Mark Weir and Ben Cruz talk fitness for Enduro racing

by Andy Waterman

Excitement is brewing across the mountain biking world right now at the meteoric growth of Enduro racing as a competition format (and just so you're sure, we're talking about timed stages which are predominantly downhill biased, with non-timed climbs in between rather than "Enduro" rides) so we thought it was time someone asked the pro’s how you actually go about preparing for events as diverse as Mountain of Hell and Trans Provence.

With that in mind, we figured that while we were at Cannondale’s team get together in Italy, we should sit down with their US “over-mountain” racers, Mark Weir and Ben Cruz to talk training, pump tracks, and beer drinking – they took a while to warm up, but there’s some good stuff in here – read on
Weir in flight this week in Finale Ligure

PVTR: What sort of background is better for an Enduro rider – XC or downhill?

Enduro riding came from what we started as – trail riding. Everyone starts as a trail rider first.

Cruz: It’s what we do every day

Weir: Basically being fit to be faster than your friends

Cruz: But, without actually trying to be fit – you just got fit because you were doing it every day.

PVTR: So do you guys have a training schedule?

Weir: Hmm, just ride as much as possible

Cruz: And dig a lot of holes! Building trails, raking trails – it helps. It’s a good core workout other than pedaling.

PVTR: And I guess building trails challenges you technically as you always have something new to ride

Cruz: Yeah, if you have a problem with one kind of thing, you build it and you can practice it

(Aaron Chase enters, shouting “WELL, WELL, you guys”)

Cruz/Weir: <guffaws>

PVTR: You do some road riding though right Mark?

Yeah, I do a lot of training on the road - it’s like the mind blender. You can put your head on cruise control and be able to focus on just fitness. When you mix that with pump track and trail riding, you get what an Enduro racer really is, which is raw horsepower, a motorcycle basically.

PVTR: Do you ever do anything as serious as interval training?

Weir: Ugh, I lived in a TENT – a hypoxic tent (to simulate altitude training - Ed) with my wife and kid before Downieville the last year I did it because Adam Craig and all those kooks were in it, and I was like “I’m not going to let those losers beat me!”

Cruz: <laughing>

Weir: The road bike is pretty much what fires all your training. When you have so much fun on your trail bike, it’s actually pretty hard to train on your trail bike. You just end up going into the dead zone all the time. The road bike gives you consistency and lets you go to a different level of focus.

PVTR: You just get tired if you ride a mountain bike every day, right? You’re never really improving anything specific or doing any maximum efforts, but you’re always hovering around the redline, which just makes you tired and slow.

Right – you become 80 Per Cent Guy is what I say. You never go full-out, but you never go slow either. When you become Mr 80 Per Cent Guy, you get stalled out and you have no bottom end power.

Enduro riders need lightweight protection - Ben Cruz never goes out without his

PVTR: And what about pumptracks?

Pumptrack is like, super skill-building.

Weir: It’s skill-building, but it’s a workout too. We have a track at my house, and when I drop in in the morning, my heart rate will be like 42bpm on the tabletop; within two laps I can get my heart rate to 180, and that’s nine seconds per lap. Nothing else I have ever done can your heart rate up that quick.

PVTR: So what sort of thing do you do on the pumptrack? Like, ride it for half an hour solid or what?

Half an hour is impressive!

Weir: We did the Duncan Riffle challenge – he’s kind of a weird guy – but he challenged me to a full-on pursuit race in the backyard. It was 45mins and 18miles or something, with 1900ft of climb – we had GPS on. Forty five minutes non-stop. It was maybe the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike.

With no pedaling?

No pedaling – you couldn’t pedal, it was chainless. I lapped his ass twice!

Chase: How many minutes?

Weir: Forty five

Chase: Holy f…!

PVTR: It kinda seems that Enduro is the last form of mountain bike racing where you can still drink beer and be competitive. How long is that going to last?

Weir: Not for long if the UCI get involved!

It’s about to change.

Weir: I think the way the UCI is, and you’ve got these hungry XC and Downhill guys starving for a ride and press, and they see this as their new opportunity, but I think they’re going to be surprised when they go up against guys like Jerome (Clementz – Cannondale’s French Enduro racer) because it’s a different level. You can’t just think you’re going to do well against these guys who have done it for years.

PVTR: Sure, like guys coming from downhill, they can pretty much remember every corner, rock and root on a four-minute track, but coming into Enduro, you’re riding a lot of stuff blind. How do you practice that?

Ben and I build trails all the time and just practice that, building new stuff then just hitting it on-sight.

Cruz: Me and my friends will go up to the top of a mountain and see a ridge or something, and just hit that, or riding through the woods where there’s no trail, bunnyhopping logs at full speed and getting stabbed by branches.

So there you go – ride off road a lot, build some trails that challenge you technically, dig yourself a pumptrack and make sure to ride your road bike a lot. The hypoxic tent is an expensive optional extra, but if you want to be the best… 

Here's a (super-old) video of Weir riding his pumptrack to get you fired up. Enjoy!


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