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.


  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!


  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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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”.


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 –

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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HRV Ramblings

Monitoring You, yourself and your responses

I started this post as a draft while traveling back from a training camp in Lanzarote last February, I’m actually quite surprised that by in large my HRV “thoughts” have stayed the same. Why? Well because I think the principles applying HRV data to how we monitor or adapt training have stayed the same. Principles I suppose are just that, pretty solid!

Having toyed with a longwinded, in-depth, referenced blog about the science, theory and application behind using a HRV monitoring system with your training. I’ve decided instead to keep it practical.

HRV or Heart rate variability is the time between the distinct beats of your heart, controlled or regulated by the vagal nerve, via one “side” – parasympathetic-  of the bodies automatic control system or autonomic nervous system.

Parasympathetic control of your Heart’s automatic processes allows us to monitor Stress-Dose-Response


With the phone application based system we use (ithlete) it is the Root mean squared of the successive R-R intervals (gap between peaks) of your heartbeat that is used and this is the “metric” (read: measurement) used to give a window into the current state of activation of your Autonomic Nervous system (ANS).


If your body is stressed the sympathetic side of the ANS will be more prominent and will reduce HRV, that stress can be lifestyle related, travel, training, sickness or anything of the sort, if you are relaxed, rested and in good health then the para-sympathetic side of your ANS will be more prominent and this will show in your HRV reading. – In lay-mans terms this is “fight or flight” vs. “rest and digest”.

So by taking a Heart rate based reading each morning you can get a window into your health, fitness, readiness to train and overall well-being. By taking these readings consistently you can first set a baseline and then see trends, patterns and gain insight into what makes or creates success or failure in your own training, riding and lifestyle.

I’ve been using the ithlete HRV system for over 2 years now and many Point1 Athletes are also using it to monitor their daily training status but more importantly to fine tune sleep, lifestyle and other factors that affect adaptation to training and most importantly the ability to apply consistent training load.

What we’ve learned so far?

The how to: the ithlete system uses a 60 sec reading – unlike a hospital medical grade HRV reading of 5min +, but it doesn’t matter, it’s convenient and works exceptionally well (validated by numerous research papers). The key is to respect the process; do the job right! Basically stick to the same routine, take your readings each morning, similar time, standing or seated, consistent breathing pattern, no water or major activity before and a minimum of 2 minutes relaxation if not taking it as soon as you wake. As long as you stick to a repeatable and reliable routine the readings will consistent, relevant and useable in tracking and changing training.

Lifestyle matters: and matters a lot. Time and again lifestyle factors, like the food you eat, the rest you take between training and the quality of this rest, caffeine and alcohol intake, dance floor intervals until 4 a.m., bedtime routine. They all confound to make clear differences in not only your recovery from but your adaptation to training. Like I tell all of my athletes – Process is king! – If you don’t have the lifestyle factors on point you’ll never get on top of the gainz train and that is something we’ve seen time and again with athletes HRV readings. Travel to a race, long haul, trans-Atlantic, 9 time zone changes coupled with average food, mediocre hydration etc.. will always lead to a large drop in HRV. Likewise an athlete not really grasping the eat quality whole foods, rest well, make your easy rides EASY etc… does not see the same steady increase in HRV scores over a 6 week Aerobic focused training cycle as the lifestyle savvy, process focused athlete. In a nutshell monitoring HRV is scientific collection of data that gives a window into complex biological processes that are hugely affected by every decision we make….this means unavoidable accountability for the athlete. Actions = Outcomes. Cause & Effect!

Sleep has no equal: I always knew that sleep was a key “training process variable” but long term HRV monitoring of athletes and my own self drove this point home so hard that it is burnt into my mind as the first variable I consider when an athlete falls sick, complains of soreness, or doesn’t hit training targets.  Poor quality sleep or less than 7+ hours, whether it’s because of caffeine, stress, poor environment or anything else will invariable lead to a lower HRV score. Some athletes will get away with 1 nights poor sleep, maybe two if all their other ducks are lined up but no-one and I mean no-one gets away with 3 in a row or more. Counting your winks is the biggest un-drummed variable in your health and performance! Simple training with, quality nutrition, adequate water and many hours of blissful sleep will get you so toward your goals it is scary! But I suppose it makes perfect sense as quality sleep restores the immune and endocrine systems and helps “repay” the metabolic cost of living and training!

