Training and fitness: Changing times

Power meters, lycra and sports scientists. Welcome to the world of downhill mountain biking.
By Rajiv Desai

Red Bull recently embarked on Project Endurance to research the limits of an athlete's performance and a scientist's capacity to measure it. Watch the clip above to see what the scientists found when a number of professional athletes, including bikers Rebecca Rusch and Tim Johnson, took part.  We also discuss how the world of downhill and enduro is adapting to the new scientific approach.

Gone are the days when being at elite level in mountain biking meant turning up at a World Cup race, riding down a mountain and grabbing a beer on your way to the nearest party.

The rock 'n' roll lifestyle of legends such as Rob Warner and Shaun Palmer has given way to an increasing professionalism among riders and teams alike.

Taking their cue from the world of professional road cycling, downhill is becoming increasingly more scientific in its approach to training and race preparation. The off-season is certainly no holiday anymore.

Gee and Rachel Atherton employed a sport scientist/trainer in their 2012-13 off-season as both looked to move on from a frustrating year on the downhill circuit. The presence of power output meters has also been noted during practice runs at World Cups in 2013.

Former British motocross team coach Alan Milway was brought on board at Atherton Racing in November. Alan’s main role was to bring strength and conditioning sessions to gym work and on the science side to monitor and test power output and training runs.

Training camps, another feature of road racing team training, have also been introduced. These camps are tailored to both downhill and enduro disciplines with the aim of building stamina. Alan’s work continues throughout the season as well with monitoring of race fitness.

The success of such an approach is clear. Aaron Gwin has credited his work with former rider John Tomac and a fitness programme designed by former motocross rider Ryan Hughes for giving him the extra leg and lung power that has seen him dominate the downhill mountain biking scene over the last two years. The Atherton's recent run of success speaks for itself.

The new Enduro World Series requires more than just natural talent on the bike, demanding huge physical efforts along the way. More and more professional and non-professional riders are turning to road bikes in order to gain an edge over the competition. For downhill at least some might say this is a reflection of one or two less than adequate tracks on the World Cup circuit that stray too far away from the essence of 'downhill'. But why have pedals if you're not able to use them?

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