Recently Ben Price tackled the arduous inaugural Trans Savoie race – a six-day event consisting of dozens of timed downhill stages. The event was a success in its first outing and Ben did himself proud, finishing in sixth place. Find out all about the process in this three-part series. First off, the training and preparation.
Trans Savoie: Pre-race
22,000 metres of timed descent over six back-to-back days, with descents as long as 40 minutes, how on earth do you train for that in the UK? A question I frequently asked myself when I first thought about how to prepare for the Trans Savoie, a particularly special event in terms of not only the numbers but also the subsequent fitness and skills demanded by the event. With very little terrain available in the UK to match what is offer in the Savoie region of France it would be almost impossible to simply go and ride those sorts of trails. So how was I to prepare?
Coming into the 2013 season with the Trans Savoie as my major focus I did what every serious XC rider would do and formulated a periodised training plan. It was important to put something together to guarantee I was in the best possible condition could be before going into the race, by ensuring the time I had available to train was best spent working on areas of weakness and ensure I programmed in sufficient training load and a decent amount of rest. To fully understand where my weaknesses lied it was essential to critically analyse every part of fitness and technical skill I had as a rider and ensure I knew exactly what was required for the race, much like we do with any client that comes to us for fitness consultancy at my work with TORQ.
For me it was clear that my technical skills were the major area that required improvement, coming from a background of racing XC at an elite level I consider myself to have a very good fitness both in terms of speed, power and endurance. The major restriction I have found for an XC rider like me is when racing XC the descents are used as a chance to recharge the legs before the next onslaught from a climb or pedally section, with the focus being on getting through them smoothly and efficiently, with you and the bike intact by the bottom, rather than out-and-out speed. So when I moved over to enduro where bikes have large tyres, ample suspension and geometry which allows you to ride so much harder over technical terrain, it didn't take long to realise that what I originally thought was riding fast downhill in XC was significantly different to riding fast over technical terrain in enduro! Something I am sure many XC racers in a similar position have found. With the recent growth of the discipline there is no denying that the level of speed required is at a very high level, enduro is fast.
With so many former DH riders racing enduro it isn't hard to see why so few XC riders have hit the podiums so far. An XC rider is so used to riding conservatively that when it comes to riding at that race speed in enduro, it is a mind-set that is difficult to move away from and requires very different skills. For an XC rider racing enduro, fitness is unlikely to be a restriction but skill level certainly is, compare this to a DH rider who is so used to riding at 110%, when they move over to racing enduro where they are only pushing at 80-90% of the pace they are capable of, they can do it comfortably. The only real limiting factor for a downhill rider is fitness, but find a physically fit downhiller, as many top level level professionals are, and you will very quickly see why so many former downhillers are so successful on the enduro scene. Take Greg Minnar's 3rd place at Val d'Allos round of the Enduro World Series as a prime example.
So technical skills was a major area to work on, essentially it required a rethink of every technique I had ever learnt, from cornering and line choice to drops and jumps, and learning just what the capabilities and limits a trail bike were over my usual XC race machine. Living in Shropshire I am pretty lucky to have plenty of technical riding on my doorstep along with plenty of downhill riders to follow down descents, so often sessions simply involved doing my utmost to hold the wheel of riders who I knew were faster. Uplift days have also played an important part, the chance to ride a track 15 times in a day really gives you a chance to get these changes in technique dialled. A lot of racing has also helped, having raced as many of the UK Gravity Enduro series and Mini Enduros as I could fit in, racing brings an added level of commitment thanks to the competitive element which for me means I ride harder than I ever could during training and teaches a lot about your capabilities. A trip out to race the Mega Avalanche and the 3rd round of the world enduro series in Les 2 Alpes helped bring me up to speed in the alpine terrain too!
The Welsh peaks of Cadir Idris and Snowdon both offered the closest match to some of the terrain that is found on Alpine mountains in the UK so riding both was an important learning experience for the race. Being only a short drive away from my house also helped and a couple of runs on each helped get me up to speed riding big rocky terrain.
