Mountain Bike Racing Tips & Winter Training Plan

Standing there at the start of a race, one foot on the ground, the other one resting on your pedal, cocked at 3 o’clock and ready to attack at the gun, you wonder, could you have prepared better? Or maybe your 2018 season didn’t work out as planned, which has left you unmotivated and despondent about the 2019 season. Remember this: downhill and cross country mountain bike racing is fun, otherwise why bother? And by the way, have you ever wondered how much more fun it could be if you started training sooner rather than later?

Let’s go back 18 years; if you could pick Nino Schurter back then for the racer he is today, then you are a super fan. Even Nino had to start somewhere and do a little a lot of work in order to pile up the medals, trophies, rainbow striped jerseys, and Olympic medals.

Tom Ritchey explains a bit why Nino is such an extraordinary racer in this video, and in return, Nino pays his respects to Ritchey, one of the pioneers of mountain biking.

While a “Couch to Nino Schurter” mountain bike race training program would be beyond farfetched, Nino’s coach of 18 years, Nicolas Siegenthaler, explains how to get started (and restarted) for racing.

Ritchey MTB Race Winter Training

Siegenthaler is an award-winning coach and CEO of Niloo Sports Consulting, which he created in 2009 with Louis Heyer. He is an official trainer with the Swiss Olympic organization and he is the trainer for the SCOTT-SRAM MTB Racing Team. His training specialty is cross-country and downhill mountain biking, however he works with a variety of world-class athletes from various sports.

When an athlete wants to start working with a coach like Siegenthaler, the process begins with taking the time to really get to know the person, ideally in-person and never through a medium like Facebook, where identities tend to be highly curated. Though he works with a variety of athletes, Siegenthaler commented about the one thing they all had in common. 

“When they receive feedback, they don’t cheat on improving their performance,” Siegenthaler said. “They invest a lot of time and effort to become better.”

Seems simple enough: train—race—review—revise—train—race again. Given that the title of this blog implies that the path to the podium starts long before the first race of the season, for someone who wants to race in 2019 Siegenthaler recommends starting with strength training with maximum power, “jump school” (a variety of jumping techniques like one-legged, stairs, plyometric etc.), maximum power efforts (3-5 repetitions at maximum power), and cross-country skiing (or an acceptable substitute).

Here’s what mountain bike racing training looks like in Chapter 9 of "The Hunt for Glory" video series featuring Nicolas Siegenthaler.

However, let’s say you raced last season and you’re discouraged by the results, which didn’t add up the way you wanted them to, how do you rally excitement for the season ahead?

“Motivation is very close to self-confidence and self-esteem,” Siegenthaler said. “You need a good result in a small race or in a performance test. Without something concrete to show you your potential, no amount of empathy or advice on my part will have any effect on your motivation.”

Ritchey MTB Racing Winter Training

It also helps to have some sort of performance measure from the previous season in order to compare your performance at the start of the new season with the start of last season. A two- to three-percent performance progression over time adds up. For example, over an 18-year span at a rate of 2-3 percent, Nino Schurter’s progression ranges between 36-54 percent!

Taking your MTB racing (and yourself) seriously doesn’t necessarily require hiring a coach (although a coach will keep you motivated, committed, and honest) since there seems to be no limit to resources and training tools to help you improve your performance. An alternative could be to surround yourself with people that support and share your race aspirations, like a club or a team. Having a few fellow riders around who could spontaneously go for a ride at a moment’s notice will also pay dividends come race day. As a last resort, you could race yourself into shape but if you’re here reading this blog, you could wait and suffer, or you could start your summer race season right now!