and as such pre-season racing for many seems to now come book ended with testing camps – something like; ride, test, race, rest, ride and test! Big commitment and if the races to date this season are anything to go by it is working for more than a few.

Proof in pudding comes this Sunday in Maribor and as is always the case the environment and surroundings of a World Cup mean even the best of pre-season testing camps can leave you short changed if basic emotions are not managed and the “P’s” ticked off.

PC - Red Bull Content Pool
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

Past, Present and Potential

This section could meander on for hours, thousands of words… on the tip of my tongue though as i write this though is thoughts of generations. The 2019 season, if you whip out the start list, has, in all elite categories a volatile mix of abilities and generations; maybe it’s happened before? But 2019 has rapid first and second year juniors in elite men, old dogs like Minnaar and Gwin with no shortage of pace, race winners and podium killers like Vergier, Pierron, Shaw, Iles, Walker and Greenland all give or take the same rip young age with a stack of riders spanning the years between Minnaar as patriarche and kids like Kade Edwards fresh out of juniors. The mix of pace, power, poise, experience and wildness is pretty crazy. Coming back to the point above though about team camps, racing and testing many juniors now have the backing, support structures and team-mates to help transfer experience that the junior – elite transition can be lightning fast!

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I’m not gonna say names; but some pre-season form has been clear from about 5 elite male riders; beyond that I think a mix of last years break-outs and stand-outs, the wise old dogs and the wild youth is gonna give us a varied top 10 at every race.

 

Junior times will be compared to elites, even quicker than before by the eagle eyed fan and team managers.

 

The ladies racing was struck a huge blow with Myriam Nicoles injury but Seagrave, Atherton, a fitter Tracey Hannah, a comfy looking Cabirou and a dangerous Hrastnik will hopefully battle hard. Siegenthaler and two to three others including Morgane Charre can easily be in the mix.

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Wheelin’ n’ Dealin’

Less caring about wheel diameter the better please!

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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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Back to Back Hardpack

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!

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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!

Controversial?

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!

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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.

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Some Stats
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!

PC - Red Bull Content Pool
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

Recent Form
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!

 

Tech
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!

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Finish Line

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!

 

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2017 Racing – Tomorrow doesn’t exist until it becomes today.

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.

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The best of 2016?

 

The best ride in 2016? Not an easy one to choose; cliché but there were many savage days out! But a filthy wet July day high above Morzine riding at full tilt up and down hills with a host of Point1 trained animals and some friends!

Starting on some of the steepest tarmac inclines in the valley; it was threshold pace from the word go. With XCE World Cup winner and everyone’s favourite Asian Caucasian Kenta Gallagher leading it out, waving willy and twisting throttle!

Eventually working our way to a high enough altitude we broke through the thick cloud to be greeted by the heaviest rain storm in months! Soaked to the bone; we proceeded. More willy waving was needed and we picked the trickiest, tech single track climb with slick rock to have a 1 up competition. Little did we know though that the Spartan Race that was happening in Morzine at the time was using the same trails. So with bodies falling all around us and traction dripping away with every mucky revolution, the ride was turning into something beyond epic for how little time we’d actually been out!

After some Spartan spectating and more face-plants (them not us) we traversed some dodgy cliff edge trails, 200m straight down to death on your left! Arriving at our little plateau (where the Instagram was taken), regrouped and high-5’ed…dried off the grips, strapped on a pair of goggles and dropped in to 19 of the best switchbacks in the alps, bermed to perfection by nature and time; the dirt was perfect!

A quick traverse after all the whooping and shouting, another Zone 4 attack to get back up toward Pleney and we rode some bike park senders back home! Less than 2 hrs riding but with a crew of weapons as wild as they were. World Cup winner and racers, EWS winner it didn’t really matter as it was just skids and wheelies and massive craic.

Cheers to push-bikes!