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!


2 thoughts on “Tackling the Unique Demands of a Stage Race with a Specific Training Strategy

  1. Good luck for you girls! Be sure to ride some technical trails up’s and down’s, we’ve got some pretty hard roots and soft rocks around here. Dont be to skinny on the tires so the ride will feel smoother. Hope to see you around! Cheers


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