Central fatigue is the big bad bad beast, in the short term its’ easy to over come; like taking 5 minutes between heavy squats, it dissipates and you can lift maximally again. But over repeated bouts of heavy squats or even just a long, long bike ride the central (CNS) fatigue that reduces the drive from brain to spinal cord to muscles is a big performance killer. So think back to back EWS races. It could be a big issue! Because it affects motivation as much as it affects fine motor skills like delicate cornering or perfectly timed manuals. Harder to measure, but reduced drive for explosive movements and far higher perceived exertion will do the trick.
Peripheral fatigue is what is happening in the muscle – this can be felt, legs getting heavy, sore after strength training etc… this is where architecture, energy pathways and the cardiovascular system collide and of course MTB in any discipline has the ability to create fatigue here! Measured with internal load – like same power output = higher heart-rate!
So with MTB we have both, in spades. Race an EWS or World Cup DH and both will hit you harder than you think. Now the affect physiological load or biomechanical load has on the source of fatigue would start to make our discussion complex as all hell. so let’s move on.
Environmental aspects like heat, altitude and rain cannot be forgotten about and neither can emotional load/fatigue like meeting sponsor demands or kissing babies!
So we have the descending loads – bike and body accelerating due to gravity, hitting holes and turns and rocks and roots. It means deforming, crumbling but you can’t because to execute technique you have to maintain posture. which requires muscle forces are generated both eccentrically and concentrically – these forces are created around all joints, in perfect unison of force, time and speed! Angular velocity is the name of the game and of course all of this is extremely fatiguing – both centrally and peripherally. If this is DH then you have to do it repeatable – up to 5,000m descending over 2 days at near max effort to learn a track well enough to win.
For EWS you have elements of the above but also the endless hours outside dealing with the environmental stress and the load of just pedaling that bike from A to B! Add in emotional, organisational and external stressors to this and it’s a big challenge for either discipline! Hence why we see some empty minds and bodies at the end of race days.
Long story short – racing MTB means fatigue off all types in varying degrees! Know your poison to make your cure!
The true antidote to fatigue is capacity; maybe better termed specific capacity. But even that is not a silver bullet as no matter how well prepared you are you will get fatigued! The “solution”, at least as I’ve chipped away at it is categorized below. Along with other systems like a movement, technique or needs analysis this goes to form the overall “training process/planning or paradigm” we use.
The bigger the tank the longer it takes to empty! The stronger you are means you produce more force, the more force you produce the less you need to produce in relation to your top limits to achieve the same task goal – hence better ACCURACY (key) and less fatigue both centrally and peripherally. That’s one example but it is a very simple concept that can be expanded across physical qualities and is essential the underpinning justification for psychical prep or strength and conditioning. For example, better ability to use your aerobic energy pathways, less fatigue incurred for climbing said hill at said pace!
Where rubber meets the road! Here’s where things can get messy and internet gurus, CrossFit loonies and “sport-specific” charlatans swimming in a sea of BOSU balls will try to sink your ship! Your sport or others very close to it (pump-track) are the only true sport specific prep you can do! As such doing your sport in training to EXCEED the demands that will be placed upon you in competition is critical to battling fatigue and arriving at race day and race runs ready to win. I won’t dig deeper because at this point in time I think we have some Point1 gems in the works here to make good inroads in prep compared to out competition! Although there is nothing new under the sun.
No brainer – both acute and chronic! this is a case of sharpen versus saw, general versus specific and of course understanding the individual time curves of both adaptation and recovery of individual athletes. Generic planning does not cut it here . If you wish to be on form for race week – to maximise practice and arrive at race day alive and ready to kill then you will need to have developed sufficient capacity of physical qualities and specificity of training BUT not be carrying excessive residual or chronic fatigue from doing so. You cannot display what you don’t have, but if you have something and it’s buried under injured or tiredness you won’t be able to whip it out in time,
A big fish to fry, therefore lets keep it specific to racing. The foundations of good nutrient start long before and far away from race day – so you amplify the good come racing and dampen the bad. Adequate carbohydrate during and after peripherally fatiguing exercise like an EWS practice day could be a game changer for some or bread and butter for others. Dealing with reduced drive from increased central fatigue with a tasty double espresso, eating local, colorful and seasonal all week long to cover macro needs and supplementing when necessary! Do the job right but don’t over-complicate
Last but maybe most important. The forgotten bastard child of bike racing!? All of a sudden this isin’t shredding with “mates”! Now you’ve got limited time to get a maximum amount of work done? Cram 7 runs into 4 hours? Queue outside under the blistering sun, limit recovery between full runs on a 4 minute DH track? Sounds great, not! sounds like you don’t have clue what you are doing.
