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Tracy Moseley interview: why young riders should see the bigger picture

22 January 2015

Tracy Moseley is one of the most versatile riders in pro cycle sport.

She has been World Champion in Downhill and Enduro MTB racing, and in the last few years she has also competed (and won!) at elite level in cross-country MTB and even in cyclocross.

We talked to Tracy just before she rode to seventh place in the elite women’s race at the final round of the cyclocross National Trophy.

She tells us why young riders shouldn’t specialise too soon, why she wants children & parents to take a longer term view, and about the support that allowed her to reach the top of cycle sport.

On specialising in a single discipline…

Q. As an elite Downhill MTB rider what led you to compete in quite different disciplines of the sport?

A. One of the reasons I wanted to branch out was to broaden my cycling experience, with a plan to then help the next generation. I’m doing it to learn – so often you get engrained in just one discipline and you don’t actually appreciate what goes in to someone else’s discipline until you’ve experienced it yourself. I’ve done that with cross-country mountain bike racing, for sure – lots of Downhillers look at cross-country and say “Oh, they can’t ride a bike downhill” but actually if you do it, and you’re trying as hard as you have to, and then you try to descend with your seat up that high: even with the skills that I have from Downhill I am shocking, because you are so tired! It’s just seeing it with a different perspective. {Ed. XC racers can’t set their saddles low for manoeuvrability & control while descending because they also need to pedal efficiently on the flat and uphill.}

One of the things I really want is to bring mountain biking back together. When I started racing in the mid 1990s you did a Downhill on your cross-country bike: you went to an event and did the cross-country race on Saturday, and then the Downhill race on the Sunday. It was one sport, and there was an amazing mountain biking community: slalom races, hill climbs, for example. Whereas now it’s so serious and specific: the Downhill national series is run independently to the cross-country one, which is run independently to the 4X series, etc..

In some cases people don’t have any idea what goes on in other disciplines. It’s not necessarily that they have no interest, it’s just that they don’t realise it exists. That’s a little bit sad. Although not everyone is going to enjoy everyone else’s discipline, for sure, but just having an appreciation for other disciplines is really important – mountain biking is such a small world that we need support through numbers to help the sport grow.

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Q. As a short-duration, power and skill-oriented Downhiller you have also managed to compete at a very high level in long-duration, highly aerobic disciplines like cross-country MTB and cyclocross. Would you encourage younger Downhillers not to specialise too early?

A. For sure. I definitely think youngsters should do more disciplines. One of the reasons that I’ve been able to manage it is that when I started racing the sport wasn’t so specialist – you didn’t get a Downhill bike and only ever use an uplift. You’d push your bike, you’d pedal up, you’d go for a ride with your mates on the cross-country bike – you’d do a bit of everything.

And that’s why Enduro is the perfect combination of everything for me now. It’s a little bit like Downhill was when I first started. The bikes are so capable, though, that we’re riding downhill stages of Enduros that are more technical than we used to race in a Downhill! The technology has massively changed what we can do.

The experience of doing different disciplines is really important for youngsters because you need a big mix of skills. You can’t just get away with being technically good for Downhill – you’ve got to have some fitness. And the same for cross-country MTB and cyclocross – you can’t just be fit, you’ve got to have good technical skills.

Mixing it up keeps it interesting at a young age. I often see youth sport getting too serious too soon, and parents pushing kids in a certain direction with Olympic success at the end of the tunnel.

How many junior World Champions have gone on to become senior World Champions? It’s very few, and I think that’s because they get pushed so much as a junior, burn out, lose the love of it. Too much too soon.

One of the things I’m hoping to do with the cycling club at home that I’m getting more involved with is to give young riders a grounding in lots of disciplines: a few doing cyclocross, get a few doing Enduros. They’re never going to be Downhill riders or Enduro riders but they’ll get a broader understanding.

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Q. Would you advocate that youth riders should not only do multiple cycling disciplines but different sports as well? No matter how keen and committed to cycling that they are?

A. For sure. If people ask me where I got my skills from, well I never had any skills training on a mountain bike. I’ve never really been coached. But I spent my childhood doing all sorts of sports, not only cycling. As a child you learn so much hand-eye co-ordination, proprioception, where your body is in space, from so many sports. That carries through into your adult years. So, as a kid, do gymnastics, go to a BMX track, do trampolining – do so many things. If you only focus on the one plane of cycling, you’ll be a one-planed person. You need to be able to react to things in a bike race. Even tennis – using that racket and ball will help movement, co-ordination and predicting things.

