How To: Top tips from Sho-Air/Cannondale XC racers

Pro riders talk skill building, on-the-bike fueling and favorite workouts

How To
Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic.

Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic show their skills. (click to enlarge)

Pro mountain bike racers are just like you and me. Only faster. In part one of thie two-part series, Mtbr asked five riders from the Sho-Air/Cannondale team for tips on technical training, on-bike fueling, favorite (and least favorite) workouts, and more.

Our panel included Marco Fontana (@fontanaprorider), Max Plaxton (@MaxPlaxton), Keegan Swenson (@Keegels99), Stephen Ettinger (@settinger_) and Evelyn Dong (@EvDong), who we spoke to before the USA Cycling US Cup race at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California.

Part of Marco Fontana’s training formula is riding with road cyclists. Here he shows a friend how to have fun on a mountain bike.

Mtbr: How do you work on your technical skills?
Marco Fontana: To me what is really important is the economy you have when you ride your bike. The movement and the way you ride your bike—it becomes more natural so you spend less energy. This is more important than going the fastest from A to B in a particular descent. In the end, it’s a one-and-a-half hour race and you need to keep your energy to the end.

Keegan Swenson: I like to work on my technical skills by just riding my bike on technical trails, whether it be Moab-style stuff or more mountainous terrain. I also dirt jump a lot in the offseason which I think has helped me a lot.

Stephen Ettinger: I find something that scares me, and send it over and over again. I try to push myself to feel comfortable on new kinds of terrain, and I think a lot about where my body is in space and what works best.

Evelyn Dong: I chase boys around on trails. It works out pretty good.

Max Plaxton: I just ride a lot on the trails near my home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Stephen Ettinger relaxes post-ride.

Stephen Ettinger relaxes post-ride. (click to enlarge)

Mtbr: What are your favorite and most-dreaded workouts?
Marco Fontana: My favorite work is technical training. Sometimes people think riding is just riding, but if you head out on technical terrain, you train; you are practicing. In the end it’s also a lot of fun. My least favorite is power training. It helps, and you have to do it, so I do it.

Max Plaxton: My favorite intervals are mountain bike specific technical work workouts. My least favorite would be VO2 max intervals.

Keegan Swenson: My favorite interval workouts are any done on an cross-country race course, like hot laps. That way, you get some downhill mixed in and you are on your mountain bike, which is always better, then the road bike. My most dreaded interval workout would have to be the 20-minute threshold style intervals on the road bike. They’re long and tedious.

Stephen Ettinger: My favorite intervals workouts are hard, motor-pacing days. They hurt, and I always finish completely cooked, but there’s something perversely rewarding about those efforts. My least favorite interval days are the short, hard 30 second to one-minute intervals. Those are the days that I really have to go to work, and just get it done the best I can.

Evelyn Dong: I love climbing threshold workouts—I could do that all day. Throw in altitude and that makes it more fun. My least favorite? Over gear sprints. I work on leg strength in the winter with tall gear sprints. Starting in my hardest gear, I go from a standstill to an all-out sprint for 30 seconds, repeating that a few times over the course of a ride. They’re super awkward!

Continue to page 2 for more pro tips and full photo gallery »

About the author: Kristen Gross

Kristen Gross loves bikes, all sorts, and above all, XC mountain bikes. She races in the pro category and gets a lot of joy from teaching others the way of the trail as a mountain bike skills instructor—especially women who are just discovering cycling. She is a USAC-certified coach, and she runs her own freelance writing business based in Carlsbad, Calif. You’ll find her either writing or riding, bringing over 10 years experience to both. Why does she ride? To offset her addiction to Coca Cola and Lay’s Potato Chips.


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