It is vitally important to get a good start in a mountain bike race. Most mountain bike races are mass start and it is always a mad gallop to the first narrow and technical section: this is because the first riders there will not be slowed down, whereas the riders at the rear will instantly lose a lot of time as those in front of them funnel into the best line.
It is vitally important to get a good start in a mountain bike race - it is always a mass start and mad gallop
To start well you need to use your sustainable power, as you can't afford to go crazy at the start - the race is likely to be a lot longer than a 300m sprint so you don't want to be exhausted by this effort. The start also has a technical aspect, you need to position yourself at the start in the best possible place and also you need to get your feet clipped into your pedals quickly - if you are floundering around unclipped you will not be able to get pedalling!
Train for your racing starts on some regular mountain bike rides. Stop and pretend you are on a start line, with one foot on the floor. Now go! - Clipping into the pedals and powering off for 20 seconds. Repeat this four times with at least five minutes rest between efforts. Practice with different gearing too.
Mountain biking is an endurance sport and your body needs to be able to cope with the length of the race. At least some of your rides should be for the duration of the race in training. Experiment with pacing. If you are preparing for a particular event, try and replicate this in training, for example if you are likely to race in a very hilly or notoriously muddy area, practise on similar terrain. When training try and complete one long endurance ride a week, extend the duration of this ride slowly, for example by 10km (or say, 30 minutes) a week.
Mountain bike racing has less need for pure speed than other cycling disciplines
Mountain bike racing has less need for pure speed than other cycling disciplines, but it is still an important aspect if you want to be a fast racer. To be successful you'll need have at least one 'speed session' each week, This session should be shorter than your race duration but done at a faster pace. As you improve you will get faster and be able to last longer. The speed session will also be beneficial for your start.
A good speed session for a mountain biker is to complete a ten-mile time trial. Record your time and monitor your improvement. You can also do 'intervals'. Short bursts of very high speed, interspersed with periods of rest. The duration of the effort and the length of rest can be varied. You can even do 'sets' of intervals, with a longer rest period in between three to six efforts.
It's quite common to find another rider or two racing at a similar pace to your own, but who's going be first over the line? At the end of a tough race this is not necessarily the strongest rider but the toughest. If you want to improve your sprint for mountain biking then incorporate a few 8-15 second sprints, done at absolute maximum speed in the last 10 minutes of every other ride. Practise like this will improve both your physical speed and your mental strength to cope with sprinting for the finish line ahead of your rivals.
It's common to find another rider racing at a similar pace
This is an important aspect of mountain biking. Even with fat tyres and suspension, riding off road batters your body. This applies both within a ride and between training or racing sessions. After a hard uphill effort you then need to concentrate on the descents. The better your recovery, the more you will be able to concentrate on the descents.
To train for better recovery, find a small circuit with a climb that immediately turns into a technical descent. Ride the climb at a hard pace and ride hard over the summit. Practise riding as smoothly as possible, using the descent to recover. Repeat this four or five times (if you can do it more than six times, you weren't riding hard enough!)
To race mountain bikes well you need to develop good technical skills. Even if you have excellent fitness, you will be a slow racer without good technique. There are many different technical aspects, if you have a weak spot then practise this on your off road rides. For good technique and hints check the Technique
It helps be as complete a rider as possible, as this will enable you to race on different courses. Concentrate on training your weak areas and spend a minimal amount of time on you stronger areas. In any one week aim to complete at least: one good speed session, one off road ride (concentrating on technique) and one endurance ride (on or off road). Be realistic with the time that you have available to spend training and make sure you incorporate sufficient recovery time. (See Effective Training