Planning practice, recovery, strategy and tactics. Knowing how practice equates to building a race run or stage win = minimal energy expended for maximum effect and as such less fatigue incurred! Leaving all that capacity and specific prep you did in very perfect working order to go and EXECUTE come race day.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now we’re eating road! Back to back World Cups are what we all want, like other series at the pinnacle of performance in their disciplines and sports, the rolling weekly circus keeps the fans, media and spectators keen, with not enough down-time between events for the lingering taste of race day blood to dissipate!
Fort William needs no introduction, nor does Leogang. It’s wall to wall hardpack and balls to the wall speed. One track held in high esteem, “Fort William’s” Nevis Range monster snaking it’s way down Aonach Mòr, sixteen years after its debut as a world cup it’s still crunching wheels, hurting bodies and crushing dreams! Leogang’s “Speedster” track has gotten progressively faster, straighter and arguably easier in recent years! But as we’ve said before, easy doesn’t mean simple and racing it well seems to be something that eludes many riders, male and female, with time gaps between 40th and 1st always wider at the much “easier” Leogang compared to its Scottish counterpart.
As race week for round 2 in Fort Bill has just landed the excitement seems genuine, the riders, racers, fans, teams, staff and media are beyond keen to get racing….training no matter how real, how “specific” or meticulously planned becomes monotonous, stale like bread! So you’ll se a glut of social media ramblings about how excited everyone is to go racing. Even though the track is well, the same it’s length, physical challenge and speed seem to keep the riders attention captivated. No let up! The same seems to hold through for those who put in test time and British national race time too. Although the risk of coming in over-down and as a result being underwhelmed come race day is real. In the men’s field it has happened plenty in the past and will be the case again today. There’s a lot to be said for testing and training under the eye of the clock, but the dosing can tip over into the too much of a good thing category quite quickly especially with the much needed principle of variation being so tough to come by at the “Fort”! Those with that winning formula know the value of down-time, the off switch and variety of stimulus.
Leogang, as I waffled about in the 2017 edition of “Hurly-Burly”, is a venue that everyone loves. The track takes a bashing from those who skirt the top ranks, but the venue is simple, central, efficient and stacked with quality accommodation! So invariable riders and staff moods are high, food is good and with a few days down time between events most people hit Friday’s Day 1 practice with fully stocked motivation. 2017 saw some serious safety issues with riders having to judge entry speeds (at nearly 80 km/h) for the final jump but otherwise the track was the same old story, gone were the rock gardens, up went the speeds. Should this track be raced every year…..no is my answer! But it always seems to provide an spectacle in all categories come race day. So mouth shut and tools up!
Fort William’s bog, lets not call it a wood, but 2017’s bog is gone, gone forever. Now like the Leogang rock gardens of years past it’s man made rock sections. The replacement for the “bog” of 2017 is awkward as nature never intended, but from the rider feedback to date the section provides a good challenge and an interesting break in rhythm from the high speed, new in 2017, section just above there. Coming storming in, arms tingling as you anchor down heavily!
So with this new addition after last years bog protests the famous Fort Bill track is 100% hardpack and with a record dry spell hitting the highlands the loose over hardpack will become more and more treacherous as race week wears on. Meaning, potentially, that like so many of 2017’s sweltering races the word of the week will be patience. Pushing as hard as traction allows where it allows it and being supremely patient not to push to hard to often in sections that don’t warrant or reward it. For such a wild piece rocky hill, lightness of touch always seems to pay come race day.
Have got, need not!
“Skill” is the application of the right technique at the right moment in the appropriate dose to achieve a desired movement outcome. Well that’s my definition at least and neither fort Bill nor Leogang demand the full spectrum of MTBers technique toolbox. Again though that’s not to say that neither track provides a challenge, they just don’t provide the full spectrum of challenge like a circa 2007 Schladming did or arguably Mont Sainte Anne does to this day. What 2018’s rounds 2 and 3 do demand though is pristine mastery of high speed change of direction, pumping and crisp choice of lines over the granite boulders of Fort William.
