In a bizarre, self-referential way, writing about packing for a stage race is very much like the activity itself- it can be difficult know where to begin! I’ve done a few of these crazy European raids now, snatched between busy times at work, and I still feel like a beginner. So, where to begin?
Well, with the advent of cheap flights, there’s an obvious enemy to fight. No, not the grumpy man stationed at outsize luggage dealing with his tenth bike bag plastered in “Precious Cargo” stickers, but the weight of the bag itself. Most low-cost airlines limit you to “sports equipment” weighing a maximum of 23kg – possibly a little over-generous for a pair of skis, or even a set of golf clubs, but an altogether thornier problem for cyclists. Assuming you’ve done all that you can to minimise the weight of your bike (and if you haven’t I can send you far along the path to weight-weeniedom with a single weblink www.mtzoom.com ) then it’s all about being smart in packing what you need.
I generally strip my bike a couple of days before the flight to give me plenty of time to do the shuffle onto the bathroom scales with an oversize piece of luggage, curse, take out something that was “vital” five minutes ago, repeat cycle until i reach the magic number. The toolkit generally being in disarray (the dangers of cohabiting and sharing a single toolkit – “I can’t find X, YOU must have done something with it!”), I plonk all the tools I have used to deconstruct to one side to go in with the bike. Cassettes (especially the bigger 36t ones, which can be easily bent – best not to ask how!), rotors, quick releases, pedals all stripped, it’s then time to bubble wrap the key bits – big ring, controls, wheel axles (so they don’t damage your frame). Then everything goes into the bike bag – I use a soft-sided one in the vague hope that baggage handlers will be more careful with it, and again to save weight.
Then it’s time to think about spares. I’m currently mid-pack for the AlpenTour, and it’s no secret, with snow clearly visible on the Planai webcams, it’s likely to be cold and wet. Spare snakeskin Schwalbe Nobby Nic is ready to go – anything easy to setup tubeless and hard to puncture is always a good mixture for long races, where the last thing you want to have to do is fix a flat when cold! A spare bottle cage is a good idea (stage racing can be rough on them – big bottles + rough trails = limited lifespan!), likewise a patch kit for tubes just in case you do flat more than once on the same wheel. I also take a spare rotor, chainrings, cassette, bolts various, brake pads, gear inner, chain, quicklink (these are great taped to your top tube with a bit of electrical tape!)
For maintenance of body, it’s worth taking energy food you’re used to (I swear by Torq, but experiment and try what works). Take two more pieces of food (energy gel/bar) for each stage than you think you might need, you can really only live to regret going alpine style, especially in a stage race! Recovery drink is also a good idea, try to get it in you within 30 mins of finishing the stage. Finally, there are the unfortunate realities of racing of many days. With every extra day, the chances you’ll have to deal with something unexpected injury, be that a crash, an overuse injury or just a saddle sore. It’s worth taking a road rash kit (hydrocolloid dressings are amazing things, and don’t worry, they’re supposed to smell!), some anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen, but try not to use them unless you absolutely have to, as they’re quite bad for harming your recovery) and sudocreme for saddle sores.
Finally, pack a good book and a sense of humour. Stage races are all about seeing amazing places, meeting cool people and having fun – some of the best memories you’ll take away will be sitting on a terrace somewhere with a huge ice cream and a bunch of new friends. Oh, and don’t forget your passport…