Learn to descend mountain passes

By Jean Baptiste QUICLET, Pro cyclist coach

After having devoted part of your training to improving your climbing speed, it’d be a shame to lose what you gained from your efforts on an aspect which requires less physical but more technical input: the descent.
Follow our advice to gain in skill and technique so that you don’t lose time in the descent.

Material, adjustments, position...

Knowing how to go downhill well is first a question of feeling good on your bike and of gaining confidence. From then on, you’ll have to do a quick check of the general state of your bike: brake blocks, cables, tyre wear, tightening...

During the technical movement of a descent, your position on the bike is important. It’s not possible to be stable and efficient in a bend if you’re not comfortable on your bike. Check the height of your saddle, stem length... If you’re too far forward, the weight on the front wheel will be too heavy. You’ll lose manoeuvrability in your choice of line.. If you’re too far back, you risk losing the motivity of the front wheel.

During the descent, the optimal position is to be seated, leaning back slightly, hands on the bottom of the handlebars, elbows bent, head into the shoulders, and using two fingers to brake. In bends, the pedal should be up and the knee open towards the bend (for a bend towards the right, the right pedal up, the right knee open towards the exterieur). Adapt your gears to the descent, anticipate restarts by adaptating your speed rear before the bend. When you’re not pedalling because of high speed, opt for an aerodynamic position: the pelvis raised, head down and held slightly forward. Be careful, it’s no use trying and find spectacular positions which could put you in danger just for a couple of extra seconds. You must find a comfortable, efficient position which provides the best conditions for a renewed effort in the valley.

Choosing the right line

Why should you choose your line carefully? For two main reasons. For one thing, you mustn’t lose time in the bends, to go round quickly. And the descent is also a way to recover from the effort put in in the climb. The right choice of line will allow you to maintain the speed built up during the descent and to minimise the energy spent in the restarts. In general, when you approach a bend, there is a braking phase, a gear change in the case of a restart, then the choice of line which will allow you to pick up speed whilst leaving the bend, and finally a restart according to your speed.

How to choose your line ?

The choice of line comes from basic principles common to all two-wheel activities.

Several combinations of position are possible on the road in order to follow a line which isn’t necessarily shorter but quicker. It’s a choice that should be made straight away according to the environment. You can come into a bend from the inside or outside of the curve and the same coming out of the bend. (For example: Ext/ Int; Ext / Ext; Int / Int…). In general, it’s the choice exterior/interior which results in the best curve and speed when coming out of a bend.

Working on “letting go” and your confidence

In order to go downhill quickly, you have to let go and be confident. It’s impossible to turn well and gain speed if you don’t have that confidence. First, work by short sequences so that you gain confidence, then increase the difficulty. It’s no use taking thoughtless risks. The main idea is to go downhill well, without spending energy and with the best line. Your confidence and speed will then increase. If blocked by different technical factors, don’t hestitate to do other sports with a similar technical base to road cycling: mountain biking, BMX, go-karting, skiing. Sometimes everything justs clicks into place and you’ll gain minutes in the moutain pass.

Manage your restarts well

Restarting is an essential factor for going downhill well. It’s stupid to spend too much energy to restart just to gain a few seconds and arrive at the foot of the next pass with “big thighs”. A good restart can be prepared. Anticipate your gear changes. In a hairpin bend, you can go from 70 km an hour to 30 km an hour and then back to 70 km an hour. To be efficient, you have to go up by at least 3 to 5 gears at the back in order to have sufficient velocity when you come out of a curve. When turning, try to be as stable as possible. You’ll then be in the right position to stand up and to make the most of the speed coming out of the curve. Keep hands on the bottom of the handlebars so that you’re more comfortable and go down gear by gear until you reach maximum speed, and then take up an aerodynamic position again. If the bend is a long one, don’t hesitate to pedal a little and stretch your legs. Activating the muscle system helps get rid off fatigue.

In conclusion, downhill work is an integral part of your training. If you don’t have a long hill near you, in preparation for an event, work on shorter sequences which you’ll produce several times.

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