I’ve been riding on and off road for years but have only recently discovered the joys of descending. Last weekend I participated in a downhill race at PORC in Kent and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’d really like to have a crack at some downhill races next season so wondered what would sort of training I should undertake over the winter to be in shape to challenge the Athertons’ and Peaty’s race times? Frankly I’m a bit of a wimp and I realise the confidence to do the big jumps and drops will only come with practise, but what other sort of training do downhillers do to get in shape? I’m 1.75m tall, 67kg and 31years old and I own an XC hardtail, 6in travel full susser and a road bike. Your advice would be greatly appreciated!
Ben Smith, Peckham
If you read any of the interviews with your hero’s you’ll realise they spend a hell of a lot of time riding bikes. Technique and skill is an obvious one that needs constant practice but there is also the all round physical fitness to control your bike and the out and out power to ride fast. Downhill runs lasting from 2-5 minutes have a lot in common with Kilo and Pursuit training on the track — you need explosive power that you can turn on fast. Whatever the image, you don’t get to be the best in the world without a serious amount of graft. Most competitive downhill riders make some use of the gym for weight training to gain increased muscle power and strength. The Atherton’s have a gym at home to make it easier to get some strength work in. Conditioning exercises such as core work and flexibility can help prepare your body for downhill and is particularly important for people who aren’t riding regularly. Use your cross-country and road sessions to work on endurance and explosive sprint power. If you can’t get outside in the week an indoor turbo trainer is great for doing top end intervals to increase leg speed and power production. Ride as much as you can on as much varied terrain and conditions as possible. Learn by riding with other riders and get riders you respect to comment on the way you ride. Before the World Championships in Fort William the British Downhill team held a training camp where riders were videoed so they could watch the way they ride sections and learn from it. It’s also worth checking out your local BMX club: gate practise is a vital downhill skill and practising jumping at high speed on the track will be very useful when you come to a downhill race. Converting your XC hardtail to be suitable for the BMX track will probably just be a case of dropping the saddle and putting on as short a stem as you can find.
Boob or bust
Here’s a question more for your lady riders. What do female mountain bikers wear under their base layers? I’ve been wearing my normal bra’s but going through rooty rocky sections I’m at risk of giving myself a black eye and the bumps are extremely uncomfortable. I don’t want to wear a crop top then a base layer, as it gets too hot with an extra layer. Are there any tops with support in them?
Amy Jones, Lancs
Getting the right sports bra is crucial to comfortable riding. It’s not just about stopping the bouncing that is uncomfortable and damaging to the ligaments and tissues but also finding a bra that will wick away sweat so you don’t get sticky. The University of Portsmouth has been undertaking vast amounts of research into sports bras; they say that 60% of women suffer breast pain during even mild exercise. Their research showed that during exercise breasts moved up and down but also forward and backward so a crop top that simply straps your boobs tight to your chest isn’t going to help. Ideally you need a bra with two separate cups to control movement individually. Support is really important as tissue damage can lead to sagging and stretch marks. The University of Portsmouth are working on new designs and using new materials to get better support for women. In the mean time check out the best on the market at www.boobydoo.co.uk.
Returning from a fever
I was surprised to see Liam Killeen competing again at the World Championships after he said earlier in the year that he was suffering from a viral infection. I was diagnosed with Glandular Fever back in July – just days after graduating from Uni, bye bye my summer of fun! – and although I feel somwhat better now, the idea oif rcaing still seems a long way off. I have good days and bad days where I feel great for a day or two and ride my bike as much as possible, but then feel dreadful for days afterwards. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of riding again this year and my doctor’s only advice is to rest as much as possible. Is there any way of speeding up the virus’s passage through my system? Or is it just a case of rest, rest and more rest?
Peter Simmonds, email
Glandular fever can affect people of any age, but is most common in young adults and teenagers. The virus is contagious and can be passed on to others by close contact that’s why it’s sometimes called the kissing disease. Your immune system makes antibodies during the infection and the good news is these clear the virus and then provide lifelong immunity. It is rare to have more than one bout of glandular fever. Killeen announced he was ill and not going to ride the rest of the season fairly early on in the year. Although his symptoms were similar to glandular fever tests came back negative. He was back on his bike for the World Champs by his own admission he still wasn’t feeling right and has some more resting and work to do before he gets back to full fitness. Many sports people have come back to full fitness after glandular fever and though the recovery period can be long and tedious there is no reason not to expect a full return to fitness. Ride on the days you feel up to it but for short periods of time and listen to your body. Training too hard now could lead to post-viral fatigue syndrome, a much harder proposition to shift.