Senna on XC amateur strategy:
Start line up close to strong friends or make fast friends with others in the lineup. Understand that this will probably start like a rocket and you’ll need to explode into action at the gun. If this is a relay style long race, then obviously this starting line tactic does not apply, but with both cyclocross and mountain races the primary goal at the beginning is to get up front and stay there. Going around people in a mountain bike event is not as smooth a matter as it is on pavement. People crashing in front of you is your primary hazard, not falling. Your focus and control, at speed, is better at or close to the front. The position that you are in, up front, or in front, is that you must ride faster than everyone else, but this is easier done when the possibility of winning is in your reach. This is a superhuman effort zone for some. On wider trails, position is equalized out by stronger riding, but in singletrack and technical descents the position you are in is the one you are stuck with until trail width opens up.
Shifting and when to shift is important stuff in an XC race. Always follow these rules:
Approaching an uphill section that is not very steep but long – shift to mid ring and 1-3 in cassette. Approaching an uphill section that is very steep, but short – shift to baby ring then up the cassette all the way. Spin fast into the steep portion. STAY IN THE SADDLE. If another steep is coming, don’t shift; descend the hump in the straightest line possible, and just position yourself for a rapid spin up the next.
Better position will prevail for those riders whose control of the bicycle is more automatic, innate. Hesitation, thinking, or getting frustrated at a failed maneuver will all sap the energy. Sometimes you are riding the bicycle, while there are times when the bicycle rides you. Psychotic speed will cause a crash, while over caution or timid riding will get you last.
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