Jack Ravenscroft: my MTB race weekend
21 May 2014
17 year-old Jack Ravenscroft is a member of Team Thomsons Cycles and he competes at a high level in junior cross-country MTB. In 2013 he rode several World Cup events and he represented Great Britain at the European Championships. Here in the UK he won National Series events last year.
We asked him to tell us about his MTB race preparation so that ambitious youth riders could perhaps learn from his approach. This is what he has generously shared – it’s full of common sense and wisdom, with lots of gems to help Under 14/16 youth riders race successfully.
Preparation is critical for any race, and developing the rituals of pre-riding the course effectively, fuelling well and warming up all add up to a marked improvement come race day. A well used mantra in cycling is that “the race is won or lost long before the gun goes off” and doing the right things in the time before a race makes all the training and hard work count. The following is a set of preparations which I have refined over a couple of years based on trial and error. I wouldn’t say it was perfect, nor would I say it was prescriptive: different things work for different riders and this is what works for me.
Saturday: Travel and Course Practice
If a race is longer than an hour and a half away, then I like to stay over somewhere the night before the race which means travelling on the Saturday. It’s also good to inspect the course the day before so I’ll set off early enough to be there at least two hours before the course closes. This allows me enough time to get plenty of practice in and also to allow for any mechanical mishaps that may occur. The day before the race is the time to get plenty of food and drink inside you, so in the car I’ll have some snacks such as cereal bars and some water with electrolytes in too.
Once I arrive at the course, I’ll check over my bike, especially paying attention to tyre pressures according to the course conditions and then go for some practice. I always have a plan in my mind as to how many laps I’ll ride and what I’ll do on each lap. I usually do three laps: the first lap riding it easy paying close attention to lines and any technical features, the second lap I’ll ride close to race pace to open up the system a bit and also see how the course feels when ridden quickly, and the third lap will be steady again to warm down and consolidate my confidence on the technical sections. After this I’ll go for a ten-minute warm down on the road to get rid of all the lactic from my legs.
The first priority after finishing my course pre-ride is getting changed and then eating food. You have 20 minutes to eat food after practice for it to be effective to your recovery and I usually have a couple of sandwiches and a banana as well as some recovery drink. After some food I’ll wash my bike and then it’s straight back to the hotel so I can have a shower and put my feet up in the warm. The focus now is on rest. There’s a good saying that goes “when not on a bike, if a rider is standing they should be sitting down, and when they’re sitting down they should be lying down” and this is what I’ll have in mind during the evening. I’ll have a bottle of water with me which I’ll be sipping throughout the evening and I’ll graze on cereal bars & fruit. Come dinner time I’ll have as much pasta as I can manage! The more the merrier here as dinner the night before a race really counts. Once dinner’s gone down a bit I‘ll do some stretching and then go to bed. It’s not a disaster if you can’t sleep due to pre race nerves as studies have shown that a lack of sleep the night before a race doesn’t adversely affect performance. However I like the peace of mind gained from getting a good night’s sleep.
Sunday: Race Day
Luckily for me, my mountain bike races usually begin in the early afternoon so that means that I have the morning to relax. I try to eat as much as I can for breakfast (for me this comes in the form of pasta), especially as my race is so late in the day. With breakfast I have a glass of Complan so that I can be sure that I’m getting all the right nutrients even if I’m feeling nervous and have a low appetite. Then I put my feet up for as long as possible in the hotel.
Three hours before my race I’ll have another meal – this time some noodles. Three hours before is the perfect time to eat in the run up to a race: not too close for the food to fail to be properly digested, and not too far away to leave you feeling hungry.
Once my meal is finished I’ll head out to the course and set up there: I’ll make sure that my rollers are set up correctly and make a last check of my bike as well as fill up all my bottles with electrolytes and attach gels to each. Then I’ll plan out my warm-up routine counting back from my race start time. Generally the organisers like to call riders up for gridding 15 minutes before the race start so, allowing 5 minutes to change base layers and go to the toilet if needed, that means starting the warm up 40 minutes before race start.
I use British Cycling’s World Class Warm-Up which takes 20 minutes. Before I start this I need to be absolutely ready to start the race: so I use the 20 minutes prior to the warm-up to check all this and to change into my race kit. This means I’ll start my preparations an hour before the race and from then on it’s one process after another. I like operating like this because it allows me to focus my mind fully on the race instead of having to worry about what to do or when to do it.
If I manage to follow this routine correctly I’ll be at the start line fully warmed-up and with everything in place for me to race as best I can. All that’s left for me to do is leave everything out there on the track and to nail the technical sections…