Benchmarking changes or improvements in the ladies field off of the performances of their male counterparts allows us to dig into both inter and intra individual changes quite nicely. Always keeping the “context” of any result up front and centre. Fort Bill’s physicality sees bigger percentage gap between the ladies and men’s winners. So a winter of smartly heavy strength work for the ladies could see that gap drop just a little. Defining worthwhile meaningful change is a real challenge. Comparing two fast dry races like 2015 and 2017 in Leogang, we saw that the ladies winners, Atherton & Seagrave respectively were both exactly 30 seconds behind the male winner Gwin. Following a similar line of investigation, 2014 was an odd season for the male field and as mentioned above longer tracks = bigger sex gaps. Expression of Strength being the defining characteristic of performance?
The list of potential useful statistics coming into these two races is long. Therefore huge Potential for paralysis by analysis. Pretty stable track layouts when comparing too previous years means “key sectors” can be dissected. Past performances of individuals lined up with present performance potential in the light of current constraints is the essence of using analysis and stats to your advantage. Always remembering that while the clock doesn’t lie “performance” and outcome are not the same thing.
If you are after some straightforward stats though, we’ve visited Leogang 8 times before, Fort William 16. In the men’s field Aaron Gwin hold 50% of Leogang’s victories. 4/8. The Fort has been around much longer allowing Minnaar to rack up 7 victories over a VERY impressive time-span. A period spanning a serios changing wheel-sizes, bike design, reliability and competition structure.
The easy money is put on these two riders at those two venues. For me the potential of massive upset provides a lot of excitement. The ladies races are far less clear cut, other than Mosely and Ragot, Atherton is the most prolific winner at the Fort but by no means dominant, ending a stunning victory streak under her own volition in 2017 at the Fort she’ll look to redeem herself this year. Confident and healthy Seagrave and Nicole will make for a battle royale. Leogang is even less clear cut than the Fort for the ladies. Seagrave rolling in as reigning champ will mean little unless that momentum is kickstarted on Anoch Mòr!
Because the tracks change little, last years results will certainly sway the bookies odds, but other than the victors of 2017 & maybe podiums, the results sheet can leave you less than optimally informed. “Form” that lovely mix of fitness – fatigue + motivation is a transient quality. Comes, goes etc… Key things like physical preparation and team environment not to mention bicycle performance all play their roll. The mental puzzle solving that underpins all DH performance is the one we need to look at coming into round 2. I’m hazarding a guess at 2-3 newish faces on the Fort William podium but an experienced packed Leogang steps for the men and well for the ladies “recent form” points to a 3 way battle between Myriam, Tahnée & Rachel.
A side-note to it all is watching how practice and racing goes at the first of this double-header for those who have camped out at the Fort for a week before versus those who fly in Monday. A little jet-lag versus a little over-exposure!
The stand-alone season opener in Croatia means many companies and teams probably have some “new tech” to showcase or hide in Fort William, do we really truly care? Emm no, but rumours are a certain 27.5 stalwart team have a 29er ready but won’t ride it. Santa Cruz have a new bike, some guys kits will match their hubs and pedals, the main point is that if you’ve not tested it don’t race it. Throwing back to 2017 and there were a scandalous amount of racers bending 29” wheels in Fort William and struggling to hoard tyres for Leogang to come. The self-inflicted wheel size head-fuck of 2017 is all but behind us I think, so I for one am stoked to see results with asterisk added on come Sunday!
The excitement to go racing again is HUGE! I can’t wait, can’t wait to help athlete’s do their best all week long. Faced with classic tracks and venues, motivation and attention will be keys to performance. Practice builds race-runs, it’s not just their to convince yourself you know what you are doing or to burn brake pads. So managing motivation and expectation will be the name of the game.
Classic track, classic venues are in every great sport; F1, MotoGP, MX, Alpine skiing, Soccer, Sailing and Road cycling. We however don’t have the luxury of black tarmac or a fresh covering of snow. Unique in demands, DH needs some unique solutions to allow us all to keep the motivation peaking. Races like Leogang and Fort William on bi-annual rotation in the future….? Yes please!
This won’t be the only “preview” you read this week; but it will have a different perspective than most. I’m no journalist and don’t want to be, I’m a coach; maybe a performance enhancement-ist? But what I certainly am and always have been is a BIG fan of racing. Bikes above all else. So being as unbiased as I can, which isn’t simple, here’s my take on the 2018 UCI DH World Cup season to come.
The title fight is only seven rounds long, which in plain speak is not enough. More should be done to make it a longer championship battle, but unlike the “title-fight” in MMA, boxing or some play-off riddled team sport, DH provides us with a lot of the answers from Round #1! There’s little waiting, we get the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania rolled into one – with live coverage – everyone races the track and the clock decides the outcome. Simple, and that’s a big part of the reason why we love it so.
