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Tony Hoffman on Hitting Your Marks

January 4, 2016 by  

Joris Daudet and Connor Fields at the 2015 Grands

My past few blog posts, I’ve focused on how technology is really a cornerstone of what I do with my athletes in terms of their training and racing performance. While I put a heavy focus on training smart, getting objective information and disciplining yourself in training, these things do not create results on the track. They can, however, unlock the potential for results to be achieved. Khalen Young once told me, “No one cares what your sprint times are, how many watts your putting out or how big your squat is when you get into the gate of a AA race. I might not put out as many watts as you, but I’ll cut you off on your second pedal.”

What he told me during that discussion has stuck with me and will continue too because it’s flat-out true. I’ve watched the fastest person get quartered and the strongest person get moto’d. In fact, I remember in 2010 at the Roseville National during pro practice I was beating Randy Stumpfhauser and Sam Willoughby to the first turn (I was A-Pro at the time) and the next day I got moto’d in A-Pro. Winning and/or doing well in BMX Racing goes well beyond a fine-tuned training regimen; the work must be done on the track and executing fundamentals like proper cornering are vital.

Despite there being eight people in a main event, there are often only a few people in the main who are “racers.” Let me explain what I mean by “racer.” Racers generally keep calm in every type of situation around the track. They have excellent peripheral vision and an uncanny ability to read what others are going to do during the race, then make their decisions based upon something they know will take place before it has happened. Racers set moves up one, two and even three straightaways ahead of time because everything they do around the track is calculated and flows like the sounds of a symphony. Most of all, racers understand where they belong in a corner to either protect their position or advance in the race. A racer’s deadliest strike is often made in a corner. The perfect example of a racer? Bubba Harris, arguably one of the greatest “racers” in the history of BMX.

Racing comes natural to some, while power and grunt come naturally to others. Racing might not be your strength, but the good news in all of this is, racing can be learned. When I’m working with athletes who submit race videos for review, or if I’m in person getting footage of the rider myself, a common phrase out of my mouth to them is “hitting the marks.” Think of marks in terms of a football game where the ball is being handed off to the running back. Each lineman has a mark to hit in order for the running back to be successful in gaining yards on the field. BMX racing is exactly the same, only we are in the play every time and our opponents are a lot more unpredictable, so our reads are critical to advancing.

Corner marks are the most critical marks to hit because a lot of passing is made in corners. Below, I will break down two totally different cornering scenarios. One, where the leader fails to hit their mark and ultimately costs them a grands win, and another of an Elite main at the Grands where three “racers” hit three different marks without compromising their overall track speed.

2015 Grands - 13-14 Open MainIn the clip above, we have Jesse Welch in first and Team THoff athlete, Ryan Martin, in second (13-14 Open Main). Jesse has a comfortable two bike lead in the corner, but makes a fatal mistake I see all the time, especially in the amateur ranks, cutting the corner to soon. Corners are nothing more than giant curved ramps built to generate speed and just like pumping a transition on a skateboard in a half pipe, if you don’t execute it correctly with the proper timing, you end up losing speed. This is exactly what we see Jesse do, in route to the proper mark of the turn, he stopped three feet too soon and cut back to the third straight which eliminated his downward drive into the next straight.

Now take a look at Ryan Martin in second place. Ryan enters the turn low and ready to attack, he lets the turn pull him across and rides the top of the blue groove to about 3/4 of the turn before beginning his drive into the third straight. At this point, Ryan has a lot of turn that can be used as a downhill ramp to assist his acceleration. The gain in speed was excellent and the number one reason he made the pass on Jesse mid-way down the rhythm section. Jesse needed to continue across the turn before making his exit to hold onto his speed, he didn’t and it cost him. (Editor’s Note: Jesse shook off the Open class upset and won 14x)

Now, onto some AA Pro observations:
2015 Grands - AA ProAs little as it may appear going on here, there’s a bit more than one might think… Lets start with Joris. Essentially he has two objectives in this clip:

Close out Connor on the inside. And…

Maintain track speed with good drive in and out of the corner (over-protecting the inside would have cost him major exit speed). Looking at Connor…

You can see his first choice is to see if he can get underneath Joris but as quickly as he realizes it’s not open, you see him check up and fall in right behind Joris and getting to the top of the blue groove where he can generate exit speed. Connor is one hell of a racer and he knows that his next shot is either a pass down straight three or in the last turn.

Last, but not least, Sam’s choice is one to really take note of because, like Joris and Connor, Sam is one helluva racer. Sam, being all the way outside, is not presented with many options, so he makes his way to the top of the blue groove early in the turn and makes a direct-cut into the third straight. You might think of that move being silly because who wants to set themselves up on the outside of a straightaway? A pretty derned-smart racer in this scenario. Check this.

If Sam tucked in behind Connor he would merely be following and have nothing to work with. Sam knows Connor well enough to know Connor is thinking inside turn three go under Joris. So instead of following, he drives off the top (the top gives him a nice downward drive) of turn two early and takes a run at the outside with an objective to pass down the rhythm but I’m willing to bet he was shopping a high/low on Joris and Connor in the last turn if Connor went for it, much like Connor executed weeks before in Oldsmar as exampled below.

2015 Gator National - Elite MenThe fascinating thing about the Elite men clip from Grands is that all three racers were presented different options going into turn two and all made different line choices, but maintained their overall exit speed.

The next time you’re in a race or practice, think about your approach going in and coming out of a turn and ask yourself, “Am I generating speed or losing speed from this line?”

—Tony Hoffman

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