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Purpose:

To identify physiological, psychological, and skill characteristics that explain performance in downhill (DH) mountainbike racing.

Methods:

Four studies were used to (1) identify factors potentially contributing to DH performance (using an expert focus group), (2) develop and validate a measure of rider skill (using video analysis and expert judge evaluation), (3) evaluate whether physiological, psychological, and skill variables contribute to performance at a DH competition, and (4) test the specific contribution of aerobic capacity to DH performance.

Results:

Study 1 identified aerobic capacity, handgrip endurance, anaerobic power, rider skill, and self-confidence as potentially important for DH. In study 2 the rider-skill measure displayed good interrater reliability. Study 3 found that rider skill and handgrip endurance were significantly related to DH ride time (β = –0.76 and –0.14, respectively; R2 = .73), with exploratory analyses suggesting that DH ride time may also be influenced by self-confidence and aerobic capacity. Study 4 confirmed aerobic capacity as an important variable influencing DH performance (for a DH ride, mean oxygen uptake was 49 ± 5 mL · kg−1 · min−1, and 90% of the ride was completed above the 1st ventilatory threshold).

Conclusions:

In order of importance, rider skill, handgrip endurance, self-confidence, and aerobic capacity were identified as variables influencing DH performance. Practically, this study provides a novel assessment of rider skill that could be used by coaches to monitor training and identify talent. Novel intervention targets to enhance DH performance were also identified, including self-confidence and aerobic capacity.

Chidley is with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent, Kent, UK. MacGregor, Martin, and Macdonald are with the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, UK. Arthur is with the School of Sport at the University of Stirling, Stirling, UK. Address author correspondence to Jamie Macdonald at j.h.macdonald@bangor.ac.uk.