Here at UKXCNews, we are in the privileged position of being able to chat with some of the UK's finest XC athletes. Last week we managed to grab a few words with UCI Elite XCO MTB racer, Hamish Batchelor from the Fluid Fin Race Team, and in the process we also managed to put some of your racing and training queries to this Elite XCO racer.
Firstly, I know you've been busy racing around Europe so thanks for taking the time out to do this...
I suppose the best place to start is right at the very beginning. For those who may not have had the chance to catch up with Fluid Fin Race Team, could you tell us a little about the teams conception and how the Fluid Fin Race Team works?
Myself (Hamish Batchelor) and my brother Seb (Sebastian Batchelor) formed the team together at the end of 2011 for the start of the 2012 season. The timing was right as I had completed my degree at university and Seb was finishing two years with an Italian team with which he’d had some bad experiences. It is something we had wanted to do for a while because we knew we could run it better than other teams we had been involved in, and also because there just aren’t many MTB XC teams in the UK, let alone ones competing on the international stage.
The best thing is that we are in control of absolutely everything – choosing which sponsors to approach and work with, the bikes and equipment, and the race calendar. It means that we often have a closer working relationship with some of the manufactures than other riders would have, and are constantly in contact giving direct feedback in a different way to the big factory teams.
Of course on the flip side it is a huge amount of physical and admin based work. Really we do the same job as four or five people within the factory and national team setups - sponsor liaison and feedback; marking activity; social media; building and maintaining the team website; race/trip planning and logistics; bike mechanics and maintenance; etc… the list goes on! Add that to all the training and recovery needed to perform well, and it can get quite intense at times. Effectively there is no time off. But on the whole it is extremely positive and it is very satisfying to have formed something from nothing.
We're fast approaching the end of the XCO racing calendar, so lets talk about how the 2014 season has gone. What were the teams goals going into the 2014, and will you be chalking this season up as a success? Any specific highlights and lowlights?
Before the start of the 2014 season we set our sights on the World Cup and effectively planned our calendar to take in the majority of the rounds, with races picked in between as preparation or smaller goals. Unfortunately, as anyone who races mountain bikes will know (!), things don’t always go to plan. We made it to round 1 in South Africa both feeling pretty good, but unfortunately Seb was cut up in one of the rock gardens and went face down which prematurely ended his day. After that we were forced to have a short break – Seb needed to recover from the injuries sustained in SA and I had to sit out the next few races to treat and rehab an on going back problem that had run on from last season and which had been exasperated by dislocating my shoulder again at the end of 2013.
Unfortunately only a few days after returning to training again with Seb, he had a huge crash which resulted in a fractured knee cap – 6 weeks of immobilization off the bike, and 3.5 months until he was fully recovered and raced again. It was frustrating as two days previous he had podiumed at a race in France. To be honest our 2014 season has been plagued by injury and illness, but by no means has it been a total disaster, and no matter what happens there is always something to be learned.
In amongst all the things out of our control we have had some good results so there are plenty of things to build on going forwards. The back-end of the season in particular has been great, and racing together again is always brilliant.
A major highlight of the year was being based in the Alsace (in France) for several weeks in the middle of the season. It is an incredible place to not only train, but also live. All round French MTB legend Tom Dietsch (current National French marathon champion) is an Alsacian local and he was kind enough to show us the best trails in his “playground”. We ended up doing a lot of training with him which was amazing – there is so much to learn from someone so experienced. I think we scared him a bit with some of our fearless (stupid?!) technical riding and I’m not sure how enthusiastic his wife was about us riding with him, but it was fantastic, and hopefully we will be back soon.
We have to quickly add fuel to the old wheel size debate. At the start of the year you made the switch to 27.5" in the form of that very desirable Merida Big Seven. How did that come about and how was the transition?
Yeah in 2012 and 2013 we were riding 26”, but as everyone knows the tech is moving forward so you have to keep up. We were pretty convinced to only go to 27.5” so that the step up wasn’t so noticeable, and also because Seb is only 169cm so a 29er is always going to be big for him – it makes sense for us to be on the same bike to keep things easy for wheels, tyres, and equipment in general.
To be very diplomatic about the wheel size debate, it’s all about what feels comfortable to each individual. If you feel faster on one bike/wheel size than another, chances are you will be. Each have positives and negatives.
Merida is one of the biggest bicycle manufactures in the World, and as you say they produce some really mean race bikes! We approached Merida UK about working together, and I suppose we were lucky that they were looking for a project at the same time, our goals and ideals aligned, and things went forward from there.
Of course there is always a transition period when switching to a new bike, and we changed a few more things to the setup than just the frames/wheel size. Merida UK were fantastic at getting the frames to us early so we could train on them a bit over winter, which gave us more time to feel totally comfortable before racing began.
Ok, so we opened it up to the nice folk of Facebook and Twitter to come up with a few questions that they would like put to Elite XC racers, like yourselves, if they had the chance.
So here goes...
Nigel Moore got in touch via Facebook and wanted to know "Will you just train for training sake or do you have different days i.e. fitness days and skills specific days?" This also ties in with a question from Paul Chappells (@papsmitt) on Twitter, who asked "how do you find time to fit in all the training?"
