In the previous mega post updates where I deployed an outpouring of inner monologue on the experience of being a mid-pack amateur racing an EWS event, the focus was pretty much on feelings and thoughts from the day. Enough of that business then, lets wrap it all up and put an ENDURO bow on it with some stats, learning’s and signature dubious advice under the guise of a Dirty tip.
Numbers people rejoice, here’s a few data points for you… Well, sort of. I’m not sure the Garmin 500 did the greatest job of collecting totally accurate data. Worth noting that of the 7 hours plus I was flailing around Vegas, only 54 minutes were timed race stages. Or about half of that if you were PRO:
- Total elapsed time – 7 hours 30 mins
- Total ride time – 4 hours 40 mins
- Total ride distance – 53km’s
- Total elevation – 2,082m
On the elevation side, I think we ended up climbing about 1800m under pedal power, with a bit of help from the Gondie to round it off. That’s a relatively solid day on an MTB… The gap in the timing is a combo of my Garmin stopping when I was going too slow/pushing on tranny’s and the chill time when getting to a stage start with some margin up the ENDURO jersey sleeve.
The biggest learnings
Ok… So a couple of things here, I could go on all day, but will try and keep it relatively tight… Yeah right… Stop me if A) These are as obvious as fuck B) You’ve heard it all before:
1. Them eyes – Dok is going to spew coffee at the screen for this one being first, but it’s the single biggest learning for me from the whole trip. If the eyes get it right, then everything else follows beautifully in a flowing symphony from there. The body gets in the right position, the braking is correct and the bike just does its job. Looking up, looking ahead, looking through the corner – Call it what you will, but for me it’s the #1 aspect of unlocking improved speed and performance. Did I nail it all the time? No, when stressed I reverted to looking right in front of me, but every time I managed to look ahead, I was rewarded with radness, which becomes its own motivation to do it more and more. It’s something that needs to be practiced and practiced until it becomes normality.
What’s the big deal about this? The mind, body and then bike will automatically go to the point the eyes are fixed on. You obviously want to rail that turn coming up, which isn’t done by looking directly into the apex of it, is it? If you want to get harmony between all your various functions and then meld that into being one with the bike, looking where you want to go is the weapon at your disposal. This is old news yes, but still something that people don’t invest enough in. Let me say this: Once you start doing it properly, you’ll know. The speed goes up, hard stuff becomes significantly more manageable and you’ll want it to become part of your life. I’m not talking about looking 1 or 2 meters ahead either, this is about looking well down the trail. Initially it’s a trust thing, but just remember that your brain has already mapped and recorded what is coming, so relax, trust the system and keep looking ahead.
2. It’s not the bike, it’s YOU – Don’t worry, I’m not about to have a Lance moment here and make some sort of outlandish claim that it’s not about my beautiful carbon fiber ENDURO slaying machine. Whilst my bike was simply awesome right across the EWS event, what I’m getting at here is that it wasn’t the key to unlocking awesomeness – I was. The bike itself is relatively set right, especially in the case of the Santa Cruz Nomad, sure, you can tweak its suspension a little here and there in a range, but ultimately it all comes back on you and the inputs you decide to give it that will tell your story.
DUH, obvious I hear you say, well, not always so. A lot of people think that if they buy this or that, it will instantly translate into speed or a result. These days, not a chance. The bike is going to do what it’s going to do, it’s about what you can make it do is the key. If you brake too much, get your weight distribution wrong, hesitate or don’t anticipate then it’s more than happy to follow you down that bank or off the side of the track like a loyal German Sheppard.
I like to buy stuff as much as the next wolf person, but this trip has reinforced to me how much I need to focus on my own riding and what I’m doing on the bike, as opposed to tweaking this part or buying those wheels. I’m not debating that high end kit provides you some incremental improvements, but nothing compared to learning to ride properly. As an example, I took the B line on stage 6 and probably lost 20 seconds maybe? Ain’t nothing I can buy or set up change I could make that would get me those 20 seconds back. Instead, it’s about less braking, weight distribution, line choice, commitment and anticipation. They’re the currency you need to be trading in if you want to improve and ride at this level.
Having said that, my bike was fucking awesome though, with no question marks here, the Nomad just lets you get on with your self improvement programme, relaxed in the knowledge its vastly superior to your own capabilities:
3. The cliché of the top 2 inches – Yes, this one has been talked about a million times, but it’s extremely relevant in this situation. Honestly, after many a practice session I sat down and asked myself why the fuck I was even there. The mental battle, and yes, it is a battle at times, is as important as your fitness and having the bike in order. Confidence is the greatest currency you can have here and its amazing what you can do with it on board. Confidence leads to commitment on the trail, which then translates directly into speed and a positively reinforcing cycle. Just remember the golden rule: The mind controls the body.
