I have successfully avoided ‘Stage Races’ and ‘Omniums’ for my entire racing career – until recently when I signed up to compete in Local Bike Racing’s Sealy Stage Race. I am chalking up my recent oversight to a memory relapse… after all I am racing in the 40+ category these days. Regardless of my historical reservations and fears concerning performance: I learned a lot about surviving Stage Races and actually did surprisingly well!
With that being said: I’ll share what I figured out.
#1: Time Trials – are there just to mess with you. This event, the Sealy Stage Race, had a longer time trial than some at 11 miles. The key is not to blow your legs up! Go hard, but not to the point of miserable pain because you will pay for this in later stages. This event had a Time Trial that was followed by a Crit later in the day – so it’s crucial to save those ‘fast twitch’ muscles.
Top Tip: note the time you set off and note the time you crossed the finish line for the TT (Time Trial). If you ride without electronics (like I do) this can be challenging so figure out a system that works just in case.
#2: The First Stage determines the over-all GC standings for the rest of the event… so starting off with a Time Trial really could mess with you (and it did with me). Those that are stronger in endurance and own a TT bike will stand out if the time trial is first. Personally: I’m not exactly a TT gal regardless of equipment, so I had some catching up to do!
#3: Work Your Strengths. Learn the point system and figure out where you can really stand out. I like Crit races, so that’s where I try to put the hammer down. Having fresher legs (because I didn’t blow up earlier) helped. If there are sprint points – go for them! This will increase your standings over-all.
#4: Warm Up & Down! I cannot stress enough how important warming up and warming down is. I think this is one of the key reasons why my legs performed as well as they did. Give yourself time between Stages to work out the kinks, shake out lactic acid build-up, and prime them for work so they are ready to jump.
#5: Waiting is Boring… so bring games, a book, sunscreen, a camp chair, a tent, a picnic, make friends, catch up, and relax. At least one day will have two events and there is wait time involved. Sometimes you cannot easily go somewhere else in between – especially if the event is held far away from metropolitan areas. Jimmy’s Truck Stop just doesn’t sound like an appealing venue to hang out at, so be prepared to stay near or at the start during the day.
#6: Teamwork is Critical. As mentioned before, the GC standings are determined by the first stage and then it is up to your teammates to work for the GC contender to keep them in or vying for the #1 spot. Stage Races are not the time when you start worrying about YOUR standings if you didn’t do great in the First Stage. Be a team player and work for someone else! The Pros do it in the Tour de France, and this applies at the amateur level too.
#7: Eat Right Between Stages! This can be a performance killer… If you are known as the “Iron Stomach”, then please disregard. Otherwise, plan to make a meal specifically targeted to optimize performance on the day of back-to-back events. No heavy fats, greasy foods, excessive starchy carbs, roughage (salads), or heavily spiced foods. Also: carbs-loading is not necessary, a balanced meal plan is, including the right carbs later in the day after the first stages are over – like sweet potatoes.
#8: Stretch and Roll. I brought a yoga mat and my foam roller with me on the 2 event day of the stage race – which might be a bit much for some folks I suppose. I like to make extra sure that my muscles aren’t holding on to any baggage from the previous race so I packed everything up like a girl scout. If you don’t want to lug all that around, incorporating some sort of stretching routine just after exercise is good practice. Introduce the foam roller into your life before bedtime… yes, it hurts – it’s supposed to hurt. The more you do it, the less it hurts so HTFU.
#9: Pay Attention to Your Points! We have very capable race officials, but anyone can make a mistake. If you care where you stand over-all and that your points are calculated correctly: make sure you add them up yourself. If you find a discrepancy nicely mention this to the officials and those running the show. They will fix them and being a jerk doesn’t get it done any faster.
Top Tip: Take pics of the race results after each race for your files just in case a mistake was made during the information transfer to USA Cycling.
#10: Make Friends. Yep, there’s other people hanging out without much to do just like you – especially on the 2-event day so go say “Hi!”. One of the things that really turned me off about road racing early on was that folks just seemed to show up, race, and then leave. There wasn’t much socializing or getting to know other cyclists. If I drove for several hours, I want to get to know folks! So what if they aren’t on your team?? Make friends and be a part of the cycling community.
PLEASE: Thank your race promoters for their hard work. If you think it’s easy putting on two day race events: it’s not. Not only is it not easy – it’s fairly brutal. Saying “Thank you” doesn’t cost you anything and it goes a long way towards showing appreciation for the massive amount of organization that goes into these events that further your competitive interests.