Poole's three-time national mountain bike champion sets sights on fourth title (From Bournemouth Echo)
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Poole's three-time national mountain bike champion sets sights on fourth title
WHO says nice guys finish last? Mark Chadbourne is a three-time national veterans cross country mountain bike champion and one of the nicest guys you could meet. He is also the fastest you are likely to encounter on a Dorset trail.
"I’ve lived through the development of mountain biking," he says, smiling fondly at the memory of the crushingly heavy, woefully inefficient bikes of the late 1980s, and a competitive era in which the serious marked themselves from the pack by shunning rugby shorts for lycra in their search for an edge on the opposition.
"The bikes had rigid forks, and plastic brakes. They were terrible, but we persevered. How we rode with those brakes, I just don’t know. We would have crashes and spills by doing all the things that make mountain biking so good, but on bikes that were rubbish."
A successful runner frustrated by injury and rejection from the wildly oversubscribed infancy of the London Marathon, Chadbourne’s sporting passion alighted first upon windsurfing, and later on the new sport of mountain biking.
"There was a crowd of us who just followed the wind. We all wanted strong windy days, which are few and far between, and it became a case of, ‘What do you on days with no wind?’ One of the solutions was mountain biking."
The development of his career as a mountain bike racer mirrored the evolution of the sport, and as he progressed through the classes from sport to expert, races became more organised and better regulated.
Sitting in a coffee shop, pausing over a latte, smothered in layers to keep out the biting cold, Chadbourne is still readily identifiable as an athlete. His lean features mark him out as one disciplined in endurance training. With demands on his time from a full-time job and a family – whose support he readily acknowledges - he squeezes in between eight and 10 hours training a week, on road and off road, starting on a Monday with his now almost legendary turbo training sessions.
"The turbo trainer is the most effective piece of training equipment you have. It supports my racing success and has done for many years. People started to say, ‘Can I bring my bike round and join your sessions?’ and it’s just grown. It’s not a one-way street. It’s a good way for me to stay focused. I never duck the sessions because I always have a lot of people turning up. Some sessions are strength training, others are for lactic tolerance zones. It’s not just about sitting at 160bpm."
If that sounds painful, imagine how it feels. But for Chadbourne, success lies in strategies to manage pain and a psychological strength to match his physiological output. The knowledge that training miles are in the bank, that training sessions haven’t been ducked, is worth its weight in gold on race day.
"There are a lot of fit runners and cyclists around. The critical factor in being a successful racer is psychology. I had a friend who I was physically stronger than, but who would never give up. He would put himself through far more pain than I was prepared to. It became all about developing pain strategies."
Thursday nights will find Chadbourne on the road in the company of Ride stable mate, Ro Tilley, and Ro’s former protégé, Dan Lloyd, a rider from Christchurch who last year rode the Tour De France in the colours of Cervelo Test Team. Chadbourne is unstinting in his praise for Lloyd, with whom he has trained since Lloyd’s junior days, but less glowing in his assessment of road racing.
"I’m ok, but it doesn’t float my boat. Most road races are about three hours and not a lot happens until the last bit. I could have a terrible mountainbike race but bring back something from it. I have had road races and come back thinking, ‘What a waste of time’."
Chadbourne’s grueling training schedule is unlikely to ease following the arrival last year in the veterans category of two top-flight riders from the masters class. Paul Hopkins took Chadbourne’s title in 2010, but those who think he will accept defeat to a younger rider as a fait accomplis don’t know the man. When I ask if his inspiration comes from the satisfaction of knowing he has pushed himself to the limit, or from finishing ahead of his rivals, Chadbourne’s answer is emphatic.
"I’m a racer. I want to win. If I’m at the front and it’s easy, I don’t try and push myself harder. Mountain bike racing is all about being the winner. There are no lap records. If someone was to let me win with very little effort, that would be ok for a short time - pain hurts, after all – but it would be less satisfying."
Evidence of Chadbourne’s will to win can be found in the conditions in which he excels. Put simply, the more challenging the conditions, the wetter, the muddier, the more slippery, the harder he will be to beat. He says his competitive advantage lies in control of the bike, looking after his machinery, finding traction where others can’t. Ally those skills to his will to win and you have a competitive package.
Now, just weeks from the first round of the 2011 season, Chadbourne seems hungrier than ever for success. He welcomes the competition from Mark Hutt and Shaftesbury’s Paul Hopkins, but is determined not to let them have things their own way.
"The racing now is really tough. It always been tough, but before I could get a good lead and ride my own race. Nowadays, it’s as tough in the final parts of the race as it was at the start; we’re trying to jump each other, trying to find a gap. Last season, Paul was dominant, but it’s good that they have moved up.
"Being beaten gives me the incentive to come back and give it another go."
• Thanks to Tom Whild for the pics. To see them in their full glory visit Tom's Flickr page