Photos & words by Matt Wragg
You don't win races by just training hard. You need to train smart. The simple truth is that if you go out and hammer every day you're going to burn out and underperform when it really counts. To arrive at the “big day” in the best possible shape, rest and recovery are as important as those lung-busting interval sessions and muscle-burning gym workouts. Yet for elite athletes, rest doesn't mean sitting on the sofa in their underpants binge-watching Netflix.
The technical term for those days is active recovery, and, if they are being candid, they are the days many athletes hate most on the schedule. If you are training hard, you don't want to stop cold turkey as the body will switch into repair mode and shutdown. Once it does, it's hard to get going again - you can't just switch it on and off. So, when a rest day comes around you need to do something to keep the limbs moving and the blood flowing. The balance is that you don't want to do too much – if you overdo it's just another training day and your body won't have a chance to recover. In the past, this meant time on the indoor bike or, if you were lucky, a spin on the road bike around the flattest, most uninteresting roads you could find...
Martin has found a way to inject the most important of all ingredients into his training program - more fun. "On any rest day, you want to go for a nice recovery ride, so you just take the Force GT-E, turn on Boost mode and keep your heart rate very low," he explains. "I ride my e-bike maybe once a week or once every 10 days. For me, a classic ride would be around maybe 35, 40 kilometers and about a thousand meters of elevation. It's so refreshing to have a bike like this."
Not only is he having more fun, but he's gaining an edge too. He puts it quite simply, "You work on your skills at the same time." And with his Force GT-E, it's not just going down where he is working on those skills, "I really like to add in some very technical uphill sections because it's unique to an e-bike. I feel like when you approach a very technical uphill on an unassisted bike, you feel like you're just struggling and you're pushing a lot, which is good sometimes when you want to do some intervals, but it can't always be like that. Even if you're in great form you still need to stop, you need to have a little break to recover. But on the e-bike, I can just climb forever. I can do 500, 600 meters of elevation, no problem. And if you ride in the Boost setting, it's just so quick. The elevation you can get and the distance you can cover is pretty awesome."
Trail access is always a concern for e-bikes, something every rider needs to be conscious of. Fortunately for Martin, it's not an issue where he lives. "The trails where I live in Belgium are not so popular, so every time there is a bike in the forest, people are just happy to see someone out there riding, enjoying the forest. A lot of people complain they don't like e-bikes, but when they get to ride one of them, they're pretty awesome. I feel like it's such a good compromise to have an e-bike because you can actually go everywhere, and you have so much freedom doing it."
A worry many people have about e-bikes is the weight, but it is something Martin sees both positives and negatives in, "I feel like the added weight of an e-bike has advantages in some types of riding and, obviously, some disadvantages. For example, the trails I ride at home, especially over the winter, are extremely wet, and we have some extremely steep parts as well. With the added weight on the bike, I feel that if something goes wrong it's hard to save it or to get it back if you are out of control. I feel like with an unassisted bike, you can get away from some situations much more easily. But at the same time, I feel like the extra weight in an e-bike gives you a little bit more stability as you're going down. So, it's very interesting, and using an e-bike is quite new to me as well. I feel like it's a new challenge so it's quite exciting."
For a rider like Martin who is keen to throw himself into all kinds of mountain biking, e-bikes are just one more discipline to explore. On top of his already demanding schedule, racing a full EWS calendar, plus select World Cup DH and Crankworx races, he would like to try racing e-bikes too. "I was extremely keen to do the e-EWS this year but, unfortunately, it conflicts with other events. For example, I wanted to race in Finale, but the problem is that we have practice for the Trophy of Nations on the same day as the race. I think when they do the Valberg round, which is going to be separate from normal EWS, I'm racing somewhere else. I would have loved to do it just to discover a new format and race other people, but, unfortunately, I don't think that's going to be possible for 2020."
Martin’s Force GT-E is more than just an e-bike, it’s a new and effective training tool. Using the bike for active recovery rides, Martin can continue to hone his skills in a fun way without overexerting himself. It will be interesting to see if the new tool will pay dividends at the EWS this season. Who knows, we might even see Martin jump into a few e-races one day!