With four Xterra world championship titles and more legendary tales than you can poke a muddy seatpost at, South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz is the icon of Xterra racing. Here are the Caveman’s ultimate bike tips for mastering cross triathlon…
LEARN THE SKILLS
Unlike fitness, which disappears after three weeks on the couch, bike skills are something that, once ingrained, stay with you forever. No matter how good a rider is, I teach the very basic MTB skills in a paved parking lot. We don’t leave the safety of the flat paved surface, until the rider has mastered the basic principals of stopping, cornering, bunny hopping, dropping off a curb, etc.
[Celebrated MTB technique instructor] Lee McCormack taught me this when I already had a handful of rainbow jerseys [from single-discipline MTB events]. Despite being an accomplished rider, I was shocked to realise that I never fully understood how a bike turns and why and how we properly move our body weight on the bike to gain free speed.
So find a reputable skills coach – or a patient friend – and learn, then master, the basics in a safe environment. As your skills grow, your confidence will grow, which will allow you to ride more advanced trails or higher speeds safely. Being a beginner (or a child) is actually a great place to start, as one learns the proper technique right from the start.
TACKLE THE HILLS
You go where you look, so look where you want your tyres to go, as opposed to staring at that big rock in the trail! The faster you go, the further you should look up the trail. Reading the trail like this gives you time to prepare for what’s coming – there’s nothing worse than an off-road surprise!
Ascending: Shift early. Because you’re looking way up the trail, you’ll have enough time to shift to an easy gear before you hit the climb. Even with the great 1 x 11 technology we have nowadays, this is key to staying on the bike and carrying momentum up steep, technical climbs.
Descending: Your centre of gravity should always be over the bottom bracket. When you go down a steep hill, move your weight back, and when climbing you want to sit on the tip of your saddle. In corners, you’ll be leaning your bike, but your body should stay centred over the BB to maximise traction.
The best riders are the ones who look like they’re not even trying to go fast. With mountain biking, it’s all about carrying speed. Old school momentum.
Rookies enter turns fast, pros exit fast. By carrying speed through rough terrain and turns, you’ll not only gain huge chunks of time, it’ll also save you much of the energy sapping acceleration needed once you hit an open pedally section.
But even the best riders have to accelerate, sometimes a lot depending on how the course flows.
For Xterra, which is basically a TT event (as opposed to the death sprint nature of MTB race mass starts), you’d like to ride with a constant effort, so when you do have to accelerate, try to roll it on smoothly, probably seated, as opposed to charging out the gate like a rodeo bull…
Mastering cornering is probably the hardest skill there is. Here are the essentials…
Look well ahead on the trail as you approach any technical section: then assume the attack position. Stand with the cranks level, arms and knees bent significantly, torso bent low, head up facing the trail. Finish braking before the corner.
As you hit the turn, in one swift movement, lean the bike (let the handlebar turn as much as it needs to, you stay on top of the BB) and turn your body to face the exit of the turn. Your eyes should be on the trail beyond the exit. Remember, it’s all about exit speed.