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How to Handle Rock Gardens with Grace

By Adam Marsal

Professional rider Richard Gasperotti helped junior riders from the Czech national cup to hone their technical skills. Most riders feared the rock-garden sections of some of the UCI XC tracks. Richard explains how to get over the troublesome rocks without fear or pain.

Adding rock-garden sections to the XC track design not only made races more difficult for riders but the technical segments made the races more attractive for the spectators, too. And yes, rock gardens do tend to separate the wheat from the chaff. While some XC riders complain that sharp and tyre-unfriendly rocks were intended for downhill competitors, there are about 6,5 million people glued to the TV or computer displays with every UCI XC race who think the World Cup series became more fun to watch after technical parts enhanced the show. “What works for the elite riders might work for every rider, like most of us,” Richard Gasperotti says.

Everybody can choose to join the game or get back to road cycling. (Just not to Paris-Roubaix’s Hell of the North race as it is technically a 245-km-long rock garden.) So, what could upgrade your general technical skills? This is what we learned from We Love Cycling ambassador Richard Gasperotti.

First of all, the most important key is in everyone’s head. Some riders consider a rock garden an enemy they are forced to fight. This way they build fear in their minds and struggle from the first moment they enter the zone. The closer they get to the segment, the more agitated they get and the moment of entering the technical part becomes inevitably frightening.

Accepting the difficult part seems to be a much better approach. It is similar to a drummer’s experience just before entering a transition in a song where they also must not speed up nor slow down just because the hard part is about to come. No matter how technically demanding part of the song they are in, they just need to get along with the rhythm to guide the band through the song. And that is exactly what you’d better do while riding over the rock garden.

Mountain biking

Stay relaxed as if you were riding down a decent tarmac road while distributing your body weight equally between the front and the rear wheel. If the segment is too steep, move your bottom behind the seat: that was the advice in the past. “Today, however, I recommend lowering your body over the bike and staying well balanced to avoid losing the grip between the tyres and the ground,” Richard Gasperotti says. Dropper posts owners are encouraged to take advantage of the device and drop the seat.

Before entering the zone, slow down to a comfortable speed. During wet weather, use the rear brake sensitively and forget about using the front one entirely. If there are spaces between the rocks, you can use them for braking but you should loosen the brake levers to let the wheels roll over the rocks smoothly.

Moreover, sustainable speed is your friend as with enough momentum, you can get over the rock edges easier than if you are bumping into every rock one by one. Always focus on pointing your sight to the exit, not to the obstacles as you subconsciously steer in the direction where you look.

There is usually one perfect track through the rock garden, yet Richard Gasperotti recommends finding an alternative route during the training runs to make sure you can ride through the sections even if a faster rider strips you of the preferred line during the race. Enjoy riding and remember that repeating complicated parts on and on is the best way to improve your skills even if it hurts sometimes.