The UCI are much lambasted at regular intervals by fans, keyboard warriors, media and media-warriors alike, the race track in Losinj and it’s tarmac finish adding fuel to the fire for 2018. While much if not all of the blame for a slow moving & somewhat stagnant World Cup calendar lays at the UCI’s door – if we are gonna blame & shame I feel we have to give credit when due also. Otherwise we are just engaged in dogma and displaying nothing more than terrible cognitive bias in attitudes towards the “big house”. Mercedes-Benz and parent Daimler need little introduction and they have chosen the UCI MTB World Cup to promote their new range of off-road vehicles. Will we see DH racers cruising alpine streets in loaner X-Classes like the ski-racers in their Audi’s? I doubt it, but it is a positive step and the first major external sponsor since Nissan.
Spicing a much too long off-season up with pre-season races is steadily becoming more and more par for the course, gone are the days of private tests sessions and one “whatever” works pre-World Cup race to help you remember those between the tape feelings. Now teams, with bigger ambitions and either bigger or further stretched budgets are hitting a host of pre-season events with a plan and focus. Crankworx Rotorua is high on the list for some, even though it’s half a planet away from most teams HQ’s. Windrock in Tennessee, USA is fast becoming the winter hot-spot, even though it’s most often freezing cold there all winter. But the quality of the tracks and services Neko Mullally and team provide are second to none. From testing camps onto races, this past off-season has painted a pretty decent picture of who has built form, carried World Cup 2017 momentum or found a seat on the puzzle bus. From the Pro GRT in Windrock to Portugese Cup in Lousa, British National Series in Cwmcarn, local French races in Peille, the aforementioned Crankworx Rotorua right up to the “why is it not a World Cup” iXS Cup in Maribor, pre-season has painted quite the pretty picture in terms of depth of and diversity of preparations, talent and tanacity.
Every season has the “this will be the most competitive ever” preamble attached to it, but 2018 has does have a seriously spicy flavour. One I’ve not come across in my years on the scene. Regardless of how utterly crap you, the internet warrior, thinks the Losinj track will be it will separate the best from the rest, no questions asked. But having a quick gander at the percentages, spreads and placings of the first races of the year, especially the British National, Windrock, iXS Maribor and Portuguese races and there’s a depth in numbers coming to do battle in Losinj that is providing some serious excitement and intrigue. Bar a few genuine up and comers or first year Elites in the men’s fields the top 10s or even 15’s in above pre-season races were genuine World Cup top 10’s. A stunning amount of ability and hard work getting fine-tuned in the one place at one time over a few weekends. A few notable absences though from these pre-season races, I’l be keeping my cards close to my chest here, but I’m predicting 2 fresh or fresher faces on the Mens Elite podium in Losinj and at least one noticeably absentee.
The women’s field lacks the depth the men’s field has for obvious reasons of participation numbers; but the heavy hitters have all been out and away from training laps & sparring only and got the gloves on in proper race environments this winter. Most journalists and fans seem to still trump placings over percentages when reviewing and I suppose that is simply because the gotta get the info across quick in social size bites. If you do however take the time for analysis and analyse in context (crucial) then what we have on our hands in Losinj is Chinese torture ready, razor sharp ladies that will be separated by razor thin margins. Off-course I’m a little biased here; but I’m very excited for it.
Teams, trucks, brands, suspensions & diameters
Michelin versus Pirelli, Bridgestone versus Dunlop. Brands, manufacturers and constructors in Motorsport is the perpetual story-line with one or two always having the upper hand, regardless of race-track. Often dominating results sheets for golden periods because of engineering triumph, financial clout or plain complex luck. DH has had similar dominating story lines, luckily for us the pilots input matters even more when their mass is four times that of the machine, so technical advantage is negated slightly. But we have had across the board for nearly two decades a series of two horse races. Sram versus Shimano, Rockshox versus Fox, Maxxis versus Michelin or Schwalbe….the core “contact” components ,the stuff that really matters on a push-bike. But 2018 has a storyboard that’s quite a bit different. Four or five worthy tyre manufacturers, producing quality prodcut in a variety of sizes and configuration. Rockshox, Fox, SR Suntour, Formula, BOS and DVO all seemingly producing suspension that works, yes some brands have an advantage but the diversity is startling and good to see.
