Mountain Bike Stage Racing: Tips and Perspective

April 24th, 2018

This post was originally published at


“Would I like riding my bike day after day as part of a stage race?" Well, I think there’s no better way to travel than a mountain bike stage race - journeying through unknown trails and meeting new friends from around the world.


I just completed my second mountain bike stage race: the Pisgah Stage Race near Asheville in North Caroline. For the 200 participants from 15 different countries in the 10th running of the Pisgah Stage Race the Stage Race, the roots and rocks of Pisgah National Forest on repeat for 5 days gave us all some epic racing through terrain as steep and challenging as it is stunning.


Pisgah mountain bike stage race bikes lined up


Photo: Bikes are locked and loaded... (Icon Media Asheville)


The fully-supported, expertly planned, mainly singletrack courses each day add up to an unforgettable experience. While this is a test of fitness and determination, the Pisgah Stage Race is approachable for nearly every level of rider, with a timed enduro section every day for the rippers out there!


Every evening, we were treated to an amazing dinner of local delicious food with beer and wine as we watched the slideshow and a sweet race video of the day’s race while swapping war stories.



Photo: DINNER! Time to share war stories of the days' course. (Icon Media Asheville)


A few years ago I completed the BC Bike Race. Both were INCREDIBLE experiences but today I’ll focus on Pisgah – give you some insights and tips on diving into a mtb stage race one day.


PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE! The best part of stage racing is the people: I showed up to Pisgah this year on my own, not knowing a single person at the race, but left with many friends from all over the US and the world. Camping, eating, and racing day after day with a group of people who love mountain biking allows fast and lasting friendships to form.


Pisgah mountain bike stage race bus


Photo: You'll make friends for life oafter riding, eating, and living with your race mates for so many days. (Icon Media Asheville)


The diversity of riding in stage races is also a favorite component – each day’s course has a different ‘personality’ at many stage races, with some days showcasing more climbing, more technical descending, more singletrack, more enduro, or more miles. But every day presents stunning views and landscapes that one doesn’t have on their hometown trails.


Pisgah mountain bike stage race bacon handups


Photo: the race staff has as much fun as we do, dressing up and providing bacon handups to entertain and fuel us! (Icon Media Asheville)


The skills and fitness required in stage races vary, with BCBR and Pisgah being 2 of the most technically-challenging races out there. Others, such as Cape Epic, require a higher level of fitness versus technical skills. If you’re gunning for the podium, a lot of training leading up to the race is needed. But if you’re in it to simply enjoy a great mtb ‘vacation’, just put in some long back-to-back rides in the months leading up to the race and you’ll do just fine. I like to do some upper-body work in the months leading up to a stage race since the trails are usually more technical than in Boulder which can really take a toll by Day 5 or 7. Pushups can do the trick if you don’t have access to weights!


Pisgah mountain bike stage race climbs


Photo: There will be climbs...and pain...and suffering... (Icon Media Asheville)


That being said, here are a few tips to make sure you’re smiling for the entire week:


1 – SLIPPIN AND SLIDING - TIRE CHOICE: As you all know, tires can make the difference between enjoying a ride and pedaling in misery. Grip, speed, rolling resistance and volume are key elements to choosing the right tire for the right trails. Talk to people who have ridden the race previously and ask what the best tire choice may be, both in dry and wet conditions.


Pisgah mountain bike stage race roots


Photo: Pisgah and BCBR had roots like no other place on earth - tire choice is key, people! (Icon Media Asheville)


2 - STAY TOPPED OFF: Keeping ‘topped off’ during the race each day (with your own food/drink or take advantage of the rest stops) is important not only for that day, but for the following days too. If you dig yourself into a bonk or dehydration on Day 2, then Day 3 is going to suffer too.


Pisgah mountain bike stage race rocks girl


Photo: Lots of places to challenge yourself, and possibly harm yourself and your bike!  (Icon Media Asheville)


3 –MORE THAN A BEER - RECOVERY: If your typical post-ride meal is 3 beers and chips-&-salsa at the car with your friends, you may need to fine-tune your strategy for a stage race. What you do today will affect your ride tomorrow, and nowhere is that more obvious than in stage racing.  Take a recovery drink within 30 minutes of the race ending. I usually measure out a one serving per plastic baggie for each day of my race. The protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes help you to recover faster. Eat and drink something after the race, even if you’re feeling good. Sit down and put your feet up. Throw on a pair of compression socks or tights. I also rub some Arnica gel on my legs after I shower each day, and use a hand-held roller (easier to pack than a foam roller!) each night. Also, if dinner isn’t served until 6pm and you cross the finishline at 1pm, you’ll need a full meal within an hour of your recovery drink, so plan on making a trip into town or having food with you in your hotel/tent/sprinter van J  Also, by Day 4 I usually wake up at 3am starving. This is the only time when midnight snacking is allowed so go for it!


Pisgah mountain bike stage race clif


Photo: Our fine friends at Clif kept us all topped off during the race, and recovered after each stage. (Icon Media Asheville)


4 – PARTS IS PARTS – YOUR BIKE: Although most stage races have mechanical support, the lines are usually pretty long and you’re also paying a premium. Be as self-sufficient as you can so you can do the basics yourself: Spare cleats, chain-link, tubeless repair kit, spare tube, patches, boot


Pisgah mountain bike stage race rain forest


Photo: "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto" - the rain forests of Pisah were nothing like Boulder, CO! (Icon Media Asheville)


5 – CLEAN DRY BUTTS - CLOTHING: please please PLEASE bring a fresh clean chamois for each day. I’ve seen many people ‘pack light’ and bring 2 or 3 chamois for 5 or 7 days of racing, assuming they’ll wash each day. Both of my stage races had damp, wet conditions where chamois did not dry overnight (or even over 2 nights). These folks had some pretty rough butt sores after multiple days racing in wet shorts…


Pisgah mountain bike stage race river crossing


Photo: river crossings a-plenty! More reason to start each day with a dry chamois... (Icon Media Asheville)


6 – ENJOY THE MOMENT: You’re going to have good days and bad days. Don’t let a crash or flat tire get to you – there’s plenty of time to make up time if you get a flat tire, poop out on a climb, or crash on a descent. Maybe you’re out of the running for the GC, but you could focus on a good performance each day instead. Stay calm and relaxed, get back to your flow, and remember you’re doing this for FUN!


Pisgah mountain bike stage race beer


Photo: Not THAT'S the right atitude! (Icon Media Asheville)


The post-stage racing hangover is as real as any substance abuse hangover. Every part of the body aches, the sense of time and place is less certain than on a regular day. And the mess you’ve got to clean up is substantial (laundry for days!). But unlike any other hangover, you’ve got all the memories from the incredible experience, new friends with whom you share a remarkable challenge, and the work day seems boring rather than difficult. 


Pisgah mountain bike stage race white squirel


Photo: Monday morning work seems so boring compared to last week...! (Icon Media Asheville)


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