Not all athletes are created equal: Some people are just more damn robust than others and robustness is something with many intangibles. But although some robustness factors are genetic, much of it comes, I feel, from 3 areas and I think my assumptions are in part clearly backed up by the HRV readings of my athletes. 1) aerobic endurance/capacity/capabilities – a complete, powerful aerobic metabolic foundation both peripherally and centrally will lead to a foundation of resilience not possible to garner through other means, 2) Strength, from joint health, connective tissue strength, elasticity and quality right through to force production potential and fibre type; large strength reserves time and again mean athletes recovery faster, adapted better and get less sore than their less strong peers, 3) experience; doing the right thing, in the right quantities at the right time! Not having to listen to coach to make a clever call on training durations, meals, or recovery modalities needed, the guy and girls with lateral thought capacity and a few years/decades experience under the belt time and again have less poor readings but more importantly can dial in a simple strategy to make the positive changes needed to head back to the GREEN!

Training mode: Certain training modes and means seem to affect HRV response more than others. Basic Strength training focused on muscle mass increase (hypertrophy), relative strength or strength maintenance as-well as some “special-strength” means have little effect in single bouts on HRV. Likewise moderate intensity cycling training leads to little changes in HRV in trained athletes when lifestyle factors are dialled.

HRV pro
Coach’s own ithlete Pro HRV Monitoring Dashboard


What does effect HRV scores, first “negatively” – not necessarily a bad thing, is high intensity work, Extensive anaerobic type intervals, long days of Enduro type riding, “high intensity metabolic conditioning” in the gym etc.… will all, if carried out to correct intensity and in appropriate volume, lead to some major reductions in HRV. That is though the desired outcome, adequate stress to stimulate adaptation.

Next “positively” – moderate intensity aerobically focused, low impact type activities across a pretty wide bandwidth, promote, via processes not fully understood, improvements in HRV when used as regeneration during periods of  more high intensity focused work or even during periods of increased non-training related stress. Again this is across a range and specific to individuals. But needless to say monitoring HRV has allowed us to fine tune regeneration modalities, volumes and planning for athletes.  With abrupt cessations of training or post-race being swiftly replaced with moderate days of activity based on what HRV has told us.

The above situations are where HRV is used for day to day decision making into what training type is best or in our case at Point1 to help guide or totally change the planned training in a micro-cycle.

That is acute changes in light of the chronic rolling change in HRV, a key to using HRV in your training monitoring and decision making is Context. What is the minimum meaningful change in HRV in context of weekly, monthly and overall chronic change? What did we want, what did we get, why and how? Many aspects of these questions can be answered with better insight via smart use of HRV monitoring. Most certainly questions relating to aerobic characteristic fitness variables.

Mini-Case Study

Now while the exact mechanisms behind why improvements in aerobic fitness are reflected in HRV readings are not fully understood, there is some research out there that does a good job elucidating to the how behind it.  With clarity in mind though, I thought it better to give you a more anecdotal account of how improvements in HRV score reflected real improvements in the lab and on the bike.

The below graph is from a Point1 athletes ithelte HRV dashboard. It shows over a 10 point increase in HRV scoring average over a one month period. It also shows “response” to training stimuli with the saw tooth profile of green and red daily scores. The blue trend line is climbing and that’s what I expected as coach given the training focus. Near the end of February the athlete in question returns to a laboratory for a Vo2 Max test amongst other tests.

IMG-20150212-WA0014 (1)
The #Gainzzz were had and the Blue Line agrees!


The Results? – A 10% increase in Vo2 Max since testing in late 2014. An increase of 25w in 15sec MPO and a small increase in power at Lactate Threshold or OBLA and maybe most marked was the increase in power output at FatMax which gave the athlete a 40w growth in metabolic flexibility!

All of the above lab results showing marked improvements in central and peripheral adaptations to training.

All of the above reflected in a considerably higher baseline HRV.

What’s next?

Well I will certainly continue to use HRV monitoring with ithlete for daily training changes and longer term insight into training, racing and lifestyle factors that matter most to Point1 athletes.

Beyond that, some recent research highlighting the possibility of quantifying training load and the individual cost of training sessions using relative pre and post HRV scores may open up some new avenues for more HRV use. I’ll trial run those theories before they’ll ever get to Point1 athletes. But if we can quantify the metabolic cost of a particular session consistently and then compare identical sessions and an athlete’s response to those session given their current freshness or training readiness than we can really start to get a more quantifiable view into what truly affects preparedness for competition.