Wheel diameter was the hot 2017 topic and the infancy of the sport and infantile minds of some competitors shown bright, botched and chopped wanna-be 29er bikes, riders and teams talking of 10 sec margins on basic test tracks…Lourdes came and went and left us with no answers because of divine intervention. Fort William was a perfect, classic, playground and the line was drawn. Bikes that work, work and wheel-size may not matter too much as a solo metric. With 12 months of maturation and engineering some riders and teams will have good 29ers dialled, the above pre-season races have pretty much told the story, Santa Cruz, Commencal, Intense & Devinci all have real-deal and fast 29″ wheeled bikes. Along with suspension, tyre and parts suppliers that make good product. Other brands have finalised “production” 29″ wheel bikes coming for Fort William. Regardless of how “good” they are, we will see a split. The ladies all on 27.5″ bikes, the men split 6/4 or 5/5 in the top 10 or so between 27.5″ & 29″ bikes.
Morphology and anthropomorphics matter when talking wheel-size, longer limb levers, especially lower body suit the larger diameter wheels better; but the complexity of the interaction between the rider and bike and sprung and un-sprung masses not to mention the system of complex elastic springs, levers, motors and struts that make up the human body is far to dense in degeneracy for a “simple” formula for guiding riders towards either wheel size to work.
It’s a golden age of diversity though and it’s a pleasure to be involved in it.
Juniors & Freshmen
Sophomore is an odd word, but it means second year and there are some second year elite male and female racers who should perform well in 2018. Most eyes though are on the junior class of 2017. Climbing into the big ranks in Elite men, Finn Iles and Matt Walker will excel; that’s nature & nurture. There are many more riders jumping ship too though, with Seagrave and Hartenstern being two of the higer ranked 2017 racers moving up, What success for a first year elite means is governed by the previous success and failures of others. Top 10’s are the benchmark, Bruni, Greenland, Vergier, Bryceland and Fearon all transitioned to elite with ease. With elite podiums and World Champ podiums for some in Freshman year. It’s a long shot but a Freshman World Cup Elite win has not happened in the “modern era”. 2018 has a good a chance as any,
The Junior ladies category is usually forgotten, but branded Red Bull racer Vali Hoell may change that. Judging by results to date she is fast. how that speed will translate to the rough and tumble and terribly early Group B World Cup starts we’ll wait and see.
Junior men is a ripper of a category; some dislike it. But I think it has many merits. 2018 has a list of racers longer than two arms. Both first and second year racers. Kade Edwards is the 2nd year man to beat. Daprela, Edmondson, Tyrell and Canyon Factory Racing’s Kye Ahern are all first year shredders with support and race-smarts.
Emotional management is the key to junior success. Broken bikes in Croatia may prove to be the catalyst for broken dreams…
Round #1 Race-Track
Haters gonna hate – having been to the venue and raced this track in 2016 I know what we are in for, it’s not easy, not really “fun”, not very long but he venue is nice. Is it good enough for a world Cup? Well that depends, on it’s own as a standalone race I feel it lacks too much to be considered a World class challenge. It will make for exciting racing and the world’s best will make it a spectacle. While the track is not easy from a simple technique execution/application POV it is not deep enough in choice to make it a challenge. Depending though on where RedBull TV place their cameras and how the short track is split up in terms of split times and TV time we could get a sensational showcase of our sport for the world. The street section is relatable for the public and I feel there is far to much being made of it as a negative. It needs some dirt wall-rides and rollers, but that’s that. What the venue, track and location provide is a showcase. If I was courting potential sponsors, especially out of industry sponsors, I’d bring them to Croatia; selling them the idea of our traveling circus as the vessel from which they showcase their brand to the world is easy done in Croatia, Mercedes Benz onsite, live to the world seaside in the Adriatic. It has it’s merits as much as it’s downfalls. I’m trying to see it like the “Monaco F1” of World cup DH; the issue being thought that F1 has 21 + races, DH does not.
What would make sense and appease us all is a season opening double-header. Losinj for the seaside fan-fare to kick things off then on to Maribor four hours away for a back to back round 2. Maribor did have a joint World Cup bid in with Graz, Austria (for XCO) for 2018. What happened there I don’t know. But seaside to pre-alpine diversity is what MTB allows, unlike or winter alpine cousins and should be capitalized on. The larger issue still glaringly obvious here thoughis this; the UCI make & enforce rules, they shouldn’t also have a sole hand in promotions and planning of the series, there they need the vision and expertise of external agents, just as Moto GP, MX GP, F1 and others have. Someday maybe?
