Metered Power: Chris Baddick and his Breakthrough Season

by Gloria Liu

metered, tr.v.: To supply in a measured or regulated amount.

When Chris Baddick started racing mountain bikes professionally in 2011, nobody knew who he was - as far as they were concerned, he was “just some guy in a random kit” getting some top 10 finishes. He was not so anonymous this year. The 25-year old Boulder transplant from Devon, UK has had a breakthrough season in 2013 racing for The Gear Movement and CU. Some highlights: 2nd place in Winter Park in July, 3rd place at Steamboat Stinger in August, 2nd place at Cross of the North, and back-to-back wins at Primalpalooza and Frisco Cross the same weekend -- earning him a new nickname,“the Sheriff”. Most recently, two weekends ago he was crowned USA Cycling’s 2013 Collegiate XC National Champion in Beech Mountain, NC. To drive the point home, he also took second in the Short Track National Championship race.

Here’s how a relative newcomer to the sport made his way to the front of the pack in 2013.

Natural ability, mental toughness

Chris Baddick landed in Boulder in 2009 for a semester of study abroad. Baddick grew up running track & field and competed at the national level in England, but at the time was on a break from running due to an injury. Thinking cycling might be good cross training, he contacted the president of the CU Cycling team to see if anybody needed a roommate. He ended up in a house with four cyclists...and pretty much never ran again.

His trajectory in mountain biking indicates remarkable raw talent - by 2010 he was racing Cat 1 and by the time he moved back to Colorado in 2011 he’d turned pro. Though Baddick partially credits his quick success to running fitness as well as a recreational cycling background, there are some intangibles as well. One of these is tenacity. In his first race as a pro, at the end of the 2010 season, Baddick came in dead last. Rather than getting discouraged, he made that loss a big motivator to train hard and come back stronger in 2011.

An ability to keep a cool head in dicey situations also helps. “I kind of relish when things aren’t what they were planned to be. If the race is delayed or the course markings get screwed up, it psychs a lot of people out, but I don’t let it get to me because I know it’s the same for everyone. I think of it as an advantage to be capitalized on, rather than a negative thing.”

No stranger to training and racing in undesirable conditions, Baddick grew up running in the rain and dark, and throughout the winters in England. These experiences from his childhood and youth built a mental toughness that persists to this day. “People think racing is this intelligent pursuit, but a lot of it is just being able to withstand pain. I very rarely get dropped from the group, and that’s just about being able to suffer.”

Knowing all this, it makes sense that two weekends ago when the racers showed up to 25-degree temperatures and snow at the National Championships, Baddick was in his element. In the XC race he and local race favorite Kerry Werner had shed all their competitors by the second lap. Suddenly, Werner slipped on a wet root and went down, losing five to six seconds. Baddick saw his opportunity and passed. From that point on he cranked up the pressure on his pursuer, pushing hard over the icy and slippery conditions. He beat Werner for the the national championship by three seconds.

Quality over quantity

Baddick’s Colorado racing season got off to a late start this year. In the fall of 2012, the lab he’d been working for in Boulder ran out of funding and with the cash, rather abruptly, went his work visa. He spent the next several months in the Alps, working in the Tyrol region of Austria and trying to figure out how to get back to Colorado. While he admits his surroundings were “pretty fantastic”, the experience of having a mere 10 days to pack his bags and say goodbye to his girlfriend and friends was stressful to say the least. Nonetheless, he made the most of the situation, doing a lot more skiing and running that winter than he had in previous years. As his first Colorado race wasn’t until he returned to start his PhD in July, this year he was able to maintain his motivation and edge into the ‘cross season rather than racing from April onwards and getting burnt out by fall. He’s going to try a similar approach in 2014, being pickier about early season races and incorporating running and skiing again.

Another big change for this season is that Baddick hired a cycling coach, Dave Schell of FBD Multisport. Up to this point, Baddick’s training protocol had basically consisted of going out and just riding, often in groups. In fact, until this summer he had only ever done one interval session. When Schell started working with Baddick, he noted that Baddick “was just kind of going hard, all the time. He was never going way above his threshold, and he was never going easy.” Schell incorporated a structured weekly plan for his new client, including high-intensity, punchy efforts and threshold work designed to mimic the dynamics of a XC race. They also worked on pacing and recovery.

Baddick credits being coached as a major contributor to his success this season. “The first couple years of cycling I enjoyed doing my own thing, but that can only get you so far. I was getting regular top fives in Colorado and mixed results at the national level, but it wasn’t consistent. If you really want to win races you have to have a training plan and consistency to the plan. That’s what coaching has given me.”

Coaching also helps Baddick tremendously with time management. Pursuing his PhD in neuroscience at CU (his dissertation relates to how exercise and other environmental factors can be therapeutic for depression), Baddick spends 35 to 40 hours a week on his studies and is a teaching assistant at the university. As such, he only has about eight to ten hours a week to devote to training. Schell helps him to ensure that those are quality hours.

Good company

In Boulder, Baddick has surrounded himself with a support network of like-minded and motivational people who have contributed to his success. Two of his closest friends and training partners include fellow pro mountain biker Bryan Alders of Marin Bikes, and CU Cycling and Gear Movement teammate Sam Morrison, who won the national Short Track champion title in NC. In particular, Baddick attributes Alders for getting him into racing in the first place, and for often motivating him to get out on a ride. (Alders was also the one to recommend coaching by Schell).

Baddick’s girlfriend Christa Ghent is an elite cyclist as well, racing for Exergy TWENTY16’s pro team this coming season. Finally, Baddick is quick to credit the CU Cycling team for creating a strong sense of community in his earlier years, as well as his sponsors at Gear Movement for their support.

Putting it together

So how do you replicate this kind of breakthrough season for yourself? I asked Baddick to share one piece of advice with other athletes.

“Use your time wisely. You don’t have to dedicate 20 hours a week to training. Focus on quality, not quantity. And ride with people as often as you can because it pushes you. Following someone who’s faster than you on the trail is the only way to get fast.”

No doubt Chris Baddick has been endowed with natural talent and a winning mindset. But what’s really made the difference this year is how he’s learned to meter out his time and energy for when it matters most. Even for those who don’t race at an elite level, there’s a valuable lesson here about spending one’s limited resources wisely: in quality training hours, smart racing tactics, like-minded company, and a patient approach to the season.

An observation by Schell sums it up nicely, and somewhat metaphorically. “I’ve watched races where I know he has the power to blow [his competitors] away any second, but it’s about keeping them within your sights and conserving power. He does enough to win for today so that he can come back and win tomorrow.”

Look for more good things to come from Chris Baddick:

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