We always love receiving James Shirley’s blogs, a super entertaining way to while away time. In this installment, James talks about his new bike, the speed of the EWS pack, and identifying weaknesses.
It’s difficult to start writing without a bee under the bonnet. I notice I often write about something to get it off my chest. I guess it’s kind of therapeutic. It helps me to find the positives and remember what’s important. It’s been a while since my last piece, however, because I’m too busy stoking about having a good time!
This year has been a fresh start for me. My New Year’s Resolutions were to be more relaxed and to get better at bikes. It’s hard to say exactly because I’m sure the level of competition in Enduro keeps increasing as the years go on but it seems like I’m making progress. Looking at my EWS results (ignoring the ones with massive mechanicals) since the series began in 2013 my average overall position from each season has changed in chronological order from 41st in 2013 to 52nd, 60th, 59thand 50th in 2017. My average percentage time gap to the fastest time of the day for all of the races in every consecutive season (still ignoring those with mechanicals) has gone from 10% in 2013 to 9.6%, 9.4%, 9.5% and 8.4% in 2017.
These stats suggest to me that the depth of talent and uptake of the sport increased in the first three years which is why my positions were going backwards but the percentage time gaps remained fairly constant to the winner’s time. Thus showing that my own personal ability was in keeping with the trend of progression for Enduro racing. 2016 was an average year but it looks like I’ve bucked the trend in 2017. I know it’s not by much but it still counts. The most promising thing is that I’ve had some strong stage positions this season in and around the 30s which I need to start replicating more often in the future. The other interesting point is that I use to find I was strongest on the physical pedally stages in the early years but now they are some of my weakest. This suggests to me that my fitness remained reasonably constant in the first 4 years as everyone else became stronger, fitter and more professional so now I feel like I’m playing catch up.
One notable change I made is that I now have my own coach. It’s something I never thought I could justify but I came to realise that my own knowledge and understanding of training was only getting me so far. Without having any confirmed sponsors over the winter, I accepted that this could be my last year of racing so I wanted to go big: Full EWS, Trans-BC and a training plan to get the best out of myself. Now that I’m signed up I wish I did it years ago. I’ve been working with Alan Milway from MX Fitness and my life has become much more structured and so much easier. He knows my goals and my calendar so I just do what he tells me with enough back and forth communication that we can fine tune things along the way.
Alan’s plan has a lot of variety which keeps things interesting. He is really keen on strength work but also focuses a lot on having a balanced, healthy body with good posture and proper range of movement. I’m so much more flexible now and I suffer a lot less from back ache and tight muscles than I did in the past. Perhaps the biggest difference this winter is that I spent more time on the trails than I did when I made up my own plans. Alan goes for quality over quantity with his fitness training which leaves plenty days in the week that are reserved for skills based riding. With more time on the bike comes a better understanding of handling and set-up. More time on the bike also means more time in the garage so I’ve had to step up my spanner game to maintain consistent performance with regular bike checks and suspension servicing.
Thankfully my new Identiti is hassle free. The SRAM parts are all super reliable (and even if there is a disaster then they provide the best tech support at the races anyway), the Gusset Components will last a life-time, the Halo Vortex wheels keep rolling smooth, and the frame has 5mm Allen heads all across the board which makes bolt checks a doddle. It’s amazingly simple how it all came together with the Identiti brand. Basically, one of the marketing guys read an older blog of mine and got in touch over Facebook. I’m really pleased with how our relationship has developed since then and it goes to show that at least someone other than my mum reads what I write!
As well as receiving a new bike in the last couple months, my most recent sponsor which I can now officially confirm is BBB Cycling. They supply my riding clothes, open-face helmets, glasses and various other bits and bobs including tools and pumps. I’ve always known them as a brand but I didn’t quite realise just how big the company was until I studied the catalogue. Turns out they make all kinds of good stuff! Most of their kit is aimed towards road and xc use but the plan is to start pushing more gravity orientated products and I’m excited to be a part of it. I made a visit at the main headquarters in the Netherlands to check it all out and there’s a strong, friendly vibe so let’s see where it takes us..
I have to say that I’m enjoying my own sponsored privateer set-up this year. I’m in control to do what I like and when which keeps me happy. I can see the advantage of the big teams but it’s cool to think that as the level of riding, fitness and technology keeps progressing that I am also making steps in the right direction.
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Words & Photos: Trev Worsey