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Mountain Bike skills training with Gene Hamilton

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |July 16, 2012 11:49 PM
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Written by Epic Brewing/MTBracenews.com racer Jen Hanks

Prior to my life as an endurance mountain bike racer, I competed as an equestrian.  In fact, my accomplishments as an equestrian still far outweigh anything I have done as a pro mountain biker.   All equestrians, no matter their level, have a trainer (or coach) who not only helps train the horse but also teaches the rider how to ride the horse.  Just like a cyclist, a horseback rider cannot see what their body positioning and technique is on the horse.  This ‘coach’ serves as a set of eyes to instruct the rider into the correct body positioning.  Often a rider will ‘feel’ like they are in a certain position, however it is glaringly obvious to the coach that they are not.   It is then up to the rider to correctly practice these techniques.  The more a rider practices, the better rider they become.  I practiced a lot! 

Interestingly, when I transitioned to competing as an endurance mountain bike rider, faster riders told me all I had to do to go faster was to follow their wheel and try not to crash!  This worked to a certain point, but there came a time where my technical skills plateaued and my race times were not improving.  I wanted improvement, and just like when I was an equestrian, I was willing to work hard and practice.  If only I knew how to practice correctly.

In the fall of 2010, I had the opportunity to participate in and report for MTBRaceNews.com on one of Gene Hamilton’s renowned BetterRide clinics.  The list of downhill and cross country racers Gene has instructed through his clinics is basically a who’s who of the best technical riders in the country including Ross Schnell, Greg Minnaar, Sue Haywood,  and Sarah Kaufman.  I have personally tried to stick with Sarah on a downhill and it is a difficult feat. The clinic was taught by Andy Winohradsky, one of Gene’s highly talented instructors.  The clinic followed Gene’s BetterRide curriculum and taught proper positioning on the mountain bike and provided specific drills that could be practiced at home.  Amazingly, but probably not to Gene’s surprise, after a few months of practicing the drills learned in the clinic, I took 17% off my pre-clinic downhill time trial. 

Since then, my life has taken some unexpected turns and although I was not able to race in 2010, I did spend my time on the bike practicing the BetterRide drills and improving my efficiency through better technique.  This year, I am beyond grateful to be able to return to racing and to have the opportunity to put the skills learned in the 2010 BetterRide clinic to competitive use.   Based on my race results thus far, it is clear that my technique, efficiency, and speed have all improved dramatically.   On the two racecourses where I can directly compare pre and post clinic race times, I have improved my respective race times by two minutes and 15 minutes!  There are lots of reasons for my improvement this year, but I have no doubt that the BetterRide clinic was a significant factor! 

I am yet another highly-satisfied BetterRide participant, however, being a typical racer who is never completely satisfied with my performance, I feel there are still a few (okay probably more for a few) areas where I would like to improve my riding technique as well as learn some new skill sets.  If only I had an extra set of expert eyes to help me fine-tune these techniques.  So, I have called on Gene Hamilton again for a little bit of 1:1 time to help hone some of these skills.  I am nervously psyched, but mostly just psyched, to work directly with Gene.  I am also completely confident that I will gain invaluable skills and be provided with specific drills to practice that will directly translate to faster race times. 

Check back next week for a full report from the lesson!

 

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