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How to prepare for your mountain bike stage race

Five expert tips that will have you ready to go at a big singletrack event

Quebec Singletrack Experience
Quebec Singletrack Experience
Image: Alice Chiche/Quebec Singletrack Experience

I’ve entered the Québec Singletrack Experience—a seven-stage mountain bike stage race based in Quebec City—and feel a little out of my element. I’m not a racer, but do love exploring and riding new trails. This sort of event is new terrain for me; I know there’s a lot I probably haven’t considered. I’ve put in as much training as time has allowed, but I do have a day job and other obligations that have limited my volume. To ensure I don’t make mistakes during the countdown to race day, I’ve turned to an expert.

Coach and competitor Peter Glassford offered up some strong advice on what during the final days to help me arrive in Quebec City ready to race. Here are five things to consider while making final preparations to race.

Stay Fresh Ahead of the Mountain Bike Stage Race

You can still fit in a bit of training, but the goal now is to fine-tune. Trying to pick up new skills or building more fitness now can be a risky move. Cramming may have worked for me in school, but that’s the wrong approach to a mountain bike stage race. Arriving healthy and rested is the key goal now.

“You’ve invested a lot to get ready for this race, so trying downhilling or hard training rides is perhaps a risky thing,” said Glassford. “A lot of athletes show up nursing IT band, Achilles, or back pain before even starting the event. We want to get to the start line feeling good.”

Equipment Check

I’ll be riding a Cannondale Scalpel-Si Carbon 3, which is quite a bit different than my usual ride. Changing equipment isn’t a great idea unless you can take the time to get it setup correctly, and be familiar with how it behaves. I’ll be doing some light trail rides to fine-tune the suspension and riding position, as well as deciding on pedals.

“Now is the time to know that everything works,” said Glassford. “Get out and ride the bike on similar terrain to what are in the stages. There’s still room to get in a couple of workouts, but now is time to make sure that everything is good. Make sure your water bottle cages or seat bag aren’t rattling around, for example.”

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The Right Fuel for a Mountain Bike Stage Race

Nutrition during the race is going to be important, especially on the long days. In potentially hot and humid conditions, I don’t want to eat something that leaves me feeling rough. As with the equipment, now is the time to fine-tune and perfect my on-bike fuelling. I know what my body likes, and at this point, it’s about buying supplies at the grocery store rather than experimenting with new products. I also want to have those items close at hand.

“The race is about average speed. You want to minimize how much you’re stopped,” said Glassford. “Having your feeding plan in place means less time stopped at rest stations, and more time making progress.”

Wrenching Skills

Know how to make repairs. Don’t be stuck on the sag wagon because you can’t make simple adjustments or fixes. Later, we’ll release an article about what gear I am taking for the Québec Singletrack Experience, both on the bike and off. I worked as a bike mechanic for nearly a decade, but with the new bike, I’ll have some learning to do. I’ll spend as much time working with it as I will riding it to make sure I am ready on the mechanical front.

“Some people arrive at an event without ever knowing how to change a flat, or have old equipment that is worn out,” Glassford said. “Like everything else, test your repair skills and equipment to make sure you have the skills and supplies you need.”

Get Your Head in the Game

Write down your worries and see what you can do to address each one. Mental preparation cannot be overlooked. By creating contingency plans and strategies for dealing with the biggest fears, you can minimize those fears and be proactive rather than reactive.

“We say ‘mental prep’ and a lot of people immediately think of some kooky mantras or something,” said Glassford. “To me, it’s about thinking through the things that concern you. Do things to cross those concerns off the list.

“Study the event. Watch videos from the trails, check out the stage descriptions, and try to visualize what is coming at you. Become a fan so that you’re the person who knows what’s happening on the big days. If you know Day 3 is going to be a crusher, you can let your rivals take 30 seconds on Day 2 because you’re going to light them up on Day 3.”

Follow my progress during the event through the Canadian Cycling Magazine Instagram and Twitter accounts. I’ll be posting daily on my experience at this inaugural event.