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How to Prepare for your next Stage Race

By Sofia Marin | In Athlete Interview, Optimal Performance, Race Reports, Race Tips | on February 26, 2019

Preparation is everything

Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at road racing and criteriums and now you’re ready to take things to the next level with multi-day events. Whether you’re a seasoned stage racer or interested in dipping a toe into multi-day events, showing up prepared will allow you to get the most out of your experience. Check out our top tips on how to prepare for your next stage race.

Plus, we hear from Team Mike’s Bikes-Equator rider, AchievePTC athlete and seasoned stage racer Stephen Vogel who shares about his recent success clinching 2nd overall in the Pro Men’s field at Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona.

Train Accordingly

Part of enjoying a stage race includes preparing your body for the physical demands of back-to-back racing. Fitness takes time, don’t make the mistake of attempting to train for a stage race in the 2 or 3 weeks leading up to the event. That’s a recipe for burnout and poor performance.

Show up with a solid foundation of fitness. For example, if you use TrainingPeaks, a Chronic Training Load of 75 CTL or higher is helpful to tolerate the rigors of stage racing. Incorporating block training such as riding 3 days in a row (followed by recovery), is another great way to condition the body to handle the stress of multi-day racing.

You’ll also want to make sure you spend time developing both your aerobic and anaerobic capacities (This is where a great coach comes in!). Training should be race-specific; research each stage well in advance and ensure you training is preparing you for the specific style of racing. Don’t wait until race day to pull out the time trial bike.

Do your Pre-Race Homework

The best bike racers are not just physically prepared, they are mentally prepared. Researching each stage course, conditions, and competition ahead of time will give you a notable advantage over others and give you a solid confidence boost. You can find more tips on Pre-Race Homework here.

Plan Ahead

There are a lot of moving parts to multi-day events. Travel, equipment, nutrition, housing, meals, and housing are all factors that will be at play. Plan ahead to relieve stress on race day.

Here’s what Stephen Vogel had to say:

“Two words – plan ahead!”

“Mapping out which equipment and nutrition you’ll need when, as well as when you need to be where (and how long it will take to get there) relieves a lot of stress during the event itself. This is especially important when you don’t have a team with a director taking care of these things for you. I for one have been fortunate to have my wife and fellow racer Suzanna during times like that – she’s put more info on spreadsheets that I have by a long shot. Less logistical stress means more chance for positive energy.”

Race Day Routine

Speaking of planning ahead, having a personalized pre-race routine can be a huge help when it comes to easing the mental burden and chaos that can accompany race day. Following a similar pre-race routine day after day can keep you calm, grounded and focused. Here’s an example of a race-day schedule.

Nutrition Strategy

No matter how fit you are come race day, making a mistake in your nutrition strategy can negate all the training and fitness in the world. It’s essential to plan ahead and know exactly what you need to eat and drink during each hour of racing. Remember, keep it consistent. What you eat on race day shouldn’t be different than what you would typically eat during a hard training week. Race day is not the time to try new foods. Check out our blog on Race Day Nutrition for more detailed suggestions.

“I’d say if you can put your efforts in to one thing above all during a stage race, it would be nutrition during the race.”

“You might be able to get away with under-hydrating or under-eating for a single stage, but you can’t afford to stack that up over multiple days. You’ll have much more to recover from if your energy deficit is deep to begin with.”

Recovery Starts on the Bike

Be sure you don’t skimp on fueling and hydration during your event. Sure, you’ll be in the hole afterwards due to the hard effort, but minimize your losses (and improve your performance) by staying on top of eating and drinking sufficiently every hour.

A basic guideline: Consume at least 1 gram of carbohydrate for every 1 kilogram of body weight, per hour, for a race lasting more than 90 minutes. Also, drink 20-48 ounces of electrolyte-rich fluids every hour of racing. Immediately after your race, take advantage of the “Golden Recovery Window.” Take in simple carbs, hydrate and drink a 25-30 gram protein shake.

Energy Conservation

Remember, “Energy you expend today is energy you won’t have tomorrow.” It’s important to be very calculated with your efforts during a multi-day event. Every action you take should have a clear purpose, ask yourself: “Is this helping or hurting my odds of winning/moving up in GC?”

