Be the best at … cross-country mountain biking

Build endurance

A typical cross-country race (about 25-30 miles) can take two hours plus, says Liam Killeen, British and Commonwealth cross-country champion. “Endurance is key,” he says, “so put in quality miles on a road bike (or put slick tyres on a mountain bike), and go off-road on a mountain bike to improve bike-handling skills. I cycle for 15-20 hours a week in winter.”

Strengthen up

You need whole-body strength, not just powerful legs. “Your core must be strong for riding uphill, your arms have to be able to absorb vibration, and good handgrip strength is vital. The elliptical trainer is good, as are exercises that use your body weight, such as pull-ups and press-ups. Aim for efficient muscles, not bulk.”

Pedal perfectly

Smooth pedalling is essential. “Apply power throughout the pedalling circle, not just on the downstroke. Perfect this with one-legged pedalling: you’ll feel a jarring if you’re not pedalling efficiently.”

Exercise control

“The best racing tactic is to pace yourself and learn the feeling of your threshold,” Killeen says. “Going hell for leather above your threshold in the first 20 minutes costs vital energy. It’s the person who can handle the pressure and still have something left in their legs in the final laps who will win.”

Sit down

“Stay seated as long as possible on climbs, to preserve energy and for better traction.”

Pick your route

Look ahead for obstacles. “We usually aim for the shortest line, but not always,” Killeen says. “Top riders sometimes take a longer, smoother route, even if everyone else has gone over a shorter, rockier route, to reduce the risk of punctures.”

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