Pack Essentials for MTB Stage Racing

Jen and pack
When Jen was riding the remote Switchgrass Trail in Kansas she made sure she had all the supplies to handle anything adventure threw at her.

MTB stage racing takes riders back to the roots of the sport.  Expect big loops on the best trails in the area and be ready for an epic day on the bike!  Self-support skills are mandatory: ability to fix a mechanical on the trail, route finding (courses are flagged, but they often get removed by “wildlife”), inclement weather preparedness, planning hydration/ nutrition strategy for the day, and of course a mindset to embrace the unexpected.  Quebec Single Track Experience, like most stage races, will have aid stations along the course.  However, racers should not depend on these because mechanicals typically happen at the furthest point from civilization, the cookies may have been stolen by Yogi the Bear, and Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor.

Here is what I’ll carry with me each day of QSE

Pack with Numbers

  • Osprey Pack My ride pack must be comfortable, adjustable, and big enough to hold all the stuff I need to be self-sufficient for the day
  • Flat repair kit
    • Hand Pump. For whatever reason, when I am stage racing, a flat is followed by another.  The ease of a CO2 cartridge is out ruled by repeat and reliable use of a hand pump.
    • Tube. Make sure it’s the right size, but in a pinch a smaller diameter tube will work – but a larger diameter will not.
    • Tire levers my KMC ones multi-task as a quick-link tool
    • Patch kit
    • Plug kit
    • Spare valve core and core tool
  • Tools
    • Multi-tool with a minimum of a 4,5, and 6mm hex wrench, torx T-25 and chain tool.  I carry Crank Brothers M17
    • Duct Tape. I carry bright orange tape so I remember to really fix the issue at the end of the day.  I’ve also used it on my pack for safety during hunting season.
    • Derailleur hanger
    • KMC Missing Link
Stage 3 Profile (3)
My top tube course notes from stage 3 of BreckEpic
  •  Navigation
    • Know the course every day! You may end up riding solo and cell service/ satellites may not work.
    • I put a piece of masking tape on my top tube with relevant course info such as mileage to aid stations, critical junctions, length of climbs, and views I need to pause for.
    • I load the course into my Garmin 820.
    • I carry a map of the area and a mile-by-mile description of the course.

QSE Weather Numbers and LAbels

  • Weather Preparedness
    • Small tube of JTree Life sunscreen and SPF lip balm.
    • Hyperthreads duo jacket. With removable sleeves, water resistance, and windout fabric this garment can tackle the weather.
    • Arms and knees.  These are easy to use for warmth, are easily stashed in my pack, and if I forget to put sunscreen on one of my arms (I’ve done this); a hot arm is better than a sunburnt arm.
    • Fleece Beanie.  If you get really cold, keeping your head warm will have the largest return on investment.
    • Hot Hands.  These small single-use heating pads can be put in gloves or socks to keep them warm if I get soaked, cold, and have a big descent in front of me.  Numb hands make braking and shifting nearly impossible.
  • Nutrition
    • I plan to carry .5 – 1L of water per hour of riding.
    • I use one scoop of GQ-6 Green Apple Base per hour of riding in my hydration pack. This provides electrolytes and some of the calories I will need.
    • I carry a water bottle with plain water to wash down gels
    • I plan to consume 250 – 300 Kcal per hour. I’m a big fan of Gu’s Coconut Stroopwafle and Birthday Cake gels.
    • King-sized PayDay bar.  If my stomach turns or my stoke needs a little fire, this saves the day!
    • I carry enough nutrition and water for an hour longer than I expect the stage to take me, just in case.  Bonking makes a hard day more difficult.

