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MTB Stage Race Strategy

stage race strategy Endurance Cycling Coach. MTB and Road training and racing.

Stage Racing is fun and challenging.  For some it can be one of the most rewarding events they’ll ever do.  There are a number of stages races with different characteristics including  Breck Epic, Pisgah Stage Race, Moab Rocks, Trans-Sylvania Epic (TSE) Leadville MTB Stage Race, BC Bike Race, Single Track 6, Trans Andes Challenge or the TransRockies Classic and SingleTrack 6.  While some of these races have long grinding high elevation stages, some are shorter with lots of technical demanding single track. No matter which event you are planning you’ll want to follow  the MTB stage race strategy to get the most out of your body and race.


MTB Stage Race Strategy
Prep for the 7 day TransRockies Classic

Preparation is critical for getting through a stage race.  Everyone racing is going to suffer, but starting under prepared the level of suffering is going to be much higher and less manageable, maybe not even fun. Depending on the length and terrain your skills and fitness needs will vary.  Your training should start at least six months prior to the event.  See our our MTB Stage Race training plans.  We suggest starting with the Base plan 24 weeks before the start of the race.  Once the Base plan is complete start the Build plan 12 weeks before the start of the event.

There are a number of things to consider in your preparation

  • Skills – For a single track heavy or technical course work on your handling skills.   Get out on the trail, building your fitness mostly on the road or gravel isn’t going to help you bomb down hills, zig-zag through trees and maneuver rock sections.
  • Build your TSS – A 6 day stage race like Breck Epic or the 7 day TransRockies Classic are hard and long.  I’ve seen TSS of 200 and higher each day.  That’s around 1200 to 1500 for the week.  Most people don’t get a enough time to build that much TSS in training.  Over the six month period it’s important to slowly build up your weekly TSS. A good measure is to increase TSS by 10% each week except rest weeks.  Rest weeks reduce to 40-50% from the previous week.
  • Build your CTL – You should try to get your CTL as high as you can, but you need to make sure you are resting at the same time.  A proper balance is critical.  A CTL of 80-100 is good before you start your taper leading into the event.  A good measure it to increase CTL by 3-5 each week except rest weeks.  Rest weeks should reduce the CTL by 5-10.
  • Mock Stage Race – In your training plan include a mock stage race.  During this mock stage race, practice your pre/during/post ride fueling and recovery techniques.  Include training sessions that include the terrain and trail types you’ll be racing on. Because you’ll probably have all your other commitments like family, work etc.  It will be difficult to do the same time and intensity of the race.  Instead reduce the time and effort of each session.  Adding at least one mock stage race of 3-5 days a few weeks before your event will help boost your CTL.
  • Start the race recovered.  The week or two before the race keep the volume low.  Take some extra days off.  Use the time to get your plan in place for travel and equipments etc.  Your TSB should be positive, our recommendation would to start the race with a TSB of 40 or higher.
  • There is no better training for a race then racing.   Racing will build some fitness, but will get your body used to the demands you can’t get in training.   Practice your fueling and gear choices.


You’ll want to be mindful of your pace.  I recommending limiting your time in of the zone 5.  Some short spikes are ok, but the more time you put in zone 5 or higher the more matches you are burning.  Save your matches for when you really need them.  Zone 2 and Zone 3 are safe zones to get through a stage race, but you won’t be fast.  If you are looking for speed you’ll want to be in zone 3-4 and be able to burst into and above zone 5.  This means you’ll need to put the training in to allow for the demands of high intensity racing over many days.

Race Fueling

Another MTB stage race strategy includes your daily racing fuel.  A pre-race meal that is quick to digest and provides the right amount of fuel will make for much better race.  Combined with good fueling during the race, you should be able to have enough energy day after day.

For your pre-race meal we recommend the Apex Nutrition Pre-Training Smoothie. You can customize the ingredients to your liking and include add-ons for additional hrs you expect to be racing.  It digests fast, so you don’t need to wake up early to get a big meal in.  Consume 1-1.5hrs before the start of the event.

For race fuel you need extra calories in the form of Carbohydrates.  The extra fuel helps keep the glucose levels up throughout the race.  After working with Apex Nutrition Kelli recommended adding about 20% more carbohydrates to the race fuel.  This can be in liquid form or solids.  Kelli also recommended including 5000mg of l-glutamine to liquid fuel to reduce muscle ache and support recovery.


If there is one thing to focus on during the race that would be recovery.   How fast you can recover between the finish of the last stage and start of the next stage is critical.  The faster you get through the race the sooner you can start your recovery.  The longer you are out on the trail the more stress you build and the more recovery you’ll need.


Recovery techniques may include:

  • Rest and sleep are critical to recovery.  You’ll want 8+ hours sleep between stages and a nap post stage.
  • Massage using a foam roller and/or using a masseuse or compression boots such as Elevated Legs will clear the waste out of you legs and make the fresh for the next stage.
  • Stretching the lower back quads, hamstrings etc.  Yoga is a good option as well.
  • Keep up on pre and post race Hydration and electrolytes.  Dehydration can reduce performance and impact recovery.  We suggest keeping up with your normal hydration practice of 90-100oz of water a day  and 1-2 electrolytes tab products from Hammer, Nuun, Gu or others.
  • Recovery Fuel
    • A post recovery drink like an Apex Nutrition Smoothie, or Infinite Nutrition Repair.  Add 5000mg l-glutamine to the smoothie or repair.  Consume within 30min of the stage finish.
    • 1 serving of beet juice Pre or Post race will help carry more oxygen to the muscles promote faster recovery.
    • Lean protein in a Lunch and Dinner
    • Replace glucose with good carbs such as sweet potato, rice, grains and fruit and vegetables
    • Reduce inflammation by avoiding  gluten, dairy, sugar sugar products

Rest after the event

Before lining up for your next event you’ll want to take some time off the bike.  A stage race accumulates a great deal of stress to the body, both mental and physical.  We recommend 1 week total rest before light training can start again and at least three weeks before entering a race.

MTBCoach offers coaching to guide you through your first stage race, or get your personal best.  Check out our coaching programs for the package that fits your budget and needs.

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