After a year of little riding, including two months off the bike with a broken collar bone, deputy editor Aoife Glass decided to do the mountain biking equivalent of a boot camp to get her skills back up to scratch; a women's only MTB skills holiday with Tracy Moseley. Here's her report on a week of trails, sunshine, skills coaching and fun.
Interested in joining the 2014 trip? It runs from September 20th for one week, and will give you the chance to ride with Enduro World Champion Tracy Moseley, an experience not to be missed. Visit the Bike Verbier website to drop them a line, or Tracy Moseley's website for all the info on what to expect.
Through word of mouth and recommendation, I came across a rather special opportunity: Bike Verbier, a holiday company based in the Swiss Alps, who in 2012 launched women’s only MTB coaching weeks. Not only do they provide coaching, the person coaching us would be none-other than pro-rider Tracy Moseley.
Who could resist the chance to chance to ride with, and be coached by a world champion?
Fast forward 6 months, and I’m standing with a group of women and a pile of Evoc bike bags, saying hello to Tracy (cue a wee starstruck moment of talking nonsense) and Lucy, co-owner of Bike Verbier and instigator of the women’s skills week, and finding out how it all began.
Lucy really wanted to run a girls week; it was something she’d done before, and she asked me if I’d like to come along and coach. I said ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ Although I’d done some coaching, the time constraints of racing meant I couldn’t do that much. Having Bike Verbier run everything, so I can just turn up and coach, is perfect!
Re-learning to ride
The first part of the week consisted of morning skills sessions where we went back to the basics of mountain biking, followed by afternoon rides, all devised and observed by Tracy. We were particularly lucky in that we actually had a second coach helping us; Anja Rees-Jones, another hugely experienced mountain biker.
If you think that playing around in a quarry with a load of bikes, railway sleepers and coloured cones is fun, you’d be absolutely right. I plan to do a lot more of it.
Stripping back to basics meant really exploring what you can do on your bike, in a safe flat environment. For example, playing with how far forward and how far back you can hang off your bike without it pulling up. Quite a long way as it happens, and way more than I thought.
Tracy and Anja broke everything down in a really clear, understandable way, and provided constant feedback and critiques which were invaluable; you can’t see what you're doing on the bike, and I found that my perception of what I thought I was doing often bore only a slight resemblance to what I was actually doing.
People stare at the floor, and they can’t see the terrain so they don’t know what’s coming – so keeping your eyes up and looking ahead makes a big difference. Also moving on the bike; some riders are so static, they allow the bike to dictate where they go – so the ability to be supple and move on the bike is also critical.
I’m as guilty as the rest for not spending enough time just playing on my bike, practicing these vital skills. It’s now top of my 2014 New Year's resolutions, to hone these new found techniques.
We moved our way up through increasingly technical obstacles, like drops and cornering, building our skills up again, ready to take them out on the mountain.
Let loose on the mountain
If you’ve never been in a bubble lift in the summer with a bike, it’s a slightly nerve-wracking experience. This is not really to do with the height or anything; it’s more the fact you sit inside while your precious bike hangs precariously on a hook outside the compartment. Needless to say, no-ones bike actually fell off.
Lunch was usually eaten up high at an unfeasibly beautiful spot, surrounded by wildlife and snow-capped mountains. This served a second purpose; since we had to cycle part of the way up most of the time, the lure of a foot-long baguette was a good motivator to keep pedalling. That said, I admit to giving up and walking some of the way.
And then came the descents. Swinley Forest will never hold the same allure. Once you’ve experienced a 2-hour downhill, it’s hard to get used to 2 minutes again. The dry, beautiful trails took in everything from steep rocky sections, pine-forested singletrack, rooty flat paths, and flowing trails through alpine meadows.
A lot of it was incredibly steep, and I was glad we'd spent time practising breaking technique. We rode far and fast, under the watchful eye of Tracy and her Go-Pro, and with each loose gravelly section, drop, or turn, I could feel the skills we practiced in the morning coming into play.
Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t suddenly transformed into the next pro-downhiller by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, I suddenly realised that I knew what I should be doing and how to do it, helped by feedback from Tracy, Anja and Sam (token bloke and friendly mountain guide). I didn’t succeed all the time, but importantly I was at least trying.
I was terrified a lot of the time, but in a good, thrilling way. I’m a cautious rider, and never really push myself, riding well within my limits. So far within my limits, in fact, that I don’t even try a lot of stuff that it turns out I'm perfectly capable of doing.
There’s nothing quite like having a double world champion following you down a trail calling ‘elbows out!’ to make you concentrate on your body position.
The skill and fitness level of the women in the group was amazing, and although slower than the average, my overall speed certainly increased following certain members of the group down.
When we emerged breathless at the bottom of the trails, springing out into vineyards or villages, the familiar blue van would be there ready to take us back to the chalet, and the fully deserved cake.
Evenings were spent consuming vast amounts of amazing food, talking over the days riding, comparing notes on bike kit. There were some cool pieces of clothing worn that week, and I suspect the groups collective gear shopping list was quite long by the end. Footage from the Go-Pro was poured over, another hugely useful addition to the coaching arsenal.
All of a sudden, it was Friday night, and we were sitting down to our last dinner together. Conversation turned to plans for the future, where everyone was hoping to ride and what races were going to be entered to further our newly developed skills.
I think it’s safe to say that the UK Gravity Enduro series will have a few more women competing in it next year.
As for me, I learned a huge amount. I now have a mantra when riding ‘elbows out, look up!’, and I know I can ride more technical terrain than I think I can, and keep control.
I also had the chance to meet an amazing group of women, from double world champions to lawyers to boat skippers to alpine mountain bike guides. It was a great week.