The track in Losinj will provide good racing; the organisers have done their best & then some; the terrain, gradient and altitude availbe is at the VERY lower limit of what should be allowed, but like Brazil, Canberra and PMB before it the racers there to win will win. Instead of pushing against the venue & the organisers we should embrace it for what it provides in-terms of exposure and push instead to have it paired with a polar-opposite challenge on back to back weeks in future.
New School Rules
Again the UCI took serious flack from the internet navigators when it was announced that only the top 60 men would now qualify for finals. A reduction in the ladies numbers for 2017 made little difference in fairness, but the men’s change has the potential to cause issues. Tyres, wheels, weather etc… making top 60 a true cliff edge. What the keyboard warriors don’t know is it is the Trade teams and Red Bull Media House not the UCI that pushed for this and other changes. It makes sense in my opinion, especially come race day too further professionalize the sport. It’s not a rule set in stone either which is worth noting. The “protected” rider change has also been pushed by a handful of teams and individuals. There is still the potential for 20 protected individual males, the top 10 from the overall in 2017 are on TV and guaranteed for finals come race day all season long and then up to 10 more riders protected if they are top 10 overall in the 2018 standings and through some bizarre turn like the weather in Lourdes the current protected top 10 from ’17 are not in the top 10 of the current standings! In reality though we are likely to see between 12 to 16 protected Elite male races in 2018.
The new rules mean that practice matters even more, planned, concerted efforts in timed training and qualifying “game plans” are all going to become more “norm” in 2018 for those who feel the pressure at the edge of the bubble.
Racing kicks off in 5 days; Day 1 murmurs and whinging about the track will subside come Quali day and the sea-side after parties will be as wild as ever. It’s been waaaaay too long since Cairns.
For the past 18 months or so I’ve wound my way around a slippy path of discovery. All to do with motor learning and how we acquire, learn, solidify and modify “skill”. Traditional theories (linear) versus non-linear theories!
Now skill is essentially the application of technique in the task environment; the constraints created by that environment lead to affordances or “relation between us and object in environment that allows actions to help achieve our task goal – e.g. pull versus push door handle” that allows us the rider to make decisions on the best course of action to successfully complete our task (getting bike and rider to another point on the hill)! That last sentence has all the hallmarks of the thoughts of someone who has read and attempted to apply to their sport, the theories of ecological psychology and dynamic systems to the perception-action model! All separate but now converging ways of theorising and modeling learning and doing.
Before I continue there is one thing you need to keep in mind; theories, even if widely accepted are not perfect nor correct and as for models, some may be very useful, but NONE are perfect.
Traditional theories (schema, top down) hold the central command centre of the brain on a pedestal as chief decision maker; we get info in from our senses, make a decision then act. The Ecological approach peppered with some dynamic systems modeling downplays the importance of our brains and instead takes the organism (rider) and the environments interaction as key. Rider perceives (searches for) info on trail and the action needed to complete the task is created not just by the brain but by the whole system.
So if you have got this far reading, what I’m going to waffle on about next is my very simplistic take on how some of these models and theories converge & can possibly be applied to getting better at riding your bike and how they may or may not work together to explain why you find improvement hard or not! This will be a lot briefer than it could be, mainly because I’m very very under-educated in motor-learning….for now!
“Skills” training on your bike must have clear intention. Designed in such a way as to increase your map of potential pathways to your destination. These “maps” though are not rigid set actions controlled by the brain and CNS, they are more so experiences banked so deep they become intrinsic, made up of knowledge of affordances (stuff we know the value or utility of in relation to our own physical abilities) that link together to make actions purposeful and successful.
The Intention – action model applied in relation to how we learn motor skills is useful. By in large our intentions are often similar; aiming to get to a certain point on a trail as fast and efficiency as possible. Linking up these points to the finish line or trail end. These intentions lead to the search for movement solutions to our problem of getting form A to B!
By increasing your experience of technique application you create more usable and adaptable road maps to successful completion of a task. In essence a wider or more complete map of possible movement solutions to these problems. These solutions become “stable” when they are transferred to our hard disk of learned skills. But unlike in top down theory of motor learning and control, this hard disk storage does not mean we have to apply rigid solutions to each technique application problem, but instead we have stable solutions that then allows the body/organism freedom to make very fine necessary changes to posture, control and technique application without consulting some sort of master plan maker in the brain! “Preflex” control is how it is termed in Dynamical Systems thinking.
