As cyclists we often concentrate a lot on power outputs, heart rate, average speed and even how aerodynamic our kit is. However, what's often forgotten is that cycling is a skill.
This is never more true that when descending. While your natural inclination when preparing for events, particularly those in the mountains, would be to climb more, it's also vital to make sure you can get down the other side as quickly - and safely - as possible.
In transforming himself from also ran to four-time Tour de France champion, Chris Froome also focused on improving his descending ability, to the extent that Froome can now use it as a way to attack his rivals.
To improve any skill, you need to practice it - so here, in no particular order, are my top tips to help you become a better descender.
One of the first things you need to practice is getting your line right. In order to get around corners as quickly and smoothly as you can, you need to make the corner as open as possible.
In order to do this you need to find the straightest (yet safest) line through the corner. Essentially you want to do less turning in order to maintain more speed.
To make a corner as open as possible, you need to enter on the opposite side to the direction of a bend - so, on a left-hander, you need to enter on the right of your lane and vice versa.
Then you need to try and draw a straight line between your position on the road and the exit of the corner. To make this line as straight as possible it should exit the corner again at the widest point – again on the opposite side to the corner direction.
Where this line touches the inside of the corner (or your lane on the left-hand bend) is called the apex of the corner. As you enter the corner aim for the apex and then once you hit the apex aim for the exit point. The photo above shows the peloton taking this wide-apex-wide line through a corner.
The most important point here, however, is to make sure you choose a safe line. While the peloton is able to race on closed roads and use both lanes, make sure you have clear line of sight through a corner. Don't take any risks - if you're not riding on closed roads or aren't 100 per cent sure the road is clear, stay well within your lane.
Check you can comfortably reach the brakes
This one you really need to check before you start riding. Of course, it's vital to be able to reach your brakes whenever you're on the bike - but, beyond being able to slow down, there's also an added benefit when descending.
As soon as you tense up when descending, your bike will want to stand up and go straight on. This, of course, is less than ideal when a sweeping bend is approaching.
George Scott/Factory Media
One way to ensure you say relaxed on the bike when descending is to make sure you can reach your brakes comfortably. People often forget that nowadays there is reach adjustment on just about all major groupsets. This means you can adjust the gap between your handlebars and the brake levers.
You should adjust to make sure that when you're riding in the drops and on the hoods, you can easily wrap at least your index and middle fingers around the brake lever.
Learn to use the drops
Descending in the drops over the hoods offers a number of advantages. Firstly, it lowers your centre of gravity, thereby making your bike more stable. Secondly, it gives you more leverage over the brake levers meaning you can slow down quicker.
Thirdly, it makes you more aerodynamic meaning you can go faster and, finally, it provides a more secure position, where your hands are far less likely to be bounced off the bars should you go over a bump too quickly.
Brake before the corners, not during
Every time you brake, your bike doesn’t want to do anything other than stand up straight and go straight on. Again, this is perfectly fine in the setup for a corner, but not during the corner.
You should aim to enter the corner at the pace you can safely go around it. That means doing all of your braking as you approach, then once you pass the entry point into the corner you need to release the brakes so as not to upset the bike.
If you brake as you turn through the corner you are asking for trouble - not only will it disrupt your line through the corner, but it will truly test the grip of your tyres, which are being asked to both corner and try and slow you down at the same time. Braking hard through a corner is a sure-fire way to increase the risk of crashing.
Use your body as an air brake
Not all braking has to come from your brakes, either. Your body can be used as an air-brake in conjunction with your brakes.
To do this then you can raise your torso upwards so that your back is no longer straight and the wind is now hitting your chest. This will help you slow down, but without having to move your hands out of the drops.
When descending, it's important to look ahead, rather than fixating on the road in front of your wheel. This has two main benefits, the first being that it gives you more time to spot and react to hazards in the road, whether it be oncoming traffic, a pothole, or a corner.
The second benefit - and this is really important is you want to ride safely down a descent - is due to 'target fixation'. That's when your eyes become fixed on a hazard and increases the chances of you riding into it. As a result, you should look ahead through a corner as far as you can. This will help you find the exit and flow freely through through the corner.
Press on the outside pedal to get extra grip in the corners
When you are going around a corner you should have your outside pedal at 6 o’clock and your inside pedal at 12 o’clock.
In addition, you should aim to place your weight on the outside pedal (the one in the 6 o’clock position) and lean into a corner. This is essentially pushing the bike in to the tarmac and giving you more grip.
Don’t forget to practice descending
While you might go on a ride to chase Strava KOMs or do intervals on climbs, when was the last time you went out with the goal of improving your descending?
If you really want to improve any skill, the trick is to practice it over and over. The same applies to descending. Pick routes with technical descents or even go out and repeat a certain descent over and over - this way you'll quickly learn how your bike handles and the best way to take on particular corners.
A steady training ride is the perfect chance to practice descending: pick a route with lots of downhill sections (inevitably this means you'll be doing some climbing, too) and put the skills we've run through into practice.
Finally, and most importantly, just relax. A huge part of descending well is the mental battle, and if you are holding the bars in a death grip then you are not going to be flowing down a descent.
Of course relaxing is always easier said than done so the key is to build your confidence. Again, this comes down to practice and taking the time to analyse what you are doing well, and what you can improve on.
Each time you take on a descent, try and relax a little bit more until you are flowing nicely from top to bottom. As you improve as a descender, you will start to feel more at one with the bike. Descending is one of the greatest rewards in cycling - it's way we slog our way up climbs - and being able to descend well will add a whole new layer of joy to your riding.