And as you get older you need to keep a little bit of that. Now that I’ve done so much cycling I’ve noticed that if I go running or do some team sports I’m not in good enough shape for it and I can’t adapt as quickly, so you do need to keep that balance.

Q. The flip-side is that children really want to improve their specific cycling skills and on-bike fitness so they can perform better in their particular discipline – how can they square that with spending time doing other disciplines and sports to help their longer-term development?

A. Even when kids are working on skills there still needs to be a fun element. It doesn’t feel like training then. Go and play on a skateboard at a skatepark. Go and ride at a BMX track on your mountain bike. It’s all complimentary. It can be hard to see the link, but if they can look at the bigger picture it still all does come back together. I think people will realise that if they continue doing other stuff and come back to the bike their skills won’t have gone! Continue working on specific bike skills, yes, but maybe do that once a week instead of three times, and build in other stuff around it.

Q. Was there a lot of surprise from the Downhill community when you started doing cross-country MTB and cyclocross?

A. Everyone thought I was mad! A lot of people thought “there’s a lot of pain and suffering – why would you do it?” and they thought there wasn’t enough adrenaline buzz and fun factor. But for me, I’d already spent fifteen years having so much of that – I’m getting a kick out of getting fit, putting training into effect and seeing how that works. I’m learning about how I can push my body and what I can get out of it. In Downhill I trained, definitely, but completely differently – not aerobically, and for endless hours pedalling! Last season I was trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games and I spent a lot of time training with the GB cross-country MTB squad, and I’d never buried myself like that! A Downhill race is hard but it’s done in a few minutes, whereas a cross-country race is pretty much non-stop pain for an hour and a half, plus the training before that. It’s a different pain, I guess.

I enjoy the challenge and I think I’ve got one of those personalities that always wants to have a goal, and it drives me every day to get up and do stuff.

Q. How have you found working with the cross-country riders?

A. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the cross-country guys and girls. They’re good fun. I’ve sometimes felt that I didn’t really belong to the Downhill community – it was almost a bit too cool and a bit too extreme, but I just happened to be good at it and I liked riding my bike. I’ve probably got a bit more in common with the cross-country community, so I’ve enjoyed doing some camps with them. And that’s why I’m getting slightly more involved with cross-country endurance stuff with the club, because that’s what the kids are more into where we live, because we’ve got the Malvern Hills.

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On motivation…

Q. Were you very determined as a kid too? What was it that motivated you as a young rider – the competition, seeing the world?

A. To be honest, to begin with it was success that motivated me – I was good at something so I wanted to do it again. I didn’t particularly enjoy cycling, I wasn’t passionate about the sport at all. Over time though that shifted, and it became a lifestyle and I got that cycling bug – and it’s why I’m bloomin’ here on a winter frozen Sunday morning! I don’t have to be here – I’m doing this because I know it’s good training and a good workout {Ed. we interviewed Tracy just before she competed in a round of the elite cyclocross National Trophy series}. I’ve definitely moved on from just wanting to do it for success alone.

I’ve had opportunities for travel, to meet people, and I’ve had incredible experiences – riding in the best places in the world. That just grew with my career – the more you travel, the more you want to, and so it continues. And I’m now 35 and still riding a bike and thinking “it’s got to stop soon!” but it’s fun and it’s working.

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On studying and education…

Q. You were quite academic when you were younger, taking A-Levels and doing well at university despite juggling championships with taking exams. How did you manage to combine high-level sport with study?

A. I think it comes down to organisation more than anything. It can be an amazing life-lesson to make the time for what you want.

Q. What did you sacrifice to make that work?

A. Probably my social life! You certainly can’t burn the candle at both ends if you want to be involved in a sport at a high level. But at the same time you can still have an amazing time, still have fun at uni, and still get a degree. I’m very much an advocate for kids continuing their education. I encourage the youngsters in our club to go to university. Three years at uni is nothing in terms of a cycling career, especially if it’s endurance based – most riders don’t come into their prime until later.

Even with a skill-based discipline, OK, you might miss out on a couple of opportunities but, for me, a career is about longevity – you can do much too soon. I truly believe there’s a place for education at that age. And it’s also three years of learning good life-skills like how to study, and living on your own. That’s all valuable when you’re bike racing, travelling the world, and you need to know what you’re doing.