QSE Misc Numbers and LAbels

  • Unexpected
    • Bumps, bruises, and scrapes are just part of the game.  Stage races have excellent volunteers on courses who will help with a serious medical issue, but sometimes there is the in-between injury.  Here is my mini first-aid kit:
      • Big Band-Aid (2)
      • Steri-strips (8) for a laceration that may need stitches
      • Ibuprofen (4) to dull a cramping low back
      • Benadryl (4) to slow the swelling of a bee sting or itching of poison oak (Epi-Pen if you are allergic!)
    • Road ID. These tiny bracelets are peace of mind
    • Single use chamois cream packet.  If I start getting a saddle sore on day 2, quickly addressing the issue will make the next 5 stages more comfortable.
    •  $20.  There is nothing worse than finishing hot a stage when an ice cream truck drives by and you don’t have cash.  Seriously, this has happened.

I’m packed for each days stage at QSE.  Up next: my nutrition strategy for stage racing.

Trailside Repair
Hopefully you will never have to turn your bike into a single speed mid-ride after a rogue stick broke your derailleur hanger in half and bent your derailleur.  But having the tools to do so will save the day!

Tackling the Unique Demands of a Stage Race with a Specific Training Strategy

Stage Race Blog 2.1I’m drooling looking at the footage of the Quebec Single Track Experience (QSE) stages.  Finding lines on the root-crossed dense forest trails of Valcartier will be a challenge.  Flowing down the bermed descent of St. Raymond will be a deserved reward after the climb.  Riding the terrain of Mont Ste-Anne will give me inside tips to share with my teammates who will race the World Cup there the following week. Playing on moss covered rocks and fern lined trails around Lac Delage will keep me on my toes. Testing my bike handling skills around Lac Beauport is something I am drooling to do. The waterfalls and creeks on Shannahan sector trail may entice me to a mini-stop to take in the beauty.  Getting rowdy on the purpose-built trails at Sentiers Du Moulin will be the explanation point at the end of seven days.  I can’t wait!

Stage Race Blog 2.2
QSE Riders Relaxing at Lac Delage After Stage 4.

But… each of these stages are a big day.  Doing back-to-back big days on the bike calls for some specific preparation to ensure I enjoy each day. I also want to have the energy after each day’s stage ride to partake in post-race shenanigans and explore Quebec City.  How do I tweak my training for a stage race?  Research! I watched each day’s stage videos to get a feel for the rides, checked out rider results from previous years, and got familiar with the climate and environment of Quebec from the tourism office. Next, I consulted my Carmichael Training Systems coach, Mike Durner, to come up with a plan. Here is what Coach Durner had to say:

In designing a training plan for a mountain bike stage race, I look at the following aspects: total volume of the race (number of days and length of the stages), then I look at the intensity of each day.  Additionally, if there is a significant change in the altitude or weather from an athlete’s home to the race location, this will influence the training. For Emma, QSE’s stage lengths and total volume are not the challenge.  For her, the bigger challenge comes from seven consecutive days on the bike and the shorter, steeper climbs of the East.”

Here is what I’m doing to prepare for QSE.  These tips can help you dial-in your training for QSE (or another stage race).

QSE, the Race

  • 7 days of riding, covering an average of 20 miles a day
  • Riders of a similar ability to my own had daily stage times range from 1.5 to 3.5 hours, with an average of 2.25 hours.

“Since Emma is already super consistent with her training and we didn’t want to impinge upon her prep for XC Nationals, I used a training camp approach to improve her readiness for QSE.  This can be done with a whole week if your job is flexible or a 3 or 4-day weekend if your job isn’t as flexible.  Simply bump up the volume or intensity well beyond your normal levels for 3 – 5 days, take 2 – 4 days of recovery, then return to your normal training volume.” – Coach Durner


Stage Race Blog 2.3
KS-Kenda Women’s Elite Team spinning up to new trails in So-Cal.

Riding both weekend days is easy to fit in for most riders.  Add in a short after-work ride on Friday and a pre-work “dawn-patrol” ride on Monday.  This will get your body familiar with riding a little fatigued and stimulate your body to speed up recovery.

Add in a long day of riding every week.  This is a great opportunity to tick off some of those “epic” rides with your riding buddies or link together some of your favorite rides.  From your current average ride time, not distance, add thirty minutes each week planning to make your longest ride two weeks before the stage race.  Ideally this ride will be thirty or sixty minutes longer than the longest single day ride time you anticipate durring the race.  Why train by time, not distance? If your home terrain is on rolling foothills, you may easily knock out twelve miles in an hour.  But it you live high in the Rocky Mountains, ticking off seven miles in an hour may be a feat.  The important part is riding at a comfortable pace that you can expect to ride for the duration of the day.

