Ok, so a disclaimer up front – There are lots of people more qualified to write about this than I, but I’ve done 3 stage races this year (I’ll count Thailand even though I spent more time on the toilet than on the road), so wanted to pass on a few tips that have come about through a lot of pain and suffering, which straight away begs the question: “Why would you want to do one?”
Because they are the ultimate
For road racing at least… Sure, one day races are great and much more family friendly, but there is something next level about getting up day after day to head back out to smash yourself to fuck. They are also relatively rare, so that tends to add to their mystic at the amateur level.
So, here are a few ideas if you’re thinking about doing one or another one… This is not a comprehensive list, just some key musing and thoughts about stage racing from an amateur domestique perspective:
1. Before we begin…
- I don’t want to get all ‘Band of Brothers’ on it, but assuming you’re doing this as part of a team then working out who you’re doing it with is THE key first ingredient. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together training and racing and as fatigue sets in and weight loss starts to fuck up your brain, shit will get weirder and insecurities will manifest. So, its critical to get the right crew set up… Its essential you have no cunts on board from day 1, they will ruin it down track
- Pick the right event – 3 or 5 days? Travel or local? Time of year? Do you want to train through winter (if you have one)? If you’re all a bunch of big power animals perhaps stay away from climbing tours. Work out the best event and target it. Don’t just randomly pick a tour, line it up to be an experience and not just a race. A stage race for amateurs in France is therefore your best bet… Doing these things as an overseas holiday is rad
- If your partner doesn’t like cycling, then easiest thing to do is to pull the pin with them before you start training… As your training and racing ramps up you don’t want to be distracted with them moving out mid campaign, so nip that in the bud early so it doesn’t get in the way. Also removes the chance for guilt when you decide to turn a 120km raining ride into 180km’s with a coffee thrown in at the end
- Buy a Cannondale Evo – In fact, get two, one for training and one for racing as thats PRO:
2. Training time!!
- So, you have your homeboys lined up, Cannondale Evo/s ready to roll and event picked out, time to spend every available minute obsessing about the training and race!
- I am not going to preach on training plans – My approach is to peak 6 weeks before the event and then load on volume after that so I arrive mediocre and fucked for the actual race, which is highly effective at producing solo miles at the end of a stage
- What I will say though is this – Match your training to the race. I expected 5 Passes to be a LOT of climbing, but in the end it wasn’t at all what I expected and it really needed a lot of power and endurance, so be careful what you’re training for
- Pet training rant #1 – Periodisation is key, divide your plan into blocks and build that pyramid strong and tall
- Pet training rant #2 – Make sure slow rides are SLOW and hard rides are HARD, there has to be differentiation. As amateurs we are super awesome at riding everywhere at 85%, which doesn’t help improve you. We are also awesome at getting our cocks out on slow rides and trying to slap each other in the face, next thing you know the recovery ride is progressing at 45KPH – stop that shit
- Pet training rant #3 – Training camps: Do them, get the boys together, head away and ride together. It makes you a lot better at racing together if you have spent the time riding together. This is especially critical if your stage race has a Team Time Trial, practice that shit together as it takes a while to work out and be effective. Training camps are also excellent for perfecting your fart jokes
- Pet training rant #4 – Do NOT turn up to your stage race without racing prior. Do so and you deserve to be vaporised 20km’s into the first stage. You have to race, preferably 3 to 4 decent races before the BIG one. Riding your bike and racing it are vastly different activities and racing will give you the hardness and mindset you need for the war ahead…
3. The build up
- With a few months out its important that you have now cut ties with anyone who isn’t massively into cycling or who wants to spend all their time talking about stage racing. Partners included. If work becomes painful, just file for Maternity leave, should cause enough confusion to buy you time for the final run in to the race
- You will have also now completed your money laundering activities, thus allowing you to get the new Carbon race wheels (Enve’s or Campy Bora Ultra 2’s, with Zipp now being purchased by SHAM I am afraid they are OUT), or a new Gruppo, or if you are a cheap fucker just new bar tape and tires. The point being: Make sure your bike is tip top
- Travel arrangements – Should all be booked as a team, key for bonding purposes, plus you get to walk through the airport in your team kit and tell people that yes, you are actually a PRO cycling team. Sign autographs as you go
- Kit – You should have worked out on the training camp the kit arrangement and team gear, with everyone on the same team kit. Ideally everyone will also have Giro helmets and shoes, Oakley Radarlock glasses and Rapha socks. Baseline assumption is that you have weeded out the cunts, so shouldn’t be any issues here. Anyone arriving in mismatched knicks and jersey for training rides needs to be Tazered at this stage, preferably in the nuts
