How to descend like a badass… with Team Sunweb’s Lucinda Brand
Lucinda Brand is one of the fiercest descenders in the women’s peloton, so who better to impart her pearls of wisdom on dominating on descents…?
Flying down a descent is incredibly exhilarating, but it can also be pretty petrifying if you don’t have the technique to control it. Here, Team Sunweb’s descending supremo Lucinda Brand shares her tips on how to descend like a pro…
1. Look at the bigger picture
It’s always important to look ahead of you instead of just in front of the bike - and this is particularly essential when descending. If you can anticipate things such as tight bends and hairpins, it gives you time to change your line.
If you’re descending on a road with a lot of switchbacks, this can sometimes give you the chance to cast an eye down the descent and watch for traffic that you’re going to meet on the way down.
2. Where to look while taking a corner
You see a stone on the road and you’re thinking, ‘I really want to avoid that stone’. The next minute, you’re riding over it. Why does that happen? Quite simply because you kept looking at the stone when you just needed to look where you wanted to go, rather than where you didn’t.
When taking a corner, it’s important to know where you need to look. Like our stone analogy, we have a tendency to look at the edge of the road or the outside edge of the corner where we don’t want to ride because we don’t want to ride off the edge of a road.
The solution - like with mountain biking - is to ‘look through the corner’. That basically means looking to the exit of the corner where you want to go.
I’m not saying we should all try this at home, but during one of my descending training sessions, my trainer gave us ski goggles to wear with some tape stuck across the bottom of the lens. The position of the tape forced us to look far in front of us and made me realise how often I was looking just a metre in front of my wheel. The main learning is to always look up and keep your eyes focused on where you want to ride. Do this and you’ll be gracefully sweeping down and round switchbacks in no time.
3. Don’t brake on a corner
When descending round a corner, you should never brake on the corner itself as this means a higher chance of you losing control. Instead, it’s important that you slow down to the right speed before entering the corner. This will take you into it smoothly and mean that you can come out of it with more speed.
Try to find a good balance between using your front and back brake and, if you really need to scrub some speed off before entering a corner, remember that your front brake will slow you down a lot quicker than the back.
4. Ideal line
Heard of the ‘Yellow Line Rule’? It simply means staying on your side of the road and never crossing over the centre line when you are on an open road with other users.
Keeping this in mind, as long as it’s safe to do so you can use the whole of your side of the road to take a smooth and fast corner.
When you’re taking a right-handed corner, you should start the corner as far as you can on the left side of your half of the road. You then steer smoothly into the corner so that you’re now on the right side of the road (also known as the apex of the corner) and around the middle of the corner. From that point you will be pushed to the outside again, using all the road to the left. This will make sure you can keep a higher speed.
After nailing a smooth roll through a corner, the next step is to ride all corners smoothly one after each other. To do this, you need to anticipate what’s coming up on the road so that you always enter into the corner from the outside. When you manage to achieve this flow in and out of corners, you’ve basically reached descending utopia and it will feel incredible.
5. On the drops
For more control over your bike, it’s better to descend with your hands on the drops. This may make you feel a little less stable for a start, but by being on the drops you lower your centre of gravity which helps with balance.
Your fingers also have a lot better grip on the brake levers from here, meaning you have a lot better control over brake modulation.
6. The importance of body weight
When you are descending, your weight distribution is crucial. Always push your weight down through your outside straight leg (if you’re taking a right-hand corner this will be your left leg), meaning your pedal should be in the 6 o’clock position. This improves the contact with the road reducing the chance of your bike starting to slide.
With your weight pressed down through the outside leg, you can also apply some pressure through the opposite arm (the one on the inside of the corner), into the drop of the handlebar. With this sort of weight distribution you will be slingshotting through corners in no time.
7. Body position
Your body position is very important when descending. Tucking your body in and making yourself as small as possible will make you more aerodynamic and give you a LOT more speed. Doing the opposite means you will lose it. Give yourself the chance to play around with your speed without pedalling or braking by noting the difference it makes between being tucked in and sat upright.