You will be racing blind. Not with an actual blindfold attached to your helmet but racing on trails you have not ridden before.  You will ride a titch slower than usual to account for “unexpected” terrain changes and obstacles. Practicing blind racing is a fun task.  Plan a few weekend bike trips to new areas and explore the seldom ridden trails in your backyard.  Being mentally focused for the entire ride can be taxing too.  I recommend a sports meditation practice to hone your skills at keeping focused on the trail, not what’s for dinner.

Stage Race Blog 2.4
Fairlee and Jen getting a post-ride meal they were dreaming of at Sea Otter Classic.

The Terrain of QSE

  • Lots of short (one to three mile), but steep climbs with an average of 233 ft./mile gain.
  • Average daily elevation gain of 3300 ft. ranging from Sea Level to 5000 ft.
  • Dense, twisty, forested trails with root mazes, boulder obstacles and rock gardens.
  • Bike park features including bridges (both strait and turning), optional gaps and table tops, and bermed flow sections.
Stage Race Blog 2.5
A Wood Bridge on the Shannahan Sector Trail, Stage 5 of QSE.

Stage races showcase the best and most diverse trails in the region.  This terrain may be quite different from your home turf.  If possible, take a weekend trip to areas with terrain more simmilar to the stage race.  QSE features rides in lush, mossy forests and purpose-built trails with wood ramps, bridges and skinnies.  I will take a few trips to the Pacific side of the Cascades where the trails feature fern overgrown trails with damp roots to navigate and spend a few afternoons at Mt. Bachelor bike park to get comfortable with man-made trail features.  If you live in the mountains, but the stage race is on more rolling terrain, make sure you ride rolling terrain to get used to pedaling all-the-time.  Or vice-versa, flatlanders need to practice some steep sustained climbs. Often, gravel roads in your area can provide these challenges.

“For Emma, we added intensity to her normal training volume that combined a time and intensity she hadn’t spent much time at previously to prepare her for the short, steep climbs.” – Coach Durner


Work on bike handling skills you know you will need for the race.  I am going to want to find some rooted trails to tighten up my root traversing game and collect some big sticks to set up a mock root maze to practice.  I will ride tight tree trails and set up a cone course to practice my wiggly riding technique. There are several optional gap jumps at QSE.  I tend to stiffen up when I ride these the first time if I don’t have a good wheel to follow. Coach Durner and I discussed the skills I would need based upon the course descriptions and he provided some feedback of videos I sent him, so I can ride them with style and confidence at the race. Signing up for a MTB clinic or a private skills session with a coach to progress skills specific for the race is a really good idea.

Stage Race Blog 2.6
Nikki getting some skills coaching.


The Climate of Quebec in August

  • Average daily high temperatures in the 70’s
  • Generally cloudy, 40% chance of rain, and less than 1” rain expected in 7 days.
  • Humidity is “comfortable” (below 50%)

The climate in Quebec is quite similar to my home town of Bend, OR and the elevation is around sea level so I will not need to do any specific training for these factors.  If your stage race will be in climates significantly more hot, humid, or arid you will want to expose yourself regularly to these conditions to adapt.  Ride in the hottest part of the day on exposed terrain a few times a week, increasing the duration of the ride time in the heat gradually. Click here to read my article about adaption to heat. Spend several days a week in a steam room or dry sauna slowly increasing the time to no more than 20 min to acclimate to humidity or arid conditions.  Success for each of these includes hydration, so don’t skimp on your hydration and electrolyte intake. The KS-Kenda Women swear by GQ-6 for our hydration needs.

Stage Race Blog 2.7
Cooling down and staying hydrated are key for me to ride in the heat.

