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Belgian Mountainbike Challenge – Lessons Learnt In Battle

As a cycling coach I find myself recommending events to clients, one of my coaching riders, Matt, joined me at Belgian Mountainbike Challenge, the event was part of the programme we put together to prepare him for Transalps. So here are his thoughts on the BEMC event and what it’s been like preparing for this through the season. Over to Matt ….

Standing start to Transalps:

I decided to do Transalps back in November 2016, I was excited as I’d never done a stage race like this and was keen to do more MTB (historically I’ve done more on the road). So hiring Ben as a coach was a no brainer – he has won the mixed pairs race twice at Transalps after all – this was like hiring Chris Froome to coach me for an Etape du Tour.

The first thing we did was put in some events to focus on, just looking to Transalps was too much, and so we chose the first Scott MTB Marathon in Wales in April, then BeMC, then Transalps. We also peppered in some XC races where possible.

Overall, what’s been pretty amazing is that I’ve worked up from a pretty poor winter to being in great shape going into BEMC. Sickness through November and December meant I didn’t get going until January really, and I did start to PANIC as to how I’d be able to build up the endurance base I’d need. I work with Training Peaks and remember saying “Ben – my CTL (training load) is still so low … do we need to do more?” … “No” was the response. Rather, Ben just focused me on the next week’s training. The training was hard but always doable – lots of sweet spot and threshold efforts used what time I had efficiently, I was moving on nicely. All I did was focus on the next workout, not really even the next week. This has taken all the stress out of preparing, knowing I’ve got someone who feels responsible for me getting to the start line in July in as good a shape as I can be. At the same time he’s ensured I’ve spent enough time on my mountain bike, picking up skills and getting used to riding it at the right intensity.

So I then had that wonderful moment in April when I thought the power meter was broken. My FTP (20 min power) had jumped maybe 20-30W; I was both stronger and lighter than before. Ready for BeMC. As Ben said in his Part 1 this was no normal 3 day MTB weekend away – One of the Hardest MTB stage races in Europe – with 260km and >8000m of climbing. Uncomfortably excited.

BeMC – The Battle for La Roche

We drove out on Thursday and got ourselves sorted. Going with Ben was immediately super helpful, he knows the lay of the land and how to get things done. We got our stuff sorted, did a little practise ride (even riding some of the course and doing a few efforts) and the relaxed whilst nervously browsing the following days route profile!

The event had a sensible start time of 11am on the Friday for stage 1. This meant there was time for a nice breakfast and warm up. Gridding started 30 mins before and the nervous wait began in the town. We were a long way back from the various World Champions and ProTour riders lining up with Ben, but the buzz was pretty cool, albeit mixed with nerves on everyone’s face. I tried not to get too nervous about who had the most gels in their pocket; lots of classic Euro kit helped lighten the mood.

The race start was solid but not the typical crazy MTB sprint. We went up a steep hill for 5km or so during which everyone got in the rhythm, then onwards for 82 more km. Up down, up, up, down, up, up …. So much climbing on jeep track, forest trails, and amazing descents. The day was just really hard, unforgiving and frankly relentless. I finished safely and pretty strongly, but was keen to make up some time the next day. Day 2 was the longest day (100km, 3000m climbing). I think I was even more nervous at the start of this day. It was set to be a brute. I started steadily and looked to get faster through the day.

A couple of crashes at c. 5-10km set me back but I dusted myself off, got back on, made good pace, and, despite some cramps in the last 20km, managed to move 80 odd places up the field. Day 3 was shorter but more climbing … it was supposed to be the hardest day but I went well, giving me confidence I’ve got some good endurance ahead of July.

Overall the event was incredible, and I’m already mentally committed to going next year and doing better than this year. There’s a hotel that the event starts from each day which makes it very easy. We actually rented a small property 10 mins away from town which made life very comfortable. It’s very convenient from the UK, and obviously accessible for newbie MTB riders as well as the hardcore, and the World Champions. Come join us next year!

Onwards to TransAlps:

In the past week it’s been kind of hard to focus on Transalp. My body is still repairing from a crash I had on day 2 and if I’m honest I’ve got that post event lethargy. But both Duncan and I are 100% in for Transalp so we just need to get going. It will be awesome. I spoke to Ben earlier today and again he’s made it nice and simple for me. One foot in front of the other, he’ll do the thinking, I just need to get my backside out of bed in the morning. We have 8 weeks or so to prepare. I have a good base fitness so take it week by week, day by day even, keep building and even if we only have 5-6 good weeks we’ll be in awesome shape for what will be one of the hardest weeks of riding I’ve done. Some obvious takeaways for me so far are (1) Get to the start nice and early for a warm up, do the same every day if it works (2) Drink lots – 30 seconds spent filling a water bottle pays, it really makes no sense at my level to skip water for sake of staying with a group (3) Sort your sh*t out quickly after the ride and sit down as much as you can!

It should be an awesome couple of months ahead, but whatever happens, I can say I’ve had a great year so far working with Ben Thomas Coaching. Bring on BeMC 2018!

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