Pump tracks were the most significant discovery for me, a leaf I took out of the Dan Atherton School of Enduro racing handbook, as a rider performing at the top of the enduro discipline his time spent riding 'the yard' (his pumptrack/ridiculous jumps at home) clearly has some influence on performance. I urge every rider out there to not be intimidated by the young children and teenagers who populate these facilities and will no doubt ride the tracks significantly faster and with a great deal more style than you will on some wreck of a bike. Regardless of what bike you have, get along to one. The gains in speed that can be made as a rider through learning to ride these tracks properly is too big to pass off. Your wheels don't even have to leave the floor, although inevitably they will as your confidence grows. What a pump track can teach you in terms of cornering and the ability to pump through a section when translated into a proper MTB trail can have a great deal more impact on your overall speed than those few extra pedal stokes, they are a very good overall workout and a great deal of fun too. Pump tracks were something I found only fairly recently and have featured a great deal in my preparations for this event, which for me has resulted in some good progression in speed, I only wish I had found them sooner.
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Although the skills side of things was clearly a main focus, the fitness was always going to play an element in the preparations; it simply couldn't be overlooked. Enduro requires a good base or aerobic fitness as it is often referred to: being able to ride for a long time at a relatively steady pace. It’s a requirement to just get round the course. This comes through a lot of long steady miles, typically on the road, holding a fairly steady pace for a long period of time. This type of riding featured a great deal early on, with some maintenance of this base as time went by, throwing in the odd longer ride at a steady pace. The speed and power element came through a number of sessions, everything from specific interval training, enduro racing, competing in the local 10 mile TT league and some XC racing thrown in for good measure. Being able to suffer for over an hour and a half in an XC race makes riding an enduro stage flat out seem a whole lot easier and with sufficient recovery after a race brings massive gains in fitness. With so many different components of fitness and skill required for enduro it was great to really be able to mix the training up, everything was different and interesting.
Skill and fitness will get you a very long way up the results sheet as a rider in this type of event, but bike and bike setup were also been an important consideration in my preparation for the event. Turning up to an event over or under-biked can have a serious influence on your result as well as your ability to perform.
As a rider on the TORQ Performance MTB Team I am incredibly fortunate to be supported by Whyte Bikes who kit the team out with some pretty tick 29er frame sets for racing XC. When I mentioned some of events I planned to race over the summer there was talk of a new gravity enduro orientated super bike, due for launch around the time I was due to head out, so when the TNT lorry rolled up at TORQ HQ I was over the moon to take delivery of a new bike. What came out the box was Whyte's new G150: a 150mm of travel, 650B trail bike designed with exactly these sorts of events and this style of riding in mind, every part of the bike’s spec had clearly been thought out in detail and there was very little that I needed to change in preparation. Although an aluminium frame, the total bike weight is incredibly light even for the large bike and the geometry is absolutely on the mark with a slack head angle, long top tube, short seat stays make the handing is therefore very confidence inspiring and capable. A good couple of weeks riding the Les 2 Alpes Enduro World Series and Mega Avalanche events and it was clear that the bike was clearly very capable and well specced for this sort of riding,
Frame - Whyte G150 Large 650B
Suspension - Fox Float X 150mm rear shock, Talas 150mm 34mm fork.
Wheel set - SRAM Rail 50 650B, running a set of Schwalbe Hans Dampfs, Supergravity 2.35', set up tubeless with 25psi front and 27psi rear.
Drivetrain - SRAM XX1, 36t front chainring with top guide, Shimano XTR Trail pedals.
Cockpit - Easton Haven Carbon 35mm x 800mm bar, 50mm Stem
Seating - Stealth Reverb with Prologue saddle.
Braking - SRAM XO Trail, 180mm Rotors.
It's always incredibly confidence inspiring to go into a race knowing that, barring a mechanical problem, the only restrictions on race result is down to ability as a rider and not down to any limitations of the bike. This is how I felt going into the Trans Savoie. I owe a Hugh thanks to Whyte and TORQ for their support and look forward to brining you my event report next week.