Undertaking a big paired stage race might be the highlight of your mountain biking year – but if you pair up with the wrong person, it might be a real low point. Just because you’re great friends with a rider, it doesn’t mean you will end up as a good team.
Stage races exist around the world in both paired and solo varieties, but often the most fun is up for grabs when you get to race an event as a pair. It adds another dimension to the racing, but it also creates shared experiences that really shape your memories of the event, the adventure and the time exploring new trails.
One of the most important things to remember about paired stage races is that you and your team mate are just that – a team. You go faster by riding together, and the weaknesses of one rider should work with the strengths of the other to create a well-performing unit – no matter whether you’re racing for the podium, or just riding for the experience and to make the time cut-off.
That said, not every rider will be able to get along with another, no matter their intentions. In fact, it can be pretty difficult to find the right partner. In the history of the sport, at the professional level, there have been some great duos.
Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, of Team Bulls, absolutely ruled Transalp and Cape Epic, with numerous wins in both. These guys won so many races together, even beyond these two test pieces. They were a very powerful combination. Platt now races with Urs Huber, and although they have some great results, it’s nothing like the dominance Platt and Sahm achieved.
Ariane Luthi and Annika Langvad are a more recent, but equally successful pairing. Watching the two race together is like watching two metronomes pedal along. They are both so smooth and in sync when racing.
There are numerous other teams out there who make it work, but these two do really stand out. So what should you consider when getting a team together?
Find someone with similar fitness for a stage race
It sounds basic, but you really do want someone who has a similar fitness to you. As friendly as a hardcore racer might seem, they may just get frustrated if you are a lot slower than them. Similarly, you might think you’re just there for the experience, and want a friend to come along – but if the red mist descends and your friend can’t keep up, you might say something you regret.
Match your approach to paired stage races
Pairs racing is about the team, we’ve said that. But what do you do if one of the team members is sick, or suffering? The unfortunate reality of week-long (or more) paired races is that one day, one of you is likely to be ill. Be it the excess consumption of gels, too many cow pat filled paddocks, or just exhaustion. One day, one team mate is likely going to rely heavily on another. It’s really important to know what your strategy will be. Will one of you push or tow the other rider (as most paired races allow, without a mechanical aid), or will you aim to just complete the course? Will you stop? Will you just let the weaker (ill) rider set the pace so they feel they can complete the stage? These are essential to think about, and discuss.
Pushing or towing is a really big thing to consider. Will you accept a push when you’re off the pace? Are you happy to give one? Pushing or towing (grabbing a pocket) is actually very common in stage races. I’ve seen top men’s, women’s, mixed and master’s teams helping each other when one rider is struggling. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but perhaps not the best scenario in a fast moving bunch. You should know whether it’s something you’ll be doing in a time of need, and know how to do it so you’re both safe.
Match your stage race goals with your partner
It’s worthless signing up for a race if one of you wants to race for a high position, and one of you wants to stop for photos. Sit down and think about what you’d like to achieve, and make sure you both understand what your goals mean. “Going as fast as we can”, is not a goal. This sounds like I’m a motivational speaker, but remember to set S.M.A.R.T goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time sensitive.
“We want to finish stage 1 within 10% of the winner’s time” – this depends on your ability as to whether it’s achievable or realistic.
“We want to place within the top 20 of our category” – as above.
“We have to ride 5% below our Lactate Threshold” – sure, as long as you have measured it correctly and can compensate for cardiac drift through the day, and race.
But the idea is, come to an agreement, and communicate about what you want to achieve. If you can’t match your goals early, you’re not with the right partner.
Find someone you can communicate with, in and out of the race
Obvious, isn’t it? But beyond different languages, you need to be able to communicate openly with each other – and this should be based upon much of the above. Communicate about your goals, about how your race is going, and about how you are going. You shouldn’t be afraid of them, or of what they may think. Your team mate should be happy to listen to what you have to communicate, and you should reciprocate in the same manner.
Even basic signals on the bike are a very good thing to work out before the race. When to move up, when to attack, what to say if you have a flat… “no” and “go” do sound very similar.
Find someone with feelings
This is a bit left of field maybe for a professional team – but you need someone with empathy. As stated above, at some time, things won’t go your way. It may not be your fault, it might be beyond your control… but you want to make sure your team mate is someone capable of empathy, and that you’re able to be the same supportive team mate in return.
This list is far from exhaustive, but it should highlight the basic factors you need to consider when finding a team mate for a paired stage race. And who knows, if you race well together, you might have a few more bucket list races to tick off.
What are your tips for finding the right partner?