Mountain bike cross-country (XC) racing, and even the longer marathon and endurance-type events have changed a great deal over just the last few years. Now, they demand a very different type of training and preparation than was even the case 3-4 years ago.
So with that in mind, here are 5 ways that you can ensure that you’re adequately prepared for the upcoming race season.
Get comfortable with jumps, drops and rock gardens
The last few seasons have seen mountain bike race courses become far more technically challenging. This is both in a bid to develop the sport, as well as to increase the excitement-factor for spectators. And it’s likely that this trend will continue. This means that features like jumps and drop-offs are now a far more common sight even at local and regional-level racing. So, in order to be prepared come race day, they need to feature in a racer’s training.
When learning to jump or drop off of obstacles, build up slowly, learning good technique as you progress to larger, more difficult features. Getting comfortable with these kinds of obstacles away from racing will give you greater confidence when you first ride new courses. More importantly, you’ll gain free speed over other inexperienced, nervous competitors when they’re forced to take a B-line.
Work on sprinting out of corners
It’s been said that mountain bike racing (especially XC) is just a series of sprints out of corners. This is quite a contrast to the 10 minute-plus climbs of old. Thus, these changes must be reflected in a rider’s preparation for racing. Mountain bike racers must work to overcome large amounts of force and inertial load, as they’re required to rapidly accelerate from a very slow speed up to a high pace repeatedly.
This ability can be trained off-road, performing specific exercises like sprinting out of turns. It can also be trained on a road bike by slowing down to walking pace and then surging as hard as possible using large gears. This will not only improve overall power production through the pedals, but at the same time develop fatigue resistance for improved muscular endurance. This results in a reduced susceptibility to cramping in the latter stages of an event too.
Develop your hill sprinting abilities
As alluded to above, today’s mountain bike racing circuits are more and more featuring short, explosive climbs. These require a very different type of fitness and strength than ascents that are longer. Instead, rider’s must be able to produce a very high power output over durations of around 1 minute, but crucially have the ability to repeat this output multiple times per lap and for the length of their race. Working on anaerobic capacity is one way to train this ability.
Performing intervals over 45-second to 1.5-minute durations at almost a maximal effort will train the body’s ability to exercise without the presence of oxygen. This will allow it to become more efficient at resisting the fatigue these efforts create. Once again, high force production, both in a seated and a standing position will also be vital. Conducting some of these efforts on steep climbs and particularly off-road will train this effectively.
Practice fast starts
If there’s one thing that makes XC mountain bike racing unique, it’s the ferocious speed that the races set off at. Riders are required to go from a standing start into an all-out sprint right from the gun. It’s a mass dash to the singletrack, as courses tend to narrow fairly rapidly. This makes early positioning really important if valuable time isn’t to be lost to those at the head of the race.
Working on riding really hard out of the blocks and then settling into a high but sustainable pace will develop this all-important ability and improve first lap positioning. This can be practiced in training by initiating a 10-second sprint and then riding hard for a further minute or so. Always perform these kinds of efforts when you’re both fresh and motivated, as they can be painful and hard to complete if a large set of repetitions is planned.
Get good at clipping in
Making sure you can clip into the pedals at a moment’s notice is becoming an incredibly important mountain bike racing skill to have. Even one or two missed revolutions as the result of fumbling with the pedals can mean a lot of lost positions. With the start of mountain bike races now being so fast, this kind of mistake can be very costly to your final result.
A great way to practice this skill is to get a friend to act as a starting pistol. They can then initiate a mock starts randomly with a shout or gesture. Consistently working on this area of your racing will improve your reaction times to the starting gun, and your ability to find and engage the pedals with your cleats. It can also help make you a little less anxious on the start line too.
As an additional tip, try to set your pedals level by hand before your race so that you don’t have to use your foot to orientate the pedal properly before engagement. It may only save you a second or two, but it can still make a big difference to how successful your starts are.
Photo by Tom Bell at tombell.co
What will you be working on to prepare for the upcoming mountain bike racing season? Where will you be racing? Drop us a comment below and let us know.