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‘Braking Down’ Mont Sainte Anne’s World Cup XCO Descent, La Beatrice

From May to June this year, I took one of New Zealand’s top junior riders on a reconnaissance trip to eastern Canada/USA to escape winter. We spent a month total riding and racing on some of the sweetest and most iconic trails on offer!

The brake power meter in all its glory before swapping rotors and heading across the pond

As part of prep for the World Championships, we spent some time getting lost amongst the freshly opened trails at Mont Sainte Anne after their own long winter. We mostly guessed where we were going from looking at Trail Forks and the odd trailside review of last year’s RedBull TV race footage. By the looks and feel of every track around, the whole area had only just escaped their own winter and there hadn’t been many wheels on the ground for a long time.

With the current buzz around the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, I was reminded of this trip and some of our data acquisition (DAQ) on the famed XCO descent, La Beatrice.

It was surprising to finally see this trail in-person after watching it for so many years on the UCI live race feed. It always looked pretty tough, but standing at the top I had new respect for every XC rider. I will happily ride a grade 5 or 6 trail on my trail bike, but I honestly cringed thinking how a whole slew of the world’s best riders were going to tackle this trail at max heart rate with a highpost and virtually bald tyres! La Beatrice really is difficult!

Here is Caleb Bottcher attacking the descent without even looking on his Santa Cruz XC bike

On this trail, being anything but aggressive will leave you flopping around and at high risk of crashing. With that in mind, it really is important to have some confidence heading in to this descent! No doubt riders lining up at worlds will have at least a few practice runs down this track, but this is just one section on a lap with many obstacles. It makes sense to learn it and move on, which is what we did.

The top XC riders are extremely skilled, but they makes mistakes, too, especially when fatigued! He is La Beatrice going a bit wrong for Anton Cooper:

Bearing this in mind, and now seeing the trail myself, I approached with a bit of caution!

For Run 1 down the trail, I rode tight and sloppy. Here is the POV with braking DAQ, followed by the app output:

(Note that the RED trace is front brake power and the BLUE trace is rear brake power)

Brake DAQ on POV from my first run down La Beatrice at Mont Sainte Anne

Brake power meter app output from Run 1 down La Beatrice at Mont Sainte Anne

This run was not good! Had it been wet, I don’t think it would have gone too well! I think the trail was a little more tricky since a post-winter line had yet to be burned in, but nevertheless it was an ugly run! There were too many points where I lightly tapped the rear brake just to check-up, and I never left off of them enough. Fortunately, the trail was relatively short–otherwise my brakes would have been at risk of overheating!

I knew that for Run 2 I need to focus more on my braking points to carry speed through the bumpy sections a bit better and thus be more smooth, so I adjusted tact for the second run:

Fixed my loose headset and reassessed my braking points for Run 2. It was faster by 3 seconds and the braking shows why.

Brake power meter app output from Run 2 down La Beatrice

You can see that I spent much less time braking, had lower brake energy, higher brake power, and was able to achieve a better Flow Score. To attain these measures, I focused on braking more sharply, and looked for more places to let off the brakes. I had much less feathering on Run 2 as well. So by taking a refined approach to braking, I was able to save around 3 seconds. These few seconds are like pennies in the bank for any XC racer, and no doubt come in handy as the race goes on… and on and on!

With those narrow tyres and loose conditions though, I still had trouble finding grip and ended up trail braking too much. For runs 3-5, I was able to ride a lot smoother by braking before the turns, but to get a really good trail braking score I would be better off with grippy tyres. Unfortunately, for XC speed, sometimes riders need to neglect a bit of control and run something lighter and less knobby!

As we all watch in awe over the next week as the best riders in the world send it down this track, bear in mind how tricky it actually is. I know I’m impressed at the number of riders heaving themselves down this on non- #enduro equipment, and I think you should be too!


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