Conserve energy wherever possible to keep your legs fresh for the decisive points in the race,, for example, the queen stage or time trial. Stay out of the wind, surf wheels, identify threatening moves and advantageous opportunities, rely on the team leading the General Classification to do the bulk of work, and don’t indulge your ego by going off the front for no reason.

Everyone is going to be affected by fatigue during multi-day events, however give yourself an edge by riding tactically, with purpose, and conserving energy wherever possible.

Positive Attitude

Prepare for the unexpected. Luck is a part of racing. It’s part of what makes bike racing so thrilling and unpredictable, and it’s also what makes winning feel that much sweeter when it happens. Anticipate potential race scenarios and recognize that things don’t always go according to plan. Do your best to stay positive and keep moving forward even when bad luck happens.

“It’s important to differentiate which variables are in your control and which ones aren’t, and to understand that things won’t always go smoothly. That traffic to the racecourse, that flat tire, that crash will happen eventually. Letting those things go will keep you in a more positive headspace, and there’s mounting evidence that happiness watts are real!”

Recovery is Paramount

If you expect to perform well day after day, you need to take your recovery seriously. While you might spend 1-4 hours racing, the other 20 hours of the day should be dedicated to making the most of recovering. What you do with those 20 hours can make all the difference. Take a multi-pronged approach to recovery: Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, Down Time and Stretching should all be prioritized after the race is over.

  • Cool Down: Core temperature can stay elevated long after you’re off the bike. Being overheated impedes recovery and makes it harder to fall asleep. Cool down with cold towels, a cool shower, cold drinks, a dip in a creek, or take an ice bath.
  • Recovery Shake: Drink your protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing the race.
  • Hydrate: Focus on hydrating with an electrolyte solution in the 2-6 hours post race, then continue with plain water.
  • Nutrition: Eat nutrient-dense foods including complex carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
  • Sleep: Go to bed early and consider a natural sleep aid like Valerian Root, Tart Cherry Juice or Melatonin supplements
  • Stretch & Foam Roll: Gentle stretching and foam rolling will help your body feel relaxed and supple for the next day’s racing. Remember, a relaxed muscle is a strong muscle.
  • Legs Up: If you’re standing and you can sit, sit. If you’re sitting and you can lay down, lay. Legs up the wall is a nice recovery trick to pump fresh blood and nutrients to the legs.
  • Down Time: Take time to clear your head and decompress. Racing can be stressful, and incorporating activities that help you relax will bring you mental freshness and clarity. Reading, meditation, watching your favorite show, or talking to loved ones can all be helpful tools to ground yourself.

Tips from a GC Contender

Stephen Vogel recently delivered a standout performance at Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona, placing 2nd on General Classification in the Pro Men’s field. After putting up a strong time trial in Stage 1, Stephen set out to defend his 2nd place position over the three-day event. With only a two-person squad (himself and TMB-Equator teammate Chris Riekert) up against some big-hitter teams, the duo had to be very calculated with their efforts.

“My race was about balancing where I was sitting on GC — only 7 seconds in front of third place, but 37 seconds down from first place. In a way, this made it easier for me to decide that my energy was better spent defending my position rather than risking it with a race-winning move.

In the road race and crit, I was more content to be around my third place GC chaser than way ahead of the GC leader. Both of them had big teams there in support, so it was all Chris Riekert and I could do to balance covering big breakaways, but also protecting my position.

In the road race, I expected the GC leading team to really take control from the beginning. As it turned out, though, they were caught out in a large split during a tough crosswind section. I was proud of how Chris and I managed this, as he was able to bridge up to the group up the road. Had they stayed away, he would have definitely moved up in GC standings.

Our disadvantage was lack of teammates for protection in the wind. Whereas other GC riders could rely on teammates to draft, he and I had to surf wheels and assert ourselves. Even if you do the best you can with this, you’ll never have as smooth a ride as those with more numbers. In this situation, especially if you’re up on GC, it’s imperative to be aggressive in staking your position and avoid working in the wind.”

All in all, I’d say stage racing is a balance between controlling the certainties and remaining fluid with the intangibles.

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