For us the MTB rider it makes perfect sense! Very conscious deliberate technique application takes time, often feels cumbersome and even if it leads to successful outcomes often does not leave the learner satisfied! This comes back to coaching also, repetitive reinforcement of internal cues, telling a rider to get that foot down or elbow up etc… leads to often quick but very short lived or limited retention of proficient. Instead letting the rider learn that their technique in switchbacks is developing well by how much exit speed they carry is far more successful, sure it may take some direct internal cues at first, but true mastery will only come if the organism/rider can be left enough time to self organise and eliminate shitty solutions to the motor problem on their own.
Basically give yourself some building blocks of what the solution may be but then go wild with attempting the different solutions until brain and body gel with the environment. After all all task are environment specific.
Repetitive non characteristic technique training (car-park and cones) serves purpose only for beginners. Removing yourself from the task environment (mountains and dirt and rocks and the like) means little opportunity to pave new roads or improve the surface and width of existing ones. You want to immerse yourself in the environment of your sport so you can build a bigger more robust network of potential choices of action (solutions) for you to use to achieve the task goal at progressively increasing speeds.
Your body and brain as a dynamic system will decide based on current physiological state and past experiences of similar tasks in that environment whether you have the required capacities to safely achieve the movement intention. If you’ve not developed prior successful completion of such a task then aiming to complete it at speed is not going to happen.
Thus progressive overload of technique application in the task environment is the most efficient way to improve “skill”. At first “overload” will be expensive, physically and metabolically, but economic learning will lead to a large reduction in cost once we’ve banked up some technique application experience!
Start small and slow but aim to do so in your characteristic sporting environment. In our case that’s the woods, hills, mountains, forest and wilderness of MTB. If a solution to a movement problem (lets say hopping onto a slippy bank to rail a left hander with more exit speed) requires a very basic technique like lateral balance & a bunny hop then these can be developed short term outside of the environment but need to be swiftly applied to the task environment if you are going to solidify that movement solution and bank it deep as a permanent solution!
No coach or friend would need to tell you how good your bunny hop is if the bank you hop onto is high enough; as the end result dictates that you have indeed mastered bunny-hops because otherwise you would not have made it up onto that bank!
Another example; Freezing up on steep muddy terrain and sliding to a stop on your bum just means that your brain and body have decided that you do not poses the required physical and movement skills to reach your “destinations” so playing/riding in the mud; progressively adding in more and more contextual challenges is the only option to improvement. Or at least riding in loose slippy terrain. For weather it’s sand or mud many of the solutions and self organization that occurs to be proficient in these environments are highly transferable!
Likewise a longitudinal analysis of whether you have any physiological or bio-mechanical limitations that reduce your ability to maintain the postures and limb positions needed to apply technique is needed for many. Off and on the bike training can serve the purpose of improvement in this area!
So to sum up for now on what will hopefully be an evolving blog topic
Whole Practice always – Part Practice Seldom
Discipline Characteristics matter when elite performance is desired.
Gross technique mastery first but swiftly applied to various task environments.
Unfamiliar links between sensory perceptions and motor skill lead to acquisition of new skill – as-long as system perceives task and environmental constraints as achievable given current physiological state!
Core Movement patterns, Core Techniques and adequate basic motor skill (balance etc..) are fundamental to improvement on the bike & can be trained both on and off the bike to a finite point when looking for improvement.
New techniques can be introduced outside of the task environment but cannot ever be mastered anywhere but the task environment.
Although visually and perceptually similar, core techniques like cornering must be applied in all environments under all constraints encountered for it to become a universal “skill”. Berms vs flat turns, mud versus gravel etc..
Knowledge of your performance is not as effective as knowledge of your results. Think “ohh coach said my elbow was in a good position for cornering” vs. “I slayed that turn and carried huge exit speed out – 4km/h faster than before”
Think about “overloading” your skill training with more varite of terrain and possible task solutions over more repetition. Slamming the same turn 100 times will never be as useful as slamming 100 different turns.
If you are bad at riding in a particular environment, ride in it more.
If you can’t bunny hop because of poor ankle mobility, fix the mobility off the bike, but don’t wait to apply technique when new found ankle mobility occurs….it goes hand in hand. As you will not see linear, step-wise improvements in either quality.
Improving your riding is a constant renovation; not a 1 time re-build.
The gym can be used to improve technique application but only if movement patterns, muscle action and intentions carry over to your on the bike movement.
Provide yourself with variety in your task environment to achieve meaningful improvements in performance. But avoid part practice when doing so.
Variation in technique application via varied environment constraints = robustness and less fragility in skilled movement.
Getting better is fun because it requires riding often, in varied terrain in various conditions under a variety of physical, ecological, meteorological and psychological conditions!
