Descend like a pro with Chris Baldwin

Training day by day: stage eight

While descending recently, it occurred to Chris Baldwin, a former pro rider and now a pro coach, how little conscous thought he’d given this skill. As a pro, he always went on autopilot, relying on habits learned long ago, now ingrained into his subconscious, to get him down the hill.

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This inspired him to mentally deconstruct his technique in order to pinpoint the basics, which he explains below.

The trip down the hill can be as pivotal as the climb up. Results at the Tour de France have been held in the balance thanks to swift descending and nerves of steel. Whether you are trying to win a mountainous race, want to save energy, or just wish to get down safely and smiling, these tips will help you.

Don’t forget to check out more of our Training Day by Day features.

Chris Baldwin (pictured centre at the 2013 Tour of California) explains how to improve your descending
Chris baldwin (pictured centre at the 2013 tour of california) explains how to improve your descending:
Tim De Waele

Chris Baldwin (pictured centre at the 2013 Tour of California) explains how to improve your descending

Vision is everything

As in mountain biking, skiing and other activities, your body goes where your eyes are looking. If you stare at a ditch, guess where you’ll end up! Look ‘through’ the corner to where you want to go. It is amazing how your body will take over and get you there if your vision is correct.

Weight the outside foot

Your outside foot is like an anchor that will keep you centred and stable over your machine and keep your tyres on the ground. Learn by exaggerating, driving the ball of your foot into the pedal.

Steer with your hips, not your hands

The saddle is your leverage point from which you push the bike into the corner. Practise this by actually pushing the bike into the corner by pushing the saddle with the inside of your thigh. On a safe stretch of road, practise ‘weaving’ a slalom course using this technique.

Choose a good line  

Give yourself the least acute line through each corner by entering on the ‘outside’ of the bend, cutting to the apex or ‘inside’, then exiting through the outside. This minimises the tightness of the bend. Stay in your lane on an open road, and be safe!

While some races are won or lost on the descents, other riders use strong descending skills as a chance to conserve energy
While some races are won or lost on the descents, other riders use strong descending skills as a chance to conserve energy:
Tim De Waele

While some races are won or lost on the descents, other riders use strong descending skills as a chance to conserve energy

Get low!

Give yourself the advantage by lowering your centre of gravity. Use the drops and bend your elbows. This drops your torso closer to the ground, increasing stability. Pay attention to your head, avoid craning your neck. Instead drop your head a bit, keeping your neck in line with your spine.

Bring the attitude

As in many things cycling related, seeing success in your mind is the first step towards actual success. I always drew confidence from those around me who may have had better skills. I told myself: “If they can do it, so can I!”  Keep your visualisation and thinking positive; excessive fear will lead to a tense style and bad technique.

In future articles, Ben Day and Chris Baldwin will continue to share methods for improving your cycling, whether mental, physical or just technique related. Do you have any methods for helping your recovery? Share them with the guys on Twitter – their handle is @daybydaycoachin.

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Chris Baldwin recently retired from professional racing after 15 years. His results include two US national time trial championships, a Pam Am games silver medal and top placings in many stage races. Always a training nut and student of the sport, he now coaches with his friend Ben Day at DayByDay Coaching, sharing his experience and passion for all things cycling.