If Session 1 = 55 on a  Stress-Score scale to 100 when you start a training cycle but the exact same session only gives you a “stress-score” of 25 after 5 weeks of training, than it may be wise to think that the athlete has adapted to that stimulus and will need more of it to garner any further benefit! At least that’s the sort of minute detail I think we can start to gain insight to via the use of HRV if the above principles and caveats are kept in mind.

That’s the key to HRV use, mindfulness, mindfulness in collection, interpretation and application of the data. It’s the easy application of the data being the most fulfilling aspect of using the ithelte system.


Exercise Arsenal #1

Now while there are a few staple go to exercises that should form the bulk of any sound strength training program (deadlift, squats, single-leg work, push ups, pull ups, TGU’s etc…). It’s nice to have a few extra moves in the “toolbox” to keep things fun, motivating and sometimes maybe to kill a few birds with one stone.

Step in #1 in hopefully a long series of interesting moves to add to your strength and power training! The RFESS Iso Hold Med Ball Slam.

Sounds like a right handful but it’s not! Get into a rear foot elevated split squat position (a move that should be in your regular routine), Knee at 90 degrees, hips and shoulders square, pelvis neutral (no forward or backward tilt/slide) and then slam that med ball hard, reacting to the bounce, reloading and slamming again! Aim for 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps per side and be very certain you keep lead leg at 90 degrees, torso “tall”, hips and shoulders square and lead foot planted flat on the floor!

It’s a power move for the upper body, with isometric strength demands for the lower body and great hip, torso and shoulder mobility and stability demands thrown in for good measure! Slam hard and enjoy! Form is critical as always. I was only using a 3kg med-ball in the video below.

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3 Mobility Moves for the Desk Bound Mountain Biker

Stuck in a chair all day? Behind the wheel or spend alot of time on the road bike? Well all of those things can cause a loss of range of motion in the hips, spine and shoulders that can lead to low back pain, shoulder aches and all around poor “movement mechanics” for mountain bikers (of any discipline).

As mountain bikers we need great thoracic spine mobility, strong but free moving hips and mobile but stable shoulders to apply strength, create speed and absorb terrain! So by adding in the following stretches/mobility moves to your daily routine, whether it’s at home in the evenings with a cup of tea, in the cubicle at work or when your out walking the dog (imagine the looks you’d get) you can start creating the movement quality needed to maximise the fun you have on your bike!

1. Crucifix Stretch

How: Stand tall, neutral spine and neck, chest high, feet shoulder width apart. Body relaxed, not tense. Hold your arms straight out at your sides, palms down thumbs forward. As you breath out external rotate the shoulders so your palms face upwards and your thumbs backwards. You should feel that “sticking point” in your deltoid muscles (upper arm), hold it here for 3 secs, repeat the process 10-20 times.

crucifix stretch start
Start Position
crucifix stretch end
End position

2. Russian Baby Maker

Sadly this one doesn’t involve a partner as the name might suggest! It’s a difficult move for some to execute as it requires a certain amount of “glute control” and hip mobility to start with but it’s a good challenge and very effective stretch, almost creating a feeling of euphoria in the auld hips after a few reps!

How: Bend at the hips by shifting them back slightly, grasp the instep of each foot and hunker down into a half squat position (thigh just parallel to floor). From there drive the knees out by progressively sliding the elbows in towards your hips. Hold the position with a flat back, for 5-12 seconds, re-set and repeat for 5-8 reps. Start with what you can. Even holding the pose for 6 secs once in the beginning is enough for some to see some benefit.

Russian Baby Maker Front
Russian Baby Maker Side

3. Thoracic Spine Overhead ReachOne of my favourite moves to help with riders cornering and general posture in the “attack position” on the bike, this move is real simple and really very effective because of it’s simplicity!

How: Once again get yourself into a deep squat position (you may need to just practice this on it’s own before progressing on). From here plant one hand firmly on the floor, elbow extended (locked out). Rotate smoothly so the other hand points skyward, all the time following the skyward hand with your eyes. The left and right side pictures should explain it all!

Overhead thoracic reach right-side
Overhead thoracic reach right-side
Overhead thoracic reach left-side
Overhead thoracic reach left-side