Time to stop giving Facebook so much free content love so here’s this week’s Top tip Thursday on the site for you! January has been kind to some and alot less kind to others – but it is a perfect time to work on improving your wet weather shredding with some of these mud riding tips below!
These tips where actually something that came up in a discussion with an Enduro racer I coach looking to “solidify” key approaches to winning when muddy!
While there is plenty more to riding in the wet and mud – especially in different soils of different gradients – the above is a nice place to start! Questions welcome.
Below is a picture taken from an article over on Pinkbike featuring Neko Mulally and Erin Huck; showing very clearer the difference “environment” makes to skill acquisition!
The XC bike given it’s seat height and overall geometry has dictated that Erin can’t drop her heels or more accurately cannot lower her Centre of Mass (COM) via ankle dorsi-flexion and instead achieves an overall lowering of mass over her base of support by flexing the hips and getting into a very low posture that is arguably extremely inefficient!
Neko on the other hand due to his bike and how he acquired the skill of posture over the years demonstrates that “archetype” Gravity posture, ankles dorsi-flexed, knees in slight flexion, hip angle “open” at about 30 degrees of flexion. Elbow and shoulder jut behind bars etc…
Now, yes, Neko is on flat ground and Erin traveling on a slight downward slope that is possibly steepening and yes we avoid extrapolating to much from one pic. But extreme hip flexion while traveling downhill to help lower COM is not ideal.
It means hips and knee joints are at sup-optimal angles to allow the muscles acting on those joints to operate at their preferred length and thus act most efficient and make use of not just he contractile portion of muscle tissue but also the whole MTU (muscle tendon unit) and the inherent efficiency of elastic strength!
The final two pieces of the puzzle are the joints furthest from each other but both performing important functions and both having interesting effects proximally (towards centre of body)…the cervical spine (neck) and cleat position and it’s relation ship in distance to the Talus bone in the ankle.
Extreme hip flexion for whatever reason (usually COM lowering) results in the necessity of extreme neck extension to see where you are going! This arguably and supported in some research has a knock on effect on the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and leads to a further reduction in para-sympathetic tone and thus possibly more unnecessary stress, when the act of descending should be pretty chilled! Some riders like Nino Schurter display pretty extreme hip flexion when descending as that’s what the constraints of the bike dictate but still manage to keep a pretty relaxed neck position and overall excellent control.
Cleat distance to talus bone is not really understood and it’s only something I’ve recently thought about, but the Talus is considered the centre of your Base of support as a bi-pedal human, and arguably the further the cleat is away from that point the less stable the the ankle joint will be perceived by the brain, CNS and possibly less effective natural or learned spinal reflexes will be thus again leading to more “tight” the posture and the less stable the fluctuators of technique needed to make fast corrections in posture, directions and weight shift will be!
No exact science here – and there never will be when it comes to technique, skill and their acquisition!
Skill is about an end result. The intention of movement and reaching the end place or goal having expended the minimum of energy. Understanding that riding an MTB is a complex taste within a complex system and that the constraints of the task, organism and environment are very, very central to how you learn or perfect something new is what this is all about!
Bike set-up, terrain, dirt moisture, ambient temperature, tyres, muscular or central fatigue among 100000 other things affect your ability to reach that end goal.
So practice really does make perfect; but perfect practice does nothing to help you learn and adapt, So while Erin’s technique is extreme and sub-optimal in a global sense it is the technique she has adopted given the constraints of the environment (bike and terrain) she learned it in. If that technique is consistently applied in a huge variety of situations and terrains then it’s key parts will become stable enough for it to be successful as-long as those stable “parts” consistently allow her to achieve her end goal or intention!
Even though there is more than one way to corner a push-bikes, when we talk “cornering” it’s frequently the classic outside foot down image that hits peoples mind…and rightly so!
The “classic” application of foot down technique requires the ability to move the hips laterally, drive the inside bar down, eyes forward and pelvis and shoulders square! And it’s this technique that many lesser riders struggle with regardless of terrain, bike and tyre choices.
This “hips out – bike over” technique allows you to get the bikes tyres “on-edge” which is real important when we are hitting longer turns with a mixed or not so grippy surface, when we want to carry big speeds or if the turn is beyond 80 degrees or so!
Point1 Athletic Development trained Neil Stewart does a mighty job of demonstrating here!
You’ll see that inside shoulder (head of the humerus), outside knee and ankle almost always line up in any rider with good technique!
How you arrive at a point to be able to apply this technique usual needs a multi-faceted approach and may very well form a indepth blog post in the future!