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Coach's Column - Training for a Multi-day Stage Race by Andy Applegate

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 27, 2013 2:31 AM

Coach's Column - Training for a Multi-day Stage Race by Andy Applegate

Question: "I am a Cat 1/Expert level mountain biker racer. I have done several 100s over the past few years and now am going to do my first stage race early summer.  How should I change up my training program to focus on a 5-7 stage race with stages varying in 10 miles to mostly 40 mile range?  "

Answer: Great question. First, consider the parameters you have control over during your training. These include: frequency, duration, and intensity. All 3 of those combine to give the overall training volume. In training for a stage race as opposed to a single day hundred miler, overall training volume may remain similar, but you will want to tune the frequency, duration and intensity to set you up to do your best for the multiday race format. Letís look at how you might want to approach each of these variables. 

Duration: this pertains to the length of your long rides more than anything. When training for a hundie, you will usually increase the duration of the weekly long ride as time marches toward the big race, but for a stage race, you will not need to crush out 8+ hour rides. Not to say that you can't throw in an all day epic ride here and there if you want to, but you don't need the long rides to be quite as big. How long should  your long rides be? That depends on a lot of factors, but as a minimum I might suggest slightly longer than you expect the longest stage of your goal event to take you. 

Frequency: The hundred mile plan would probably have most weekends consisting of a shorter ride followed by your long endurance ride. For a stage race plan, doing moderately long rides more frequently will help. In other words, back to back long-ish rides on weekends will be key to preparation. When you have a long weekend or vacation time available you may even want to do a block of 3 or more days with rides like this. Adding some intensity to these rides will also be helpful. This will improve your ability to recover between rides. The strongest rider on a single day is not always the one who does best at a stage race. It is the rider who recovers well between stages who will be most successful. Increasing the frequency of your rides will help this aspect.

Intensity: Add more! Racing a hundie is nearly a 100% aerobic endeavor, but racing a multiday event, particularly if some of the stages are relatively short, will require the ability to ride hard and fast if you want to be competitive. How much and what kind of intensity will depend on your specific goal race, available time to train and your training experience. Some stage races have days that are 4, 5 or even 6 or more hours long while others have much shorter stages that are more like a series of back to back cross country races. The shorter the stages, the more there will be a premium on intensity. You canít go too wrong by adding some threshold work to your program and maybe even some higher intensity VO2max type work would be appropriate. If you can dedicate 2 days a week to doing some specific intensity work you will see your fitness improve rapidly.

Ok, so if you totally zoned out and didnít care to read all that, here is the simple version. You donít necessarily need to ride more to prepare for stage racing compared to a hundred miler, but you will want to do some serious back to back days to get your body used to it. Also, add some intensity to your training, particularly if the stages of your goal event are going to be relatively short. Try to simulate race terrain and conditions as closely as possible, especially as the event draws near.

Hope that helps !

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. We would like to welcome Andy to our amazing group of elite coaches. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at

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