Sometimes yes I will just go out and ride for fun with no specific training goal – at the end of the day cycling is an enjoyable activity – especially if I feel fatigued. But of course both Seb and I do a lot of specific fitness training sessions both on and off-road. A specific skills day might fall under an easy ride, but really every time I’m riding the MTB I’ll be working on skills rather than separating everything out. We’re constantly challenging each other to ride the most technical line or hit some scary jump first.
I’m lucky enough to be able to plan my day around training most of the time at the moment, but I probably do fewer hours than most people would think so finding time to train isn’t so hard. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity – for a 1.5hr MTB race, I see little benefit in 5hr road rides for example. I think probably the biggest challenge people with full-time and intense jobs have is recovering properly rather than fitting in enough training.
Christian Smith (@alwaysapleasure) wonders "what would they [you] do on a ride the day before a race?" and also, he thought it would "be interesting to know in-race nutrition as well."
The day before is easy, it’s always a course practice day. You are dependent on the event schedule as to when you can ride and practice on the track, but I will usually get in two laps preceded and followed by a short (maybe 5-10mins) spin on the road just to warm up and down a little – usually you will have been sat in the car to get to the venue.
We are privileged to have the support of Torq for our sports nutrition so the following will be based on that. Firstly, I will have one 500ml bottle to change every lap in which there will be Torq Natural or Organic Energy powder mixed with 300-350ml of water – make sure to get the concentration right. I’ll take a gel roughly 15mins before the start and two during the race. For a 6 lap race for example, I will take a gel with bottle number 3 (lap 3) and a caffeine gel with number 5 (lap 5). Personally I prefer and find it easier to take on liquid rather than lots of solids. Quick shameless plug to say that we have a nutrition based video in the pipeline so keep your eye out for that shortly!
Before I let you get back on with the day-to-day workings of a UCI XCO MTB team, I'd just like to get your take on the British XCO scene at the minute? How do you think it compares with the rest of Europe?
This could probably be an entire article on its own, so I will try to refrain from going into too much detail! As with everything there are some really good things about the British XCO scene and some really bad.
The British National Series is pretty good in that it is consistently run, it’s easy to find information, and the rules are clear cut. This is not always the case abroad. On the other hand a lot of the courses are too tame both technically and physically for the elite fields. The tracks in Europe are steep, both up and down, and technical enough that you will have to stop to check lines in practice. Even just cruising around is challenging. In my opinion racing in the UK doesn’t prepare you well for the demands of continental European competition, at National or World Cup level.
My only other negative on the Series is that the venues feel far too remote, with little advertisement, which makes it difficult to attract spectators, new fans and riders, greater media interest, and so more sponsors (which is my next point). For example I had an old school friend and his partner come to watch and support at the National Championships this year. Turning up to a grass field in the middle of nowhere was not a good first impression on our sport. But once the racing was underway they were blown away by the athleticism and skill level through all the categories.
Even countries like Norway, Denmark, or Poland (who aren’t exactly considered mountain bike power house nations) have really challenging courses on the edge of towns, huge banners up everywhere advertising the racing, which means they get big enthusiastic crowds who line the technical sections and steepest climbs. There is no real reason why the UK can’t be the same. At the moment it is probably on British Cycling as the regional organisers don’t have the funding or infrastructure to implement big changes. I could go on longer, but I think basically that for whatever reason the federation isn’t that interested in mountain biking.
Although it may be linked, away from the National Series, MTB XC in the UK doesn’t have the same profile in the media as it does in not only continental Europe, but South Africa and the USA. The Czech World Cup is shown on six different TV channels over there. Also the major UK cycling publications tend to be focused on tech or the leisure side of the sport, rather than containing anything about XC racing. If you flick though a French magazine there is a good chance you’ll find an article on our part-time training partner Tom Dietsch – yes he is very proactive about it and a well-known character, but the publications are also interested.
Without major media coverage it is very difficult to attract big sponsors from outside the industry to the sport, which is part of the reason there are so few British MTB XC teams. If you look at a sport like motocross for example, the magazines are stuffed with racing (coverage from the GP all the way down to regional level), and as a result it attracts lots of sponsorship, there are some good teams, and thus British motocross is in a pretty healthy position.
For a number of reasons that is the way MTB XC is in the UK at the moment, but you can talk to Oli Beckinsale or Nick Craig about the heyday back before I was old enough to remember! Hopefully with sites like UKXCNews (!) we are moving forwards again and it is possible to regain that level of popularity.
To end positively I have to say the British MTB XC community is fantastic. Everybody is very friendly, approachable, and genuinely wishes each other well. That’s one of the best things about MTB XC, it is a brilliant community to be part of.
Finally, I'd just like to say a massive thank you for taking the time out to talk to us and answer our questions ... is there anything you'd like to add?
Just quickly like to say thank you Andy for the interview, and as always thank you to our team sponsors who have supported us through 2014: Merida UK, Stan's NoTubes, Fox, Continental, The Ice Co, Torq, Schmolke Carbon, Selle Italia, Polaris Bikewear, Crank Brothers, Giro, KCNC and Clee Cycles, ESI Grips, Troy Lee Designs, Curve Inc, Wolf Tooth Components, Triactive Chester, and Shimano.
Catch up with all the latest Fluid Fin Race Team News on their website - www.FluidFin.co.uk
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