Stage Racing

How to finish your first stage race

The two key words to successful stage racing are ‘pacing’ and ‘recovery’. Laying it all on the line for a single day’s effort and ignoring the post finish-line condition of rider and equipment  is no longer viable for the budding stage racer. Here are 4 pointers that will come in handy, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned campaigner.
1. “Aim to cross the final (last day’s) finish line” – if you’ve paid the race fee for the long weekend (think Tour de Phuket, Cape to Cape, or Tour de Bintan) or the entire week (think Tour of Friendship, Haute Route, or the Cape Epic), it only makes sense that you finish what you set out to do. An overzealous pace on the first day(s) can wreck your individual chances, or throw your team (if you’re required to ride with a buddy or a coordinated group of riding buddies) into disarray. Make peace with yourself and agree to a sustainable overall strategy.
2. “Always have a plan” – Examine the individual stages and their requisite demands in detail – including elevation, distance, technicality, the location of aid stations, and cut-off points/timings. These factors will determine how you set the pace and establish a comfortable ‘buffer’ against unforeseen or ‘crisis’ circumstances you or your team may encounter – or perhaps to hold off any potential rivals/challengers as the race unfolds. This mindset holds true whether you are stage racing on the roadie or MTB, doing a multi-day running ultramarathon solo, or hitting up a multi-stage adventure race with your mates.
3. “The race for the next stage starts as soon as you cross the finish line” – Too much languishing at the finish line is bad. Everyone loves celebrating a successful stage finish, but remember: the battle may be won, the war is not yet over. Be task-oriented and go about sorting out the following in order of priority: yourself, your equipment, and then everything else. It’s OK to mill around cheering your mates in or waiting for the shuttle bus back to the accommodation. But not before consuming your recovery drink/meal, or not before making sure your bike is washed or tended to for any niggling mechanical issues, and certainly not before getting a good cool-down stretch and reduction in body core temperature (for hot-weather races) or getting out of dirty, soiled kit and layering up in clean, warm clothes (for cold-weather races).
4. “Prime yourself for performance, day after day” – Some discipline in terms of diet, bedtime, and physical & mental relaxation goes a long way. A multi-day race effort can be compromised by standing around too long, excessive waiting for meals or accommodation to be sorted out, and stressful/prolonged transport or social arrangements. Different race organizers will have different levels of between-stage support. The best approach, regardless, is to arrange your nutrition and logistics early, anticipating periods where you will have ‘me-time’ versus periods where you will have to follow the scheduled itinerary for participants. It could be as simple as leaving a ‘recovery bag’ of all the kit you will need waiting at the finish line; pre-booking any massage services provided; or putting some local currency in your jersey pocket so you can have a full meal and ample drinks while waiting for others to finish. And always get to sleep as much or as early as you can.