Be­tween the Tape

Hard work wins a race. But know­ing what to work hard at, wins two.

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS : SE­BAS­TIAN JAYNE PHOTO: KAREN JAYNE

Know­ing the de­mands of your cho­sen sport is an im­por­tant ques­tion when look­ing at de­sign­ing a train­ing plan. Find­ing out ex­actly what goes on in­side the body dur­ing a 1:30 hour cross-coun­try race lets you put ev­ery­thing back to­gether to cre­ate a po­ten­tial race win­ner.

Our close part­ner sport of road cy­cling has a long her­itage of peo­ple in lab coats pok­ing and prod­ding lab rats to make them cy­cle faster. The dif­fi­culty in cross-coun­try has been the vari­abil­ity in de­mands of the event. Pre-2007, a cross-coun­try event had a race time of be­tween 2 and 2.5 hours for men and a lit­tle un­der 2 hours for women. This was re­duced in 2007 to to­day’s race time of 1.5 hours for both men and women.

What does that mean? While it’s tough to say which ver­sion is harder, one thing is for sure, the de­mands have changed. Races are far more in­tense with rid­ers push­ing higher pow­ers on the climbs, which are now shorter and come with less rest in be­tween. For the racers this is ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ent, but this also poses dif­fer­ent ques­tions for the lab coats such as: how do we make racers ride faster in this new for­mat?

This has been the strug­gle for ath­letes and coaches in cross-coun­try moun­tain bik­ing to this day. To find what doesn’t work and then to find what does through test­ing. It’s a process that takes a lot of time to do, let alone to spread around to ath­letes and coaches across the world. A big stepping stone is money, the stud­ies to de­ter­mine the de­mands of the event cost money to be done prop­erly, but that money is usu­ally tied up in an Olympic pro­gram. A coun­try is un­likely to spend thou­sands of dol­lars on equip­ment and per­son­nel to find a com­pet­i­tive edge and then put the results out as open ac­cess re­search.

There is a lot of talk about fund­ing in re­gard to moun­tain bik­ing in Aus­tralia. I’m sure to a lot of peo­ple, not con­nected to the process, it’s not en­tirely un­der­stood what ex­actly the fund­ing is for. Among other things, these stud­ies of the de­mands are what is needed. Switzer­land is pretty good at moun­tain bik­ing. Swiss rid­ers go to the Swiss Olympic House in Mag­glin­gen near St. Moritz every year and ride on a gi­ant mov­ing tread­mill to be tested. At this point, it’s highly un­likely they are still guess­ing at what the de­mands of XCO are, but are in­stead test­ing against the de­mands of the event push­ing their ath­letes fur­ther.

Last year, as part of a big push by the Nor­we­gian na­tional team with help from Lille­ham­mer Univer­sity to­wards the Tokyo Olympics, a study was done that brought to­gether their top rid­ers along with Bri­tish rid­ers, a Swiss rider and New Zealand’s Sam Gaze to test and de­ter­mine why the best rid­ers were the best. This goes along with sev­eral other stud­ies done in Nor­way re­cently all geared to­wards analysing mod­ern cross-coun­try as well as de­ter­min­ing how best to train for these races. Some of these stud­ies have been made pub­lic and are quite in­ter­est­ing and use some in­no­va­tive tech­niques to map the de­mands of XCO.

How are Nor­we­gian rid­ers do­ing? At the La Bresse World Cup, Nor­way had four rid­ers in­side the top twelve of the U23 men’s race, and their top rider, Pet­ter Fager­haug, won the over­all U23 World Cup se­ries. An­other na­tion had four rid­ers in the top ten of the U23 race, as well as three in­side the top ten of the Elite men’s race, that was France. At the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, a study was re­leased on open ac­cess by two of France’s uni­ver­si­ties that is one of the best I have seen, study­ing the de­mands of mod­ern XCO. Coin­ci­dence? Per­haps – but I doubt it.

Re­cently the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport an­nounced a sym­po­sium for lead­ing sport sci­en­tists and engi­neers that aims to give Aus­tralian ath­letes and coaches the tech­no­log­i­cal edge over the com­pe­ti­tion. Given the large strides that could be made in mod­ern XCO by be­ing tech­ni­cally in­no­va­tive, it would make sense for it to be in­cluded in this push. While these stud­ies aren’t ev­ery­thing, they are a key part of the puzzle in cre­at­ing ath­letes that can­not only win one race but con­tinue win­ning more.

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