The UCI Trials World Cup is one of the most challenging competitions on the planet. But, while the resulting thrills, spills and surprises make an enthralling spectacle for audiences, what’s it like for the riders? How do they prepare? And are they able to actually enjoy the event despite the intensity of riding?
Round 1 took place in Salzburg during early July, which is where we caught up with two riders proudly sporting the rainbow jersey as 2018 UCI World Champions – Nina Reichenbach from Germany and Austria’s Thomas Pechhacker. They kindly took time out of their schedules to give us insight on what it’s really like to compete in the UCI Trials World Cup.
As you would imagine, the level of training required to be an Elite rider is intense – particularly in trials where explosive power and agility are vital attributes. Riders work on a range of fitness practices as well as spending time actually on the bike. Gym sessions, interval training and mobilisation are all key parts of a rider’s training regime and require specialists from different disciplines, as Pechhacker explains.
“I’ve worked with my physical coach Karol Serwin for three years now, but this year I've been working with Jerome Chapuis on my mental game as well. As well as those guys, there’s also my physiotherapist, a nutritionist and a specialist in sports medicine in the team.”
Training and conditioning have different focuses when the off-season swings around to the competitive, as the 20” UCI World Champion explains: “There are different phases and periods, but in broad terms, during winter you try to build up strength and the closer the season gets you try to transfer the gained strength into speed.”
Reichenbach’s strategy is very similar: “The intensity and frequency on the trials bike gets higher, the closer we get to a competition. I also change the program in the gym a little. Not so much weight anymore, but high reps to get faster.”
We ask Reichenbach about how a typical day of UCI World Cup competition pans out for her. “As the women have their race normally at 3 or 4pm, the World Cup day is quite relaxed,” she says. “I check the sections the evening before, then on competition day, I normally wake up between 8 and 9am to eat breakfast. After this, I go to the competition area to have a look at the men’s rounds and see how they deal with the sections and support friends. About three hours before the women’s competition starts, I have a small meal and then I go back to the hotel and pack all the stuff I need. Then I check the sections again and 45 minutes before the start I begin to warm up and slowly get a feeling on the bike.”
We quiz Pechhacker on what he feels is the most challenging aspect of competition. “At a World Cup everything comes together. You face extremely hard obstacles lined up in a long section, time pressures and nervousness.” He continues, “There is also a lot of mental pressure because you have to risk everything to finish at the top. No mistakes allowed. If you’re not having the perfect run, then someone else is.”
Staying focused throughout a round when things aren’t going to plan must be incredibly difficult. We ask Pechhacker if this is true. “Definitely yes!”, he replies. “That is one of the hardest parts mentally in trials. Sometimes it can even help when you know you are behind and you have to catch up so you cannot lose anything. Then you can risk everything because it is all or nothing at that point.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, the intensity of competition, even competing riders are more comrades than rivals, as Pechhacker tells us. “We support each other and even share our thoughts about lines and the best way to ride them. When someone scores well in a section it's not automatically bad for his competitors. They still have the chance to do the same or even better. We even train a lot of times together and try to learn from each other.”
Talking of tactics, we ask Reichenbach about how she approaches each course. “90 per cent of the time I ride the section just as I inspected it with my minder, but sometimes I also change things to overcome an obstacle as I ride. For example, if the run up is shorter than I expected or if I am right in front of the obstacle and think it won’t be possible to overcome it as we decided,” she explains. “Another situation is when I’m in a position that wasn’t planned – like section three in Salzburg. I fell down on the log section and then I had to improvise to get back to the course without placing a foot and losing points as a result.“
To finish, we ask both riders what they enjoy most about riding in the World Cup. “The best thing is the special atmosphere,” says Reichenbach. “You’re in a competition with so many people who share the same passion as you. Mostly it’s in awesome venues and the organisers put a lot of effort into the sections and pay a lot of attention to detail to make it a perfect competition.”
Pechhacker shares his thoughts: “There are many things – a good atmosphere, a lot of adrenaline, many people to share a victory or a defeat, meeting new people, traveling and seeing new places, meeting and riding with friends from all around the world.”
The UCI Trials World Cup continues with Round 2 taking place in the mountain resort of Vermiglio, Val di Sole, Italy, 23-25 August.