XC riders get a bad press for some reason, the argument being that they're just glorified roadies who can't go down hills. To be honest we can't understand this attitude - if you wanna win races then you need to be good at everything, climbing, descending, singletrack, riding bombholes - everything. Simply being quick up hills is no guarantee of success at all and the speed the top guys descend is scary, especially when you consider they're nearly all on hardtails with high saddles and low front ends. We caught up with UK National Champion Jody Crawforth to find out what the buzz is and what he feels about the current UK XC scene.
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When and why did you start riding?
I started riding when I was 14, some of my friends had mountain bikes so I wanted one!
Was winning the national champs a surprise?
It was a bit of a surprise, I knew I was going well so I expected at least a top three. I knew I could win it, but I was surprised how good I felt because my form hadn't been as good as the year before.
Were you pissed off not to get an invite to the Olympics?
I was a bit pissed off, because I feel I could have done a good ride. But at the same time, I knew the criteria for selection and I didn't get enough points to go. And it wasn't like I was ever miles ahead of the riders that went either, I won the Nationals but that was only one race and it wasn't in the selection period anyway.
You don't just ride for Evans but you work for them too - how many days a week do you work?
I work Monday to Friday, like I have done for the past two years now. Evans are quite flexible, I start early but it means I don't have to stay too late so I can go out training after work. Riding to and from work keeps me fit.
How does that fit in with training? How many hours per week do you end up training over the winter and during the season?
Sometimes I don't do as many hours on the bike as I would like, but I didn't like being a full-time rider - I got bored with not enough things to do. I can still get about 17 hours training done in a week with work which is fine for me! It gets a bit harder with a block of racing - getting things done like kit and bike washing is a bit of a hassle.
Does working make you use your training time more effectively? Do you have a coach?
I don't have a coach anymore, I know what works for me so I do it all myself. I think working makes me go out on my bike - the days I'm going to ride to work I have to leave to get to work on time, then I'm out so I have to go training which is quite easy. It doesn't feel like training, more like commuting but it still keeps me fit. Then if I have 45 minutes to go training and I want to go fast I use that time well and train really hard. So it does make things more focussed than just going out to do a couple of hours.
Would you prefer to ride full-time? As national champ have you had offers to race full-time next season?
I haven't had any offers for other teams for next season - I haven't been looking either though, as I'm quite happy at Evans, it's a fun atmosphere at races. I've had a few offers for bikes, so I'll try and get a bling race bike!
What's your strongest point as a rider?
I'm good at descending - that definitely was what helped me win the National Champs. I used to be more of a climber but over the last couple of years I've got stronger and I'm faster on the flat and up short climbs now than pure mountain goats courses!
Do you ever ride just for fun, or is it always training-training-training?
I have fun at races - when I'm racing I take it seriously but I don't enjoy it when I take it too seriously. I try and get out riding with my mates a lot, just trail riding and do trips to places like Coed Y Brenin or Afan in Wales.
What's the best thing about XC racing?
Racing against people. I used to race downhill, but it's like a time trial, I think I need other people to push me on so I got bored of that. When I win a race, I feel like it's been hard work and I've achieved something. Just finishing is a big effort.
Does it annoy you that racing gets so little media coverage?
It does sometimes, especially when Mtb racing doesn't even get coverage in the mountain bike magazines anymore! When I think about how much top footballers in the UK get paid, and then what I get, that annoys me too, but there are loads of sports people in the same boat.
Riding for a company like Evans means you must get a pretty good pick of bikes and components - what's the best product you've ever ridden?
So far since I've ridden for Evans I've had the same 2 bikes the last couple of seasons - Specialized S-Works Mtb and a Cannondale road bike. The Cannondale is ok, but I really liked the Specialized. I'm not sure what I'll ride next year yet. My Cyclo-cross bikes are pretty flash though, just standard Trek frames but Bontrager Carbon wheels which are nice bits of kit. It'd be nice to get some on my mountain bike (hint hint Mr Bontrager!)
You're still riding a hardtail - as are most top-level riders. Will hardtails always be faster than full-sussers on most XC courses?
I think most courses will favour a hardtail. I used a Trek Fuel for a season, and its ok, but doesn't feel stiff enough with the rear wheel moving. I did like my Trek soft-tail and would have one of them again, but I think hardtails will usually be best. Depends on how much more advanced the full-sus bikes get.
How much of your training is done off road? Do you do your road training on a road bike or a converted MTB (like Liam Kileen)?
I don't do enough training off-road at the moment. It's a bit difficult with work, but as I've moved to a different area I'm still finding all the decent trails. 'Cos of that most of my training is on the road, apart from racing or the odd trail ride, so I'm going to try to do more off-road. I do ride my mtb on the road though, I just use some road wheels.
Do you take a break at this time of year after the season finishes or are you racing cyclo-cross?
I would have liked to take a longer break before going into cross, I had just over 2 weeks off in the end. I'll do a full cross season as I enjoy cross (when its not strupidly muddy anyway!) then have a good rest in February. Cyclo-cross is cool there's always loads of people that go to watch as they're always near towns like the National Champs when they're at Birmingham.
What do you do when you're not riding?
When I'm not riding or at work I usually keep pretty active. I go out with friends and things, but my other hobby is my motorbike. I have a Ducati and have started doing track days which is loads of fun. It gets pretty expensive with tyres and everything but it's worth it. It helps my riding too, makes me corner better - I just think if I can get my knee down on my motorbike I must be able to go round a gravely corner at 20mph easy enough!