What goes up must come down - Descending with confidence!

If you followed the Tour de France you may have picked up on discussions about French rider Thibaut Pinot and his tentative descents in the Pyrenees and Alps. A noted climber, Pinot has admitted to a phobia of descending that stems from a serious crash when he was younger – it cost him valuable minutes over the mountain stages and he eventually finished 16th overall. Emma Pooley, Olympic Silver medalist in the time trial in 2008 and world time trial champion in 2010, who is now a professional triathlete was also once terrified of descending and had to work hard to conquer her fears.

How to cycle downhill

It’s reassuring to know that even professional cyclists have their demons to fight. More reassuring still is the fact that there are steps you can take to deal with the fear and nerves when going downhill. You may even get to enjoy them – after all, a descent is the pay off after all the hard work you’ve put into a climb.

So, if you get uptight the minute you crest a hill, try our tips for descending:

  • First of all, relax! The more tense you are, the tighter you grip the bars the more difficult you will make it for yourself when you hit a bump.
  • Think about your position. Try and keep plenty of weight on the pedals. Keeping your pedals level on the straights will help with weight distribution. Riding on the drops is good technique – it makes you more aerodynamic and will create more speed, but it also helps to push your weight down over the front and back wheels which will help with traction.
  • Don’t coast all the way down. Your legs have worked hard on the climb, if you stop pedaling they could stiffen up. Keep your chain on the big ring on the front and do some pedaling even if it doesn’t make you go any faster, your legs will then be better prepared for the next effort.
  • Give yourself plenty of space if you’re riding with others. If a rider ahead of you suddenly swerves or brakes you’ll have little time to react if you’re right on their wheel.
  • Look ahead and be aware of the terrain, particularly potholes, manhole covers, wet patches, corners and cars. Anticipation is everything.
  • Position your hands so that you can quickly apply the brakes as and when needed. Even just a forefinger resting on the brakes will make all the difference.
  • Don’t be tempted to turn the handlebars when tackling a corner. Lean into the corner, putting your weight onto your inside hand and outside foot i.e outside pedal down, and keep your body upright. And keep your eyes focused on the end of the corner all the time, it will help you take the corner more smoothly.
  • Learn from other riders. If you’re out in a group it can be useful to observe and emulate those riders you know to be proficient. Likewise, you can learn a lot from watching the pros during televised events (though you might not want to try sitting on the crossbar!).
  • Want to slow down? Sit more upright, move your hands to the hoods and you’ll create drag. It’s also a safer position to be in if you’re having to brake hard.

There are a lot of things to think about when descending and you won’t necessarily crack it all at once. Practice, as the saying goes, makes perfect and having a go at descending the same hill time and time again is one of the best things you could possibly do in terms of honing your technique. Knowing the terrain means you can make small adjustments to the way you ride it each time and help you build confidence. And don’t feel you have to achieve top speed straightaway, either. It’s more important that you feel comfortable and in control of what you’re doing – once you’ve mastered your technique you can then look to speed up.

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