Downhill mountain bike racing is one of the most mentally and physically demanding sports on the planet. World Cup courses are harder than any high-level bike park trail run and would leave even the most experienced riders scratching their heads. Huge gaps, incredibly technical rock gardens, as well as bends and berms that have the same G-force as a rocket launch, make it a superhuman effort to simply get from the start gate to the finish line in one piece.
Surviving isn’t enough for the best, though. Hitting speeds of more than 65kph, they fly over all of the obstacles in their path in the blink of an eye, sprinting to the finish line while their legs scream with lactic acid, all to be in with a shot of coming away on the top spot of the podium.
One person who knows this feeling well is Laurie Greenland. The shredder from Bristol in England has one Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountainbike World Cup win to his name – at Val di Sole in Italy in 2019 – and has consistently been a top 10 finisher over the past three seasons. Preparing his body to achieve these results is no mean feat, though, and starts long before the first race of the season gets underway.
From e-biking through the winter slop to catching waves, here’s how he trains himself to tackle the toughest downhill mountain bike races around.
How do you prepare yourself physically for a World Cup season?
For the past three years, my off-season has looked pretty similar. It starts off with base strength and fitness work – lifting a little more weights and going on slightly longer rides. From there, we go into a lot of balance work – one-legged lifts and squats where you engage your core and glutes.
After this, we maintain some of that strength work but it heavily goes towards plyometrics – jumping up and down stairs and walls, and a lot of fast movements. It’s threshold work that gets me used to working with lots of lactic acid. I do interval sessions on top of that where I race through an ‘S’ on my bike. We’ve got a few tracks and we use helmet camera footage to analyse my performance. We try to reenact, say, a run of Fort William, so I know I can still be on it for the bottom jumps.
How many days a week do you train?
Each week is different. In the winter, we go off what the weather’s doing. If it’s a shocking week, I might go to the gym and see my trainer four times, but if the weather’s really good, I’ll make the most out of that and might only go to the gym once.
As frustrating as it will be for my trainer, I can never sit still – I’m always doing something. If there’s surf at the coast, I’ll be at the coast; if the dirt jump trails are dry, I’ll be at the trails. Getting me to actually sit down and be lazy is pretty much impossible. My trainer and I prioritise what sessions we really need to get done, and away from that, he knows that I’m going to be doing a lot of cross-training and exercise anyway.
Which bike do you use most in the off-season?
I use my e-bike all winter long. It really gets you through that winter bog and that coldness. It gets you out of the house even on the worst days. The amount of riding you do just skyrockets. It’s such a fun way of getting good riding in, too. You don’t have to organise or pay for an uplift or have everything super in place; you can just leave your house, do loads of hassle-free riding and have fun. Keeping it fun is super important to me.
E-bikes are so much easier than other bikes in winter, too. A lot of the climbs at home are so steep that you can only ride them in the easy gears on a non-e-bike in order not to hurt your back. Last winter, I did a lot of training on an e-bike on those sorts of climbs, pushing the harder gears. When spring came around, I rode my enduro bike a lot more and was really surprised at how much more power I had as a result.
How does your training differ once the season starts?
When I’m in Europe, most of it’s on the bike – peddling is the priority between racing. I don’t go to the gym in season. I do mostly bodyweight core and glute exercises, and it can normally be done in a hotel room. It’s mostly correcting the body at that point, making sure your core and balance muscles are working, so it’s not very strenuous. It’s about keeping on top of that base core fitness and then peddling, going out riding and making the most out of summer.
I can never sit still – I’m always doing something. Getting me to actually sit down and be lazy is pretty much impossible
Do you have a favourite training session or drill?
My trainer has a session that’s an all-around workout, and you leave with your whole body feeling it. It has a plyometric base, but it’s got some ropes and balls in there, too. You don’t need a gym for it – you just need outside space – and that’s my favourite type.
And what is your least favourite training session or drill?
My least favourite training sessions are my intervals on the spin bike, especially when they start getting to the longer effort side.
Is there anything else you do to boost your mental sharpness?
I do a lot of surfing, I feel like it’s good for your reaction speeds. Every wave’s different. You’ve got to be so quick on your toes. I think it helps a lot as you’re also in a completely different position to riding a bike. You’re really opening your chest and bending backwards. I spend so much time hunched forwards that it kind of feels like a postural correction activity as well.
What do you like doing in your downtime?
Between riding, training, surfing and a little bit of skateboarding, I don’t have that much downtime, but all that time gets put towards my girlfriend, friends and family.
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