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01 February 2006

How fit must a mountain biker be?

Mountain biking requires a high level of overall fitness, both aerobic and anaerobic, as well as strong muscles and bones. It also requires a fairly good level of flexibility.

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Mountain biking requires a high level of overall fitness, both aerobic and anaerobic, as well as strong muscles and bones. It also requires a fairly good level of flexibility.

Typical build It is advantageous for mountain bikers to not carry extra weight, and they are pared-down like most endurance athletes. However, they need to be stronger and somewhat more robust than road cyclists, so that their bodies can handle the shocks and bumps (and frequent falls) that come with uneven mountain bike course terrain.

Technique The techniques mastered by a mountain biker are more varied than those of road or track cycling, for example negotiating uneven surfaces and obstacles, making tight turns, quick dismounts and remounts, passing in a narrow track, and making fast descents. Mountain bike racers need extremely high levels of biomechanically efficient pedalling, especially when they have to apply high force so the rear wheel won't break loose in steep, loose terrain.

Training programme There are different skills a mountain biker needs to develop, and coaches advise cyclists to spend more time on whichever of these are weakest in an individual athlete’s case. This is thought to result in better overall performance than trying to perfect a strength does.

Some of the key training focus areas include climbing inclines, technical skills such as those mentioned above, endurance, and performing repeat hard efforts at high speed with little recovery in-between, such as riding hard on short steep inclines, accelerating quickly and sprinting. Training schedules therefore need to include both endurance and strength training, and plenty of practise negotiating different rugged trails.

Cardiovascular fitness A top mountain biker has excellent cardiovascular fitness.

Speed drills Speed drills are often incorporated into the general training programme, as rapid acceleration and sprinting are frequently needed.

Reaction time Reaction time is vitally important in mountain biking; given the uneven terrain, the rider is continually presented with ‘surprises’ and has to constantly make split-second choices about the correct speed and angle to use to maintain balance.

Endurance training Mountain biking requires high levels of endurance, and most of these athletes attain this by putting in many hours on varied rough terrain.

Nutrition A mountain biker’s eating plan is often similar to a road cyclist’s i.e. it follows the degree of training intensity, and increases carbohydrate and calorie intake as the peak season nears.

Mental Mountain bike racing requires a combination of constant alertness and control. Pre-event preparation is perhaps most important in this type of cycling event, as the circuit contains such a variety of different challenges. A thorough familiarity with a particularly track is invaluable.

Drugs Mountain bikers may make the mistake of experimenting with some of the drugs that have caused havoc in other cycling disciplines recently, such as EPO. The 1996 World Champion mountain biker Jerome Chiotti recently confessed that he had used EPO.

 
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