MTB XC help me get faster

Did my first race since I was a junior on Sunday and I did a lot worse than I was expecting. Last place by a long way, I only managed 3 laps out of the 5 for my age category (Veterans 40-49) before the time cut. My fastest lap was 25% slower than the next slowest rider in my category.

I’d heard that the pace would be fierce, but was still shocked by how fast the other riders in my class were on the practice lap I was using as a warm-up. The start of the race was even faster, by the top of the first climb I’d been overtaken by all the riders from the 2 older categories (50+ and 60+). I started to gain on some of the older riders on the flatter open top section of the course but heard something clattering in my spokes and discovered the cable pinch bolt on my derailleur was loose and I was stuck in top gear. I had to run half the course pushing the bike to get back to the pits where my family were waiting with a toolkit. t took me nearly 6 minutes to get the frayed end of the cable back in the clamp and the gears working again and off I set to at least enjoy riding the course.

My technical skills are lacking and I lost a lot of time getting off to walk or riding very slowly with the brakes full-on on the steep downhill sections. I know this is inexperience because there is very little steep technical singletrack on m regular rides which are mostly open fire road into the mountains compared to the very tight and steep singletrack of the race course.

My bike is such an antique it drew a lot of comment. I ride a 1998 Marin East Peak FRS, very old school geometry, short top tube, 130mm stem, high BB. I borrowed a friends brand new Orange 5 when I visited him last summer and was amazed how much more capable a bike with modern geometry and bigger wheels was.

Things I’ll do next time
Check all the bolts on the bike are tight before the race
Strap a multi-tool under my saddle so I don’t have to walk to the pits for the sake of a 5mm hex key.
Leave a pump with my family so I can check tyre pressures after the practice lap, I was running 26"x2.2" Racing Ralphs at 25psi, it was dry and I was expecting hardpack, but it was so dry the course was blown out and I could have done with dropping the pressure to get more grip in the loose.
Practice riding log rollover, I’m fine on rock gardens but I’ve had a few crashes on slippery wooden obstacles and lacking confidence.

Lastly fitness wise I’m not sure what to do for a better performance. I’ve got a while as it will be next spring before I race again because there are only 2 more races on the Scottish calendar this year, British nationals and the Scottish Nationals.

I did 2x 12week all purpose plans over the winter and saw good increases in my numbers. My last Full Frontal results were 275w FTP 345w MAP 434w AC, I weigh 79Kg, so almost 3.5w/kg at FTP
I know that I’m going well this year thanks to Wahoo and the Sufferfest, because I’m faster up all my local hills than I have been in the 8 years I’ve lived here.


A few thoughts from experience

The all purpose plan is great, the MTB plans are better - much more NM work needed for the sprint starts and punchy climbs.

Do one skill ride per week. Practice descents, cornering, riding over roots and rocks. I usually do a moderately technical loop as a hill repeat session so I can reflect on what went well and what to improve upon on the return climb.

Modern XC bike with tires for the conditions. Specialized Ground Controls are my go-to all purpose, Schwalbe Racing Ray and Ralph combo works good for dry summer conditions.

Do more XC races and pick a few people as you competition to get a good read of their strengths and weaknesses.

Hope this helps.


Welcome to my world :slight_smile: I sadly don’t have the excuse of an old bike to fall back on… Your fitness sounds like it should get you some good results - what type of rider are you? XC doesn’t feel like a constant effort (like a TT) - more surge, recover, surge recover, etc.

Vets and grand vets are really fast, if you get chance enter categories such as sport or novice - the pointy end of these are still quick, but the lower half may be closer to where you are.
Try and find a skills training course - I’m getting myself onto one to improve technical skills - used to be OK, but a few crashes have dented my confidence so I’m aiming to build back up again. It’s impressive how much speed gets carried through corners, dips, ruts, roots etc.
Any local cyclocross races on over winter? This can help your confidence in bike handling
Do you have an option to put a dropper post on your bike? Made a big difference to me on technical steep sections.
Big wheels will help, as will modern geometry, but skill comes before that - I got beaten by a bloke on an old Proflex is a race last year…


Who Dares is a perfect workout for getting used to this.


I did a FF mid Feb that put my rider type as Pursuiter, after a 12wk all purpose plan my FTP increased by 22w, MAP +14w AC-8w(but has improved as I have had no problem completing workouts with it set to 450w based on 448w I achieved in the Trick mid March) NM +30w. My rider type is now Time Triallist which suits the type of riding I do locally which is basically 30-50minutes up cat 2 mountain straight out of my front door and back down again.

A dropper posts costs more than my bike is worth :cry: The money is probably better saved up for a 29er. I did have a 26" hardtail but that has been converted to a drop bar gravel bike for less rocky mountain riding.

I just checked and there is one CX race in the whole of Scotland this winter, I could use the gravel bike for that though right?


As long as the CX race isn’t UCI regulated, then you can use a gravel bike. You can probably even use a mountain bike

I love that this thread has started because mountain biking is such a great sport. There are so many inputs to performance. for some folks it’s overwhelming (you mean i have to work on XYZ technical skillz AND fitness?!?) but the flipside is, it means there are so, so many ways to improve.