Above all – Relax, have fun and enjoy being part of an awesome event. Its rare to get to be involved with something like an EWS or even a World Cup, so just chill the fuck out and enjoy the privilege!
And finally – There are some amazingly fast mofo’s out there on Mountain Bikes… Respect it.
How to prepare
I’ve got a few firm views on this and it starts with getting out of your comfort zone ASAP – Don’t go and ride the trails you like or that make you feel good. Find out what you’re going to be up against and then find terrain that best reflects that set up. My advice is to go and locate the terrain that scares you and hit that. And then hit it again until you can ride through that fear and ride your nemesis trails with a touch of class and panache.
I’m no coach obviously, so won’t even try to tell anyone how to train for this level of event. One thing I do know, 6 weeks of effective training clearly wasn’t enough. Indeed, this was reinforced to me when Jimmy Pollard mentioned that he had been training for EWS Round 1 for 6 months… So, that gives you some idea of the commitment needed. Even if you’re not a top 5 shredder, you still want to do it justice and importantly: Be fit enough to get rad on it.
Setting aside the ENDURO training regime jokes for a moment, you do want to turn up as fit as you can possibly manage. After all, a 7 hour day is a 7 hour day no matter how many ways you try and cut it. If you’re wondering what you need to get into the top 10 in the amateur ranks, then aside from the obvious answer of “talents you’re born with“, then might I suggest these factors as a template to start with:
- Endurance of a one-day Road racer
- Fitness of an XC bandit
- Skills of a Downhill racer
See, simple! Not much to ask for at all really. Just make sure you spend a lot of time in the mountains having fun on your bike…
I’m calling practice out all on its own, as I didn’t really think through the logistics and format too well, so thought it was worthy of its own mention.
Ok, so first up, forget the spirit of ENDURO – It appeared that most of the world was in NZ about 2 months before EWS, with most of the PRO’s riding the forest to pieces and even racing there in the 2W event earlier on in the year.
With that in mind, my advice if you want to maximize on your EWS experience is to head to where the event is going to be held and well, pretty much ride everything. Yes, ride it all… become uncomfortably intimate with the terrain and surroundings to the point of it being weird for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know which trails will be the actual race course, this is more about sussing out how the terrain rolls and orientating yourself. I had an awesome time in Queenstown, but perhaps a more PRO approach would have been to spend the week in Vegas, ride all the trails, go away to chill and then come back for practice. In fact, that was probably the best approach, the problem was I made the hideous assumption I would know some of the trails, WRONG.
One caveat – Had I gone to Rots earlier and by some small miracle it hadn’t rained (unlikely given the curse), then I still would have been in for a bit of a surprise given how wet it did get pre-race. While it would have been rad to hit all the stages, they would have changed so much between then and race day, some of the value would have definitely been eroded. Having said that, I would have loved to have had at least one run down stage 1 in the dry.
Items to consider for practice:
- They can be long days – Its worth taking a good rest before official practice begins as its three long days before the race starts. Its almost like a 4 day event ultimately, so head into practice fresh and rested, not fingered
- Don’t skip – I made this mistake on stage 3, but wish I had gone and done a run on it. The trails change a lot and new lines can appear, so it’s well worth scoping it out
- Actually practice – I know this may sound obvious, but don’t make the mistake I did. Most of the time I just rode down the trail, not really slowly but not really race pace either. Adding to this folly, when I came across a bit that gave me the shits, I ended up bypassing it and moving on like a fluffy white cat from Monaco. This is the worst approach to take. My suggestion is to do a sighting lap, to learn the trail as a baseline. This may include stopping to watch others ride it as well. Then, do a race pace type run next on it if you can. You probably only have two stages per day to cover, so it’s worth seeing the trail at the pace you need to race it at. If you come across a section that fucks you, then spend some time watching how others tackle it and then replicate it. Think of it like a puzzle, there will be a way to crack it, just stay clam and work it out logically. Apart from drops, that’s just a case of having the balls/female equivalent to do it really, and sometimes standing around looking at it may not help in those scenarios. Whatever you do, DON’T leave it to race day like I did!!
