Downhill mountain biking : An exhilarating sport for mountain bike enthusiasts

Mountain biking is a sport that combines adventure, endurance and technique. At the heart of the sport is Downhill Mountain Biking, renowned for its intensity and technical demands. After a quick overview of the various disciplines (cross-country (XC), enduro mountain biking, freeride mountain biking, etc.), delve into this world with an interview with Florent Payet, ex-professional athlete.

Mountain biker on a turn
Photo credit: Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

The origins of mountain biking

Mountain biking emerged in the 1970s as an exciting form of off-road cycling. It encompasses several disciplines, each offering a unique experience for mountain bikers.

Downhill mountain biking: Adrenalin and technique at your fingertips

Downhill mountain biking is characterised by steep mountain courses, natural obstacles such as rocks and roots, and technical sections. This discipline tests not only the riders’ physical condition, but also their skill and courage. The bikes are designed for strength and performance, with long-travel suspension and powerful disc brakes. Protective equipment, such as full-face helmets and body protectors, are essential to ensure riders’ safety.

Downhill mountain bike rider in action in the great outdoors
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

Downhill Mountain Bike Competitions and Events

This all-terrain discipline is showcased through competitions such as the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Events such as the Red Bull Rampage combine downhill and freeride, offering a high-level spectacle in breathtaking natural environments. Rigorous training is crucial in downhill mountain biking, both physically and mentally. The technical skills specific to this discipline require specialised training and strong mental resilience.

Popularity and accessibility of downhill mountain biking

With more advanced equipment and increased media coverage, downhill mountain biking is attracting an ever wider audience. Mountain bike centres offer trails adapted to different levels, making the discipline accessible to beginners and enthusiasts alike.

“Downhill mountain biking offers a unique experience”.

Florent Payet, former professional mountain bike racer

Whether it’s for competition or leisure, mountain biking attracts people who want to push themselves to the limit in a spectacular natural setting. Florent Payet was one of them!

Downhill mountain bike rider
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

So Florent, when did you start mountain biking?

“I started trial mountain biking and BMX in 1998 in Réunion island, my homeland. I quickly switched to downhill because I was looking for more speed and more scope for progression. This experience, particularly in BMX, has been beneficial in terms of speed, daring and technique”.

What did you do next?

“My first French Championship was in 2004. I then moved to mainland France to focus on my sporting career. This choice paid off, as I won major competitions in Europe and took part in the World Cup before joining the French national team. Along the way, I scored numerous top 10 finishes at world championships. The real breakthrough came in 2016 when I won a bronze medal at the World Championships, which enabled me to join my first professional team the following year. Finally, I decided to end my active career in 2022”.

Professional mountain biker on the podium after a competition
Florent Payet, on the UCI World Cup podium. Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin
Professional MTB rider at the Red Bull Hardline
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

How has downhill mountain biking evolved since you started out?

“In the 90s, there was a lot of money invested in this fledgling discipline. After a complicated period, the sport has reinvented itself and has taken off again since 2014-2015, notably with better media coverage and the arrival of extreme sports giants like Red Bull”.

On that subject, the Red Bull events are outside the federal framework. Have you ever taken part?

“Absolutely! I rode at the Red Bull Hardline, a very difficult and ultra-technical downhill race with big jumps and rocky terrain. These events are a great opportunity for riders to be seen. For example, the Red Bull Rampage only takes place once a year and attracts a lot of media attention, which helps to promote the sport”.

And what are Florent Payet’s current hats?

“I work for the Scott DH factory team, a private team sponsored by Scott. I’m responsible for the smooth running of the structure and manage communications, in particular by producing video projects. But above all, my key role is to share my knowledge of physical preparation and my experience of race strategy. My background as a racer is essential because it gives credibility to my work. My role as team manager is to coach the riders so that they can concentrate on their sport”.

Supervisor and trainer on the phone
Florent Payet Photo credit: Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin
Mountain Bike rider in the air during a competition
Photo credit: Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

Let’s talk practice. How can physical preparation reduce the risk of injury?

“There is obviously a correlation between poor physical preparation and injury. A poorly prepared athlete tires more quickly, which increases the risk of losing concentration. In our sport, this can lead to mistakes or a lack of reactivity in critical situations. However, it is also important not to over-train, as this can lead to extreme fatigue and the same risks. Hence the importance of being well supervised”.

How do athletes manage the risks mentally?

“This is a crucial part of the preparation. Drivers need to know their limits and try to approach them without exceeding them. This requires a lot of mental work. During a race, they may have to push their limits, but at this stage, their body is generally ready and reactive thanks to training”.

Mountain Bike rider in action
Florent Payet Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin

How can the right insurance help drivers in this high-risk sport?

“A specialist in sports insurance can cover medical expenses incurred in the event of injury, especially during international competitions for foreigners. We’re talking about thousands of euros to be spent by the rider on repatriation, medical transport and/or treatment costs. If I had known about the existence of such insurance earlier, I would certainly have opted for better cover. Let’s take the example of an accident in Switzerland. If you’re injured during a race in Switzerland, you could have to pay more than €500 out of your own pocket for transport, treatment costs, etc. There are then huge procedures to follow. There are then huge administrative procedures to recover this amount. The solutions offered by Assure Ton Sport are optimal, with high levels of cover and packs tailored to your sporting activity, covering all possible costs. Whether you’re a pro or an amateur, it’s always good to be insured, especially in the mountains. Accidents can happen quickly, and it’s reassuring to know that you can count on assistance”.

By Charly Colin

Beginner mountain biker winning a competition
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin
Young mountain biker
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin
Mountain biker waving the Réunion flag
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin
Mountain biker poses for the camera
Photo credit : Keno Derlyn/Sven Martin