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November 2, 2015

Beginners Guide to MTB Stage Racing

While the Wines2Whales Race is taking place this weekend, marking one of the big races for me this year (and especially so racing for Rehidrat Sport) I thought I might share some of the little things I have learned over the years, having now raced 5 x Sani2c races, a Cape Epic & Joburg2c each, one Berg&Bush, 2 x Cape Pioneers and after this year, 3 Wines2Whales races.

The W2W Adventure has just finished and the W2W Ride is happening as I type this. What a great series of events and without a doubt still my favorite race on the calendar.

I made some rookie mistakes in my early years and have had to refine my skill set to race where I want to in these things, so there will be tips for those who just want to finish, as well as those who want to race at the pointy end of the field.

A big thank you to Rehidrat Sport for making this Wines2Whales possible. Their support is huge.

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I am going to focus on the 3 day stage race in this article, to keep things simple.

Kit

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A simple way to think about kit for a 3 day stage race is to be able to get through the weekend with as little thinking as possible.

For me, this means not having to wash clothes, for a start. But here is the full list:

3 x days worth of nutrition. For me thats Rehidrat Sport plus some energy bars.
3 x set of cycling kit (jersey, bibs and socks)
2 x cycling vest (wind breaker if its cold)
1 x waterproof jacket (if it storms)
1 x set of reliable gloves
1 x helmet & set of shoes
1 x set of favourite cycling sunglasses
1 x chamois cream
1 x sun cream
1 x ear plugs (people do not leave their snoring habits at home and the tented areas are quite crowded)
1 x eye mask (often there are lights on in the tented areas and this means its not very dark)
1 x pillow
1 x sleeping bag
1 x toiletry bag including all the usuals + a small medical kit
3 x sets of casual gear, plus some warm gear
1 x portable clothing line. A long piece of rope will work too that you can tie between two trees to dry your washed or dirty kit, as well as your towel after showers.
1 x towel
1 x set of slops (to and from the shower)
1 x wallet with cash (beer costs money, and they prefer cash in race villages)
4 x water bottles (they tend to get lost over the course of the weekend)
1 x headlamp (for finding the loo at 3am)
1 x portable charger (for your Garmin, phone, etc)

I always book for massages and book a bike service package through a reliable shop. That takes care of the legs and the bike.

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Now let’s get into the actual racing. Let’s break it down into 2 strategies – finishing versus racing.

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Finishing

You’ve come to enjoy the weekend, riding with a buddy/spouse/partner and really, it’s just about getting through every day. Here are some of the best rules that apply to you:

1. Do not sweat your start batch. Relax. Get a 15-20min easy warm-up if you are still going to start fast.
2. Relax for the first hour. Ease into it. Let the legs warm-up properly.
3. Hydrate often – its going to be a long day.
4. Have fun at the water stops. Make friends, eat the koeksusters.
5. Communicate early with your partner if its too hard.
6. Offer to help those with mechanicals. It will be paid back when its your turn.
7. If you know you’re slow in the single track, let other riders lead you in and let them pass before you get to it.
8. Install a bell on your bike. Ring it and be polite when you want to pass. Avoid profanity.
9. If you are the stronger partner, support your other half. You will get to the finish line faster.
10. Don’t be a tool. Show respect to other riders and thank the volunteers. Patience and keeping a cool head will make the experience memorable.

Racing

You’re coming in HOT, prepped on intervals and calorie restriction. Your buddy / partner / spouse is a machine. You’ve thought about this race every day and here it is. How best to survive not killing yourself, your partner or other members of the racing fraternity works like this:

1. Don’t be a tool. Show respect to other riders. Thank volunteers.
2. Work with your partner, rather than against him. Talk early and often. If one of you blows you’ll lose a lot of time.
3. When mechanicals occur, solve them with a cool head. Don’t panic.
4. Water stop etiquette means you wait for the last guy in the group who went in to regroup, then you get going again. Don’t attack people IN the water stop.
5. Don’t blow up in the first 8km. Know your limits and respect them.
6. Have a nutrition strategy, and a back-up if that strategy goes into the fan and you need a bail-out plan.
7. Check your equipment before the start each day.
8. Warm-up properly.
9. Bring your A-game. Prepare to suffer like you’ve never suffered before.
10. Have some fun out there. It’s just a race.

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Stage racing is a privilege. We should treat it like it is. Sure, we work hard and we want results, but there is a vibe and a responsibility to leave the area better than we found it. I don’t need to tell you not to throw your gel wrappers onto the route. I don’t need to tell you to not scream at your partner and I certainly do not need to tell you to respect other riders, volunteers and race staff out there.

I hope the kit list helps and the little lists for each type of race. Have fun out there this weekend.

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