What is an athlete? It’s a question I’ve asked many times, and when working with action sports that definition and what it applies to starts to get very grey very quickly.
Photos by Rutger Pauw (main) and Atherton Team Coach Alan Millway.
Having been lucky enough to work with world class action sports athletes for almost 15 years, I’ve been able to see different things come and go, ideas, methods and ideology. What has happened is the steady march to what I call the ‘performance professionalisation’ (one of my many made up descriptions) of action sports athletes, and World Cup MTB is no different.
The Atherton family (Dan, Gee and Rachel) were always pretty vocal about the time and effort they put into the physical and mental preparation for their racing, and of course I played my part in telling that story. It was impossible to see or read anything about Gee without mention of his ‘fitness’, whereas any interview with Peaty was conducted in a pub with a pint in front of him. Perception is greater than reality, and the reality was that all the top guys were training and preparing hard as each other – just maybe not telling anyone about it or when being interviewed made sure it was in a pub…
It was easy for me to come into WC MTB nearly 10 years ago and see the glaring preparation gaps, the training programmes built on ‘I saw someone else doing this’ and the bizarre fixation with peak power, with no understanding of what it actually means, whether it actually matters… just a peak number that looks good. Whether it was right or wrong, they were all training hard (albeit under the radar), and this was nearly 10 years ago.
Since then the riders have become much better educated in what they need from their preparation and how that actually transfers to racing. One of the many pieces I’ve written for Dirt was on strength training, and its foundation of athleticism and how riders should prepare with strength training. It was probably unthinkable to see something like that 10 years ago with the fixation on steady state aerobic work and endurance training for racers. There hasn’t been a tidal shift, because as mentioned everyone was ‘training’ even back then, it’s been much more subtle than that.