4. Its race time!
- So, everything is ready… You’re a social outcast, probably single, have spent most of your super fund to prepare and you’ve lost so much weight that you have problems forming sentences or getting child proof containers open, BUT, you’re in the form of your life and away with the boys, so focus on the positives
- Go into the race with a PLAN – Make it realistic as well… Seriously, if you want to have a crack at GC then be honest about whether or not you have a genuine GC contender in your midsts. They have to REALLY be able to TT, climb and stay with the leaders when shit goes down. If you don’t know what one looks like, here is a mug shot of what your GC contender should resemble:
- If natural talent has passed you by and the GC is not an option, then either take heaps of EPO or just be realistic and come up with a plan to have fun. This will entail going after the KOM or Sprint jersey or just getting into breaks or having a crack at stage wins. Stage wins usually the harder option as the GC machines will want to be away at the end potentially, especially if bonus seconds are on offer. Be clear on what you want to target based on the strength of your team
- Have a road captain – Someone has to make the calls, as amateurs we are all slightly weird and want to do our own thing, which defeats the team approach, so have someone who’s role it is to know what the stage entails, when to go and to make sure that the right people are doing the right work. This will result in a well oiled machine and a lot of fun… Its also NOT a democracy people, its a benevolent dictatorship, so if you’re told to get on the front, do it.
- Never, ever chase down your own man in a break – Unless they were dumb enough to go up the road with a GC contender and are working with them to fuck up your GC man, then chase them down and slap them
- Avoid peloton separation anxiety – Here’s the thing… If you want to have a GO, then you probably run the risk of being dropped by the peloton. As such, you can either get involved or sit in, up to you. Getting involved is a lot more fun, but it may mean some solo time unless you are really strong.
- Burning of matches – Over the course of a stage race you only have so many matches in the box to burn, so you need to not only manage this over the day, but also over the entire tour. So, if you go balls deep on one day, like I did on day 3 in 5 Passes, then you can be sure you will pay the price over the rest of the race. As such, plan out your efforts and when you do go, make sure it counts!
- Generally stage races are about saving energy (if you’re a GC contender) and recovery, which is critical. At the end of the stage smash a COKE asap… I don’t care if you don’t like coke, just drink one urgently to kick start the process, then have your normal recovery shit lined up aft a that, makes a world of difference
- Make sure you room with a tight buddy – It gets pretty freaky and people get cranky, so make sure your roommate is cool. Your stomaches will also be going to shit, so best you’re prepared for some epic gas, especially if you’re rooming with me
- Its going to hurt and you’re going to suffer, day after day… But, try and have fun… yes, this is why we are doing it, as there is fuck all chance of making much cash gang:
Sorry Shep for stealing another photo, but given you’re the best Photographer ever to almost die at 110kph on the back of a scooter its bound to happen, free T Shirt on the way.
I could go ON and ON with more points, but I am guessing 80% of people haven’t made it this far, so will stop there… Essentially if you like racing bikes you need to do at least 1 stage race in your life, its a unique experience and will give you the perspective that you are fucking glad you’re not PRO as you’ll work out by day 4 that getting up to ride the TDF for 3 weeks is genuinely the hardest thing you can do in sports!