If your stage race will be at an altitude 3000 ft. above your home elevation, you will feel the effects of it.  These include being out of breath, burning legs, fatigue, and poor sleep to name a few. It takes three weeks at altitude to physiologically adapt.  This is impractical for most of us, but fortunately there are tricks to lessen the impact. You may have heard of altitude tents, beet juice and “sleep high, train low”? Well, there is quite a lot to this topic, so click here to read my article on training to race at altitude if this is a factor for you need to prepare for.

It’s off to the trails for some smart training for the next eight weeks for me. Wait!  What bike set-up do I need? I’ll get back to you on that next week!


Gadget Gossip: Pedal to the Metal

Let’s talk pedals for a moment, shall we?

Pedals are critical for powering your bike and easy to forget about as long as they are working correctly. For the 2018 race season, the KS-Kenda Women have opted to use the HT Components M1 for our XC race pedal. There are many reasons why we are excited to run these pedals. For one, the M1 weighs in at 298 grams per pair while the Shimano XTR pedals weighs in around 305 grams. Another perk we like is that they are available for a very reasonable price tag of $129.00 MSRP. Also, for those who like to customize their bikes they come in 11 different colors! Overall, the M1 is the all-around favorite for us.


The highlight of this tiny and mighty pedal is its adjustability. HT Components use a proprietary cleat set up, which is very similar to the entry and exit of Shimano pedals. The M1 comes in the box with two different cleat float options, X1 and X1-F. The X1 cleat is a 4-degree set-up while the X1-F is the 8-degree (more float) option. Pedal float allows your foot to move freely in the pedal stroke rather than locking you down tight to the pedal. If you are wanting to learn more about your float preference, try them both out! I personally love the 4 degree and find that it also allows me to very quickly and decisively “get out” of the pedals when I want to which is something that I know many riders, especially if you are new to clipless pedals, fear being unable to do.


In addition to float, another noteworthy mention is the massive range of tension adjustability on the M1. Out of the box, the pedals are set in the middle of the tension range. I really like this setting and came back to it after playing with both ends of the spectrum. We recommend these to anyone because of their versatility and price point. Working with new riders, I am stoked to know about HT pedals as they are user-friendly beginner-friendly without sacrificing top-level performance.

Quick How-To for those of you wanting to swap out your new HT pedals:

  • 3mm Hex Wrench
  • 4mm Hex Wrench
  • 8mm Hex Wrench
  • Grease


1. Pick out the cleats you want to try: remember, the X1 has less float (4 degrees) than the X1-F (8 degrees).  If you are new to cycling, start with the X1-F and see how you like it. If you already run clipless, use a sharpie and draw around the outside of your cleats so you have a place to start from. If you have a bike fitter you like to use, book a short appointment to set the cleats with some help. You’ll use the 4mm hex wrench to install the cleats. Remember to make sure they are tight and check them after every ride since loose cleats make it really, really hard to get out of pedals!


2. Take your shiny, beautiful new pedals out of the box and brush the threads at the very end of the pedal with some grease. This keeps them from getting stuck in your cranks or from stripping your cranks when you take them off for any reason.

3. Using the 8mm hex wrench, thread the pedal into the crank by twisting it in the direction you would pedal. Of note, the pedals are directional so you should be able to see the HT logo sitting upright on each pedal, aka——> ( HT ) Left Crank – Right Crank (HT).  Don’t crank them on too tight but make sure they are snug.


4. Use the 3mm hex wrench to set your tension. You will need to do this twice per pedal because they are 2 sided. Start at the lowest setting if you’ve never tried clipless pedals before, and be sure to test them out in the grass or leaning up against a wall for a few rounds first. If you have some clipless experience, try the middle setting and see what you think. They are super easy to adjust on the fly or with changing conditions.

5. Have a great ride!

We hope this pedal piece helps inspire you to test your skills working on your own bike, instills you with some confidence to try something new (clipless pedals), and maybe even helped you find that perfect color of pedals to match your totally sweet custom ride. It’s all about enjoying the journey out there. Thanks for taking a few minutes to gear gossip with the KS Kenda women!