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On the business of being a pro…

Q. How have you managed the business and commercial side of what you do while you’re training, travelling and racing?

A. It’s hard, and I kind of wish now that I’d studied marketing or business at uni. I’m not naturally a business person and I don’t enjoy that side of it. And sponsors can be more interested in your Twitter or Instagram fanbase than how many races you win! I’ve had to learn a lot of this stuff and manage it. People might think “what do you do in the winter when you’re not racing?” but that’s when you do all the training and the prep for the next season.

This winter I’ve spent a lot of time chasing sponsors and trying to find an extra few thousand for this or for that – it’s not mega-money in cycling but all those bits add up to make it affordable. You’ve got to be good at selling yourself. I’ve had to learn, and in some ways I wish I’d employed a manager in my earlier days.

At this point in my career I’m enjoying the relationships I’ve built with companies like Trek, and hopefully that will go beyond my racing career.

I’m helping out Hattie {Ed. Under 14 cyclocross silver medallist Harriet Harnden} and Evie {Ed. junior cyclocross silver medallist Evie Richards} and the cycling club at home, and it’s so nice for me to be able to put something back in. My sponsors have supported me in return.

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On the support which helped her to success…

Q. How would you describe the people around you and the support you’ve had from your earliest days – who they are and how does it work?

A. Initially it started with my brother – I learned loads riding with him, and about mechanics too. My parents were hugely supportive and they took us everywhere, but they’d never ridden bikes and they weren’t cyclists. You know what? I’m really happy about that, because they supported us 100% in anything we wanted to do but there was never an ulterior motive or pushiness about a cycling career they’d never had themselves. I felt like everything was on our terms, which was amazing.

Q. Do you think that’s an advantage, having parents outside that intense world?

A. On the one hand if you’ve got parents who know everything about it you can get great kit, they can ride with you, and help develop you. But in the end that balance is very fine…

Mum’s never been involved in any of my sponsor negotiations. My parents don’t really know half the time what’s going on, but I know that they’re there supporting me 100% for anything I decide to do, which is great. If I wanted to ask for advice they would help, but they’re not putting their oar in and complicating things.

And then I had a bit of help and funding from British Cycling as a Downhiller when the World Class Performance Plan first came in. I had a bit of coaching help on and off, nothing very structured, but I certainly learned a lot from various people within British Cycling.

Helen Mortimer was a big supporter – lending me a bike, she was a few years older than me and had a pro contract. And then a few years later in British Cycling she started helping me with my coaching, so that came full circle. Helen’s been a big help throughout my career.

And then sponsorship: I was really quite lucky that I fell straight into Volvo-Cannondale in the UK which was a really well set up youth development team. We got advice with marketing and how to handle the media. And then I was with Kona for nine years, and now I’ve been with Trek for seven years. Having those long term sponsors has been a great support.

And then for the last eight years I’ve been with James, my partner, and he’s from a racing background and has worked for various companies. He’s been my mechanic on the world circuit for the last two years and endlessly helps out with everything. I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve done in the last five or six years without him being there.

There are a lot of women who are successful in sport with a silent background partner who’s doing a lot of that support work. Often people think “What do you do? You’re lucky, you just get to go off on holiday all the time” but they don’t realise the amount of work that’s done, and the ups and downs of living with somebody whose life is their job as well.

And there’s Phil Dixon who worked for British Cycling for a while and who certainly helped me last year with some training advice. He has left British Cycling but that’s going to continue this year. That’s been really good for me, and it’s given me a bit of structure that I’d never really had with my training until these last couple of years.

You can also watch Tracy giving advice for young riders about setting up an MTB, and see her talking through the specification of her world-beating Trek enduro bike.

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1 response to:

Tracy Moseley interview: why young riders should see the bigger picture

  1. linda cantelo
    January 27, 2015

    Tracy speaks a lot of sense here – absolutely agree that first and foremost kids must have fun without pressure, my daughter (through her own choice) has raced MTB XC, CX, track and road (circuit & criterium) and ridden some technical MTB and BMX in the last year. She also runs cross country and plays netball and loves it all. Her club (Solent Pirates) encourage all the kids to avoid specialisation too young and that cycling is as much about enjoyment and friends as winning.

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