Road cycling has become the dominant form of cycling in recent years. This has been pushed by the celebrity that has followed cyclists like Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, who have dominated the sport.
However, many of the leading riders within this cycling discipline have cut their teeth through mountain biking, with riders such as Peter Sagan who has won the green jersey at the Tour de France three times and Cadel Evans, who won both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, both starting in the discipline.
Arguably, it also requires more complex technology as the terrain being ridden varies so much. Where a road cyclist will generally cycle on tarmac or cobbles, a mountain biker will be required to cover gravel, mud, roots and grass, so the diversity of technology needs to be increased. There needs to be effective suspension that allows huge bumps to be absorbed, whilst also allowing powerful pedal strokes to be effectively fed through the chain.
So it was interesting to talk to two of the world’s top mountain bikers, Tracey Moseley and Jerome Clementz, about their experiences with new technologies and training techniques in mountain biking.
Tracy is the reigning Enduro World Champion and has been at the top of the mountain biking world for the past 20 years, having won the Junior British National Mountain Bike Championship at the age of 15. Jerome is similarly a specialist in Enduro and was World Champion in 2013, having similarly been in the sport for around 2 decades.
With the excitement currently surrounding road cycling and the articles written about how road cyclists and track cyclists train, I was interested in to hear what different approaches were taken in mountain biking.
The biggest difference is the concentration of technical training, where much of the other aspects remain similar such as fitness and explosivity. According to Jerome ‘If you're not fast in the technical sections, you can't use you fitness, and it works the other way around’.
Tracy also believes that the technical skills needed are needed to perform at the highest level, ‘Mountain biking requires a big mix of fitness, endurance as well as technical skill, so you need to spend a lot of time working on all of these elements of your riding. The skills you need to have also are influenced by the weather and the terrain you ride on so again practicing in different environments is key to success’.
With both athletes having worked in the sport for a long time, I was also keen to get their opinions on the changing technologies within mountain biking, given the development of new materials and innovative designs. One of the interesting aspects is that both discuss increasing stiffness of bikes, which allows for a better power transfer from pedal strokes through to the drive train. The other important aspects they discuss is how the technology has been designed around their performances, with ‘The dropper seatpost, tubeless tyres, 1 chainring transmission, adjustable geometry ‘on the fly’’ being prime examples according to Jerome.
Given the success of both Tracy and Jerome, they naturally have several sponsors who provide them with performance equipment. Both are sponsored by Osprey for their rucksacks for instance, and I was curious about the relationship with them and other sponsors. It used to be the case that equipment was developed, then handed to athletes. Today we are seeing a far more symbiotic relationship, where athletes give feedback to companies to improve their range of equipment.
This is something that both Jerome and Tracy have experienced throughout their time in professional mountain biking.
For instance, Jerome states:
‘When I train with new products I always think about how it feels and if it could be improved. The brand are really interested in this feedback and they listen, adjust and come back with better products all the time. Most of the time it’s not big changes, but small details that make the performance and general feeling better for us and for the final user’.
Tracy has had similar experiences:
‘I spend a lot of time working with all my sponsors as racing and riding as it creates a great test environment for products. Osprey, my pack sponsor, are one of the companies I work with and feedback to with regard to how I find the different packs work with the different demands of my training and racing’.
Finally, given the skillsets required for mountain biking and the relatively niche nature of the sport, I wanted to get their opinions on where there were crossovers to other sports. As mentioned before, we have seen several high profile road cyclists move from mountain biking, but I wanted to see their thoughts on a less traditional transitions.
Both believe that the skills learnt in mountain biking provides a broad base which can be transferred, Tracy for instance believes, ‘mountain biking gives you a really good all round skill base, you need great balance and you need to be resilient to riding in all weather, so these things can really help many other cycling disciplines’. Jerome’s experiences also point towards the multi-sport benefits that training on a mountain bike brings:
‘There is no reason that this [mountain bike skills] could not work for other sports, we've seen rider like Shaun Palmer doing well in Motocross or Snowboard, Nicolas Vouilloz, winning rally car races and even Fabien Barel in the National Bobsleigh team!’.