The good news is that anyone can improve their skills, with focus and practice.

i. dedicated skills day is key. i’d do as many of them as you can, and put fitness on “maintain” mode rather than build. in addition to doing loops like Erick T, i find it helpful to do rides where i experiment with different lines, different approach speeds, different cornering techniques, etc., then compare the results. I sometimes do rides where i go as fast as possible, other times i forget about speed and try to be as smooth as possible. each type of ride has a purpose and when you start lihnkiing it all together, then you really go fast.

ii. strongly consider a lesson. I did one a few years ago and it totally changed my outlook and approach and i made more improvement in the last year and a half than i did in the preceding 15

iii. online classes like Ryan Leach connection and lee likes bikes actually can be super helpful

iv. keep doing racing. there is nothing quite like race pace and once you get used to it, it feels like everything at normal speed is happening in slow motion.

and most of all, enjoy it. it’s so much fun.


one thing i forgot to add, skills her is i think clearly your lowest hanging fruit. This is not to say that you can’t improve your fitness–i’m sure you can–but rather your fitness is probably not what’s holding you back. i’d bet there were folks in that race with same or lower FTP who were going a lot faster. And with some practice, that’s where you can be, too.

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I’m not sure what skills I can improve to stop getting dropped on double track climbs by everyone? I’ve checked on Strava and I was losing 2x-3x the time on the climbs compared to the descents. I noticed that I was catching up on the the very short steep punchy step ups, but perhaps that was because I has more AC left in the tank from TT’ing up the 2-3minute climb rather than blowing myself up and then trying to recover on the downhills?

Got it! Sorry I must have misinterpreted. I thought you were talking about being used to double track descents on your home trails. My bad.

Skillz will still be useful so that you have more energy to spend on that climb each lap, but given you were already losing ground on the first time up (right?), I agree there’s a nuance and a fitness piece.

We’re you fresh and properly warmed up? The start of XC races is the fastest part (unlike a road race), you don’t really get to ease in

The double track is likely where you are seeing multiple attacks happening - after following someone else’s wheel in the single track, the other races have some fuel in the AC tank, so it’s a matter of picking the right time to attack to take the lead into the next single track section.


Yes I was definitely fresh week before the race was like this

Monday: Sufferfest The Chores, felt good
Tuesday: went for 35m walk at lunch time, and did a SYSTM strength workout after work
Wednesday: Outdoor road ride, 1hr40m entirely in low to mid Z2
Thursday: Checked over the bike and tightened all the bolts except the one that came loose on race day! followed by a 40m Z1-easy z2 ride to check the bike was all ok.
Friday: 2 1/2hr walk with the family HR was in low z1 the whole time
Saturday: did Primers felt really good
Sunday: felt fine although Elite HRV said my readiness was 7/10 compared to 8/10 the day before, resting HR was up from 50 the day before to 57 but I assumed this was pre-race nerves.

That’s true. The places where attacks are possible will see attacks. I find you kind of have to try to stay with it and hope for the best.

@JGreengrass There is a lot of good advice in this thread and it is good that you are trying to break down your ride. I would also focus on the fact that it was your first ride in a while and with older equipment. With more racing you will figure out where to push harder and where to hold your position. The accumulated experience will also train your nervous system so that you can handle more.

For your practice races try to find an actual course on Strava and work on sections first and then gradually put the whole course together.

I started thinking about this thread again the other day while i was out MTBing and the more i think about it, the more i come back to that the fundamental issue is probably pace.

the oP said he hadn’t raced in a long time. XC race pace is really hard. Like yes the sufferfest has hard workouts but actual racing injects an energy taht is very difficult to replicate in workouts, and is unpredictable. You can look at the course profile and see where yu’re likely to have to lay down power, but it’s not like you get an interval countdown like you do in a workout.

There’s the physical aspect where you have to be prepared that folks will be gunning it wayyyyy harder than is sustainable on certain spots, doubletrack climbs are prime candidates for this. Folks hit it super hard and then plan to recover on the way down (for comparison, i did a 100 mile mtb race last july with 10,000 feet of climbing, and even in a race of that distance, dudes were attacking some climbs above FTP). This is physically taxing but also mentally.

Then there’s the skills aspect of pace where all the skills are harder to execute when youre on the limit.

Bottom line, skills days and training and all that is great, but finding opportunities for practice/B/C races will be super, super helpful


Hey JGreengrass,

as you’ve mentioned technical skills do play a large part in MTB. I was always decent on the hills and then shed time on the descents with my brakes on. That is an area to work on by doing more rides out on the trails and building confidence and skills.

As for the training it sounds like you are doing well on the that front. For a bit more specificity, perhaps mix up the training stimulus with some of the Building Blocks. You can vary what areas you focus on as MTB races require periods of virtually no pedalling followed by very hard efforts, so AC/NM may be worth targeting before the next race season.

If you want to know more you can always book a call with a coach here