Be­tween the Tape

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WO R D S : SE­BAS­TIAN JAYNE

Last is­sue I looked at the ben­e­fits of us­ing sport science to ex­cel at moun­tain bik­ing, and how a few Euro­pean coun­tries were lev­er­ag­ing the ben­e­fits of fund­ing to push into the fu­ture, but it isn’t re­ally the whole story. The top twenty of the World Cup is con­sis­tently filled by the ‘go-to’ Euro na­tions, France, Switzer­land et cetera. But the top twenty isn’t full of Eu­ros. One elite man that is tak­ing it to the Eu­ros is the ‘pride of Brazil’, Hen­rique Avancini.

The year 2018 has been a stel­lar year for the Brazil­ian with a strong show­ing at the Cape Epic with team mate Manuel Fu­mic, con­sis­tent plac­ings in the World Cup and a win at the An­dor­ran short- course World Cup. The crown­ing achieve­ment was his amaz­ing vic­tory at the Marathon World Cham­pi­onships. This con­sis­tently strong year proved that Hen­rique is one of the top riders in the world. But it is where this con­sis­tency was built that is the real story and in some re­spects his real crown­ing achieve­ment.

Hen­rique’s story has a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties to the sto­ries of Aus­tralian riders. A rider from a far­away land that sold his be­long­ings to travel to Europe and chase the dream. Hen­rique was an ok ju­nior and as an U23 he wasn’t bad, but it was rac­ing on an Ital­ian road team where he re­alised things weren’t go­ing to fall in place. In an in­ter­view for aCross­theCoun­try.com he even spoke of his team man­ager at the time, around 2011, telling him he might want to go back to Brazil as he might not have what it takes to be a top rider.

This was a real turn­ing point for Hen­rique as he had to ad­mit he didn’t have the tal­ent of other riders. It was a turn­ing point, not in terms of quit­ting or con­tin­u­ing, but of how to con­tinue. He de­cided to work harder, he didn’t have the ‘tal­ent’ so he was go­ing to work harder than any­one. In my last Be­tween the Tape, I wrote ‘work­ing hard wins one race, know­ing what to work hard at wins two’, and Hen­rique al­ludes to this in terms of bal­ance.

He had worked hard, he could be strong at one race, but he couldn’t be a con­sis­tent per­former un­til he put ev­ery­thing to­gether. That is, be­ing phys­i­cally fit, tech­ni­cally great and at the same time men­tally balanced. This all came to­gether in 2016 when he started work­ing with a psy­chol­o­gist along­side Can­non­dale Fac­tory Rac­ing’s per­for­mance man­ager, Phil Dixon. This helped him step up in terms of rac­ing, but also step over the men­tal gap of com­ing from a coun­try out­side the es­tab­lished moun­tain bike na­tions. An idea Aus­tralians can re­late to.

It can be hard go­ing to Europe and liv­ing on the road for up to 6 months, know­ing the peo­ple you’re vers­ing can go home at the end of the week­end while you’re trav­el­ling on to the next booked ac­com­mo­da­tion. Hen­rique does say it an­noys him that Brazil­ian ath­letes some­times place them­selves be­low Eu­ro­peans when they come to Europe given the Eu­ro­peans have bet­ter train­ing fa­cil­i­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties. He also speaks of the gen­er­a­tion gap with ref­er­ence to Switzer­land where they have had three gen­er­a­tions of top tier ath­letes in Thomas Frischknecht, Christoph Sauser and now Nino Schurter. This has helped build a knowl­edge base that must be over­come by other na­tions.

The key point through­out the in­ter­view as well as in Hen­rique’s com­ments on his In­sta­gram is that he might have been be­hind, in terms of tal­ent and re­sources, but that didn’t stop him. He built what he didn’t have. The fit­ness, the abil­ity to work hard, the team around him to achieve what he wanted. It was never they’re ahead and that is that, it was they’re ahead, how do I catch up?

On Septem­ber 10, the Mon­day af­ter the XCO World Champs, Hen­rique put up an In­sta­gram pic­ture from the start of the World Champs with him in the mid­dle and four swiss riders around him. The caption, trans­lated from Por­tuguese (thanks to Google Trans­late), said,

“I def­i­nitely do not have what these guys have. I’m not one of them... The only cer­tainty I have is that my path, where I came from and how far I’ve come, brought me some­thing that these guys will never have. Any dis­ad­van­tage I’ve had in the past will be my big­gest ad­van­tage in the fu­ture. You do not have to be ex­cep­tional to do some­thing ex­traor­di­nary.”

That week­end he went on to be­come the first Brazil­ian MTB World Cham­pion by win­ning the Marathon World Champs. Ex­traor­di­nary!

PHOTO: MIKE BLE­WITT

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