One day in Calpe at the An Post ChainReactionCycles early season training camp I was one of a group of five guests who managed to crest the Col De Rates alongside Sean Kelly and face the steep twisting descent on his wheel.
Adrian Hedderman, Alastair Irvine, Paul Butler, Johnny Carroll and I were about to experience a white knuckle ride that would match any theme park rollercoaster.
Kelly led the way. With an odd glance behind to check for traffic approaching hairpins and over the ledges to check for traffic down below we just followed the tyre tracks of one of the most fearless descenders of all time.
Screeching brakes, wheels locking up momentarily and a smell of rubber and cork brake pads burning was commonplace. The feeling of being 10% beyond your limit had heart rates and adrenaline pumping. Kelly led, we followed.
Half way down I noticed the Worlds longest ever continuous World Number 1 bounce in the saddle and take a look down at his rear wheel.
At the bottom of the descent I asked if he had a puncture. A casual reply came ‘ Yea, I felt it was a bit soft on the way down’. It was now flat as a pancake so we stopped and he changed the tube. As we chatted I asked if the Vuelta riders would be much faster than that on the way down. Kelly nonchalantly replied ‘With riders going for stage wins and GC on a closed road they would probably be going 20% faster than that.’
When I uploaded the spin to Strava our time was the 11th fastest of over 2100 riders including a number of Pros. If Kelly hadn’t punctured we may have had the KOM, or we may have had to change our shorts.
So what do you learn when descending at speed behind a great descender ?
- Do your braking before the corners
- Look up ahead where you want to go. Don’t focus on potholes or places you don’t want to go.
- Be as relaxed as possible in your upper body
- When freewheeling at high speed lock your knees around the top tube.
- Your rear brake controls your speed, your front brake stops you.
- Keep your weight on the saddle and avoid the temptation to lift slightly especially when cornering
- Descend on the drops not the hoods so that you can hold your grip if you hit a stone, pothole or cat eye
- The more you practice the better you get
- Following a rider that you trust is a great way to learn what lines to take.