- Give Zero Fucks – Practice loves an audience… Its like you suddenly became a porn star, lots of people standing around watching you working out if you’re going to nail it or blow to pieces early. I know a lot of people (me included) didn’t really like this scenario, but just think that its going to be a lot worse on race day with the horde of Romans on the sidelines, so get used to riding stuff with people watching. Just give zero fucks about being perved on is the best approach:
Some Dirty EWS FAQ’s then…
Q. Full face or open face with gogs?
A. Possibly the greatest debate known to ENDURO man, this one is well worth losing sleep over.
On one hand we have the full face option and plenty of PRO’s were rocking this action. To be fair, they were riding at speeds that pretty much demand this coverage, ask Dan Atherton. It also looks fucking cool too, so worth taking into account. Having said that, the top 5 in the PRO men all worse open face helmets… Ah, yes they did… So, perhaps that says something in its own right? I will say this though, as I sweated like a beaver wrapped in lulu lemon on the climbs, I was quietly stoked that I didn’t have my full face on…
Helmets were compulsory and no one wanted to carry two, so this invariably leads one back to being a hero in a half-shell with gogs on. So, its definitely a case of function over form, but if its good enough for a 10 time world champion, its dog food we can all eat:
Q. Can I rock it with my mates?
A. Assuming you can all even manage to get an entry, a mission in itself, I am going to say probably not. This isn’t your normal friendly weekend ENDURO scenario, no, this is fully Nek Level action. The main challenge is for amateurs, you’re sent off in alphabetical order right, which then is compounded by those nasty transition times. SO, unless you’re all rocking the same surname and share similar fitness levels, the actual logistics of riding an EWS round together can be tricky. Not impossible, but not straightforward either.
I will say this though, it would have been significantly radder to have the Gravity bro’s to roll with, all the way through practice and the race, so I would still absolutely endorse hitting it as a crew, just be realistic about how much you can hang out on race day.
Q. Would you do it again?
A. The answer to this question was a roller coaster variable over the 4 days of the event…
- End of day one of practice – No way
- End of day two of practice – yeah, this is pretty rad
- End of day three of practice – Fuck off
- End of Stage 1 – Nomad for sale
- End of Stage 7 – Is it too late to enter the rest of the series?
So, ultimately, yes, I would love to do another one… With the caveat of better preparation, like, significantly better, and perhaps work out which one would suit my riding style best. At the end of the day, I suspect they’re all intensely hard in their own unique way, but I could quite happily spend the rest of the year on the circuit… Assuming you don’t mind setting fire to your own cash.
Q. Did you need to take half the supermarket with you?
A. In the end, no… I set out with about $439.50 worth of food and genetically engineered energy products bulging out of my Evoc pack like an obscene uncle, but in the end, I didn’t need half of it. Ignoring the fact my jacket got a free unused tour of the forest, I could have saved a lot of weight by planning better. They did have a food stop in the neutral support zone, which was handy and essential for the water top up. Here are the things I couldn’t have done without though:
- 2 gels – I didn’t gel overload, but instead used them strategically, especially the caffeine one, which all kicked in at the perfect moments, so plan ahead on consumption
- Real food – Smashed some turkey slices on the transition in the shuttle and fuck that was good… After a while the bars and gels make you feel a bit cunted, so have some real food on hand and ram it in when you have a chance
- Lollies – I know that somewhere between 5.5 to 6 hours I run out of sugar and am at the border crossing into having a full melt down like a 5 year old in a Maccas playground. As such, lollies in the back pack are a key weapon and when smashed at the right time, help to see you through. Just remember the clock starts to tick to that inevitable crash post consumption, so save the processed sugary goodness to be a weapon of last resort
- 3L bladder – Yup, I drained about 6 litres of fuel across the event, it was as humid as fuck and as Lizard will tell you, I am a bit of a cunt when it comes to drinking constantly, but running out of water would have been even more of a nail in my mid pack times, so worth keeping the fuel up.
And yes, my banana got as squashed as a cunt.
Q. Come on dude, were the Tranny’s really that hard?
A. Phrasing aside, the answer to the technical question of “Was there enough time to get from stage to stage?“, is: Sort of.
In the end on average I had about 10 minutes to spare for most stage start times. The catch being on T2, where everyone I spoke to seemed to call it a cunt and confirm that they had exactly 2 minutes to spare or less. It really depended on how much post stage faffing you did and how fit you were. I did see a lot of people late or with penalties, so the best approach was to keep constantly moving. I even used the ’15 minute’ neutral tech breaks woven into the transition times to keep going and rest at the stage start. In most cases you may not know how long it is to go, so always better to be safe than sorry.
Bottom line, its not the most relaxing format and if you had a mechanical or issues then you would have been a bit under the pump to be honest. Fuck that.
So then, EWS done and dusted and time for a short break before the Trans Provence training kicks in next week, fuck I absolutely have to get properly fit for that, so its going to be a big two months or so. More on that soon…