Mountain bike racing and riding can take you around the globe. I have used mountain biking as an excuse to travel for about 10 years, thanks to a highly infectious travel bug bite after a long around the world adventure when I was 6. And sure, while I’m away from home I long for my own bed and pillow, plus something different to wear from what I packed – and a consistently good coffee. But going to mountain bike stage races is like an addiction, with travel, adventure and competition are all rolled into one experience.
Even with over 20 marathon stage races (6 days or more) completed I still want to explore, ride and race. Finding new places to ride is often done best within a mountain bike stage race. Navigation, accommodation, meals, friendship – it’s all part of it. Not only is each and every marathon stage race different in your experience, and in the riding they offer – but also in the services you receive for your entry costs. No major mountain bike stage race is a cheap undertaking, as the combined costs of travel, entry, travel insurance, bike upgrades and more leave quite a dent in the annual bike budget. So, removing travel costs, riding, racing, travel and personal experiences from the decision making – how do the costs for some of the big marathon stage races stack up?
Counting the costs of stage races
To make these comparisons work, let’s assume a 2-3 star hotel standard, unless the race is usually camping – like the Crocodile Trophy or Cape Epic. We will also account for accommodation for the night before the race, and after, and will include this into any possible accommodation packages – using estimates via booking services or past experiences. We’ll also account for washing your kit every 3 days, daily massage, and what the in race nutrition options are, along with meals and whether they will keep you going or whether you will need to supplement them with something else. Of course, there are still many differences but we’ll try to even it out for comparisons sake.
We’ll calculate costs in Euro as it’s the most relevant ‘hard currency’.
Craft Bike Transalp
Entry Cost: 795Euro
Number of days: Seven
Accommodation: 595Euro (upwards) via Host Services.
Massage: 17.50Euro a day
Nutrition: Great in race nutrition from High5 and with other food available.
Meals: Within accommodation costs, add 15 Euro a day for lunch/post stage to cover a pizza and sharing a salad – or vice versa.
Laundry: In your hotel, 25euro for a bag wash – based on what we have been able to negotiate in Austria and Italy!
Pre/post event accommodation: Within the package
Per day cost: 237.50Euro
The Transalp is a classic in the marathon stage racing world. It’s a truly complete experience, crossing the Alps from north to south. While it has earned a reputation from some as just being lots of fireroad climbing, the new race director is finding new trails, and new stage towns that have increased the technical challenge of the event, and made it one of the world’s best again. Accordingly, the cost of entry has gone up a little, but in general this is a very good value race. Each start and finish is right in a proper alpine town, so any services you need will be on hand. This race can be done more cheaply by forgoing massage, handwashing your kit and staying in the camp, a saving of well over 500Euro. Given the chance – I would race Transalp every year. You can’t beat the Alps in summer.
The Absa Cape Epic
Entry Cost: 2413.17 Euro per rider
Number of days: Eight
Accommodation: Camping, although an extra 1850Euro will purchase the Premium package and take away the need for paying for massage.
Nutrition: There’s food, but account for an extra 15Euro a day for gels/bars for your pockets as they are not available at the feed stations. And a lot of grubby hands dip into those food stations.
Meals: Excellent, if a little bit repetitive: two kinds of salad and four kinds of meat – always enough to eat. But the braai’s or burgers on offer are too hard to refuse. Give yourself 10Euro a day to spend on a burger, and a coffee at breakfast.
Pre/post event accommodation: 365 Euro based on accommodation packages via the Cape Epic.
Total cost: 3219.32 Euro
Per day cost: 402.42 Euro
The Cape Epic is the best known mountain bike stage race in the world – and according to the UCI it’s one of the hardest, with the HCS ranking. You can avoid camping by choosing the Premium package, but the camp really has everything you need. Plenty of good food, showers, clean toilets, a recovery lounge, bike mechanics, massage services… it’s all there in a ready-made town. It’s an expensive race, but it’s a truly outstanding experience. There are few other places you can be in the same race as so many world and national champions, and in such a stunning landscape. The Cape Epic does require you and your team mate to wear matching kit – this may be another cost you will need to take into account.
Perskindol Swiss Epic
Entry Cost: 1995 Euro – Comfort Package
Number of days: Six
Accommodation: 3 star hotels, but 3 star apartments in Graechen.
Massage: Included in the Perskindol service
Nutrition: Exceptional pre, post and in race nutrition via Sponsor. You’d be foolhardy to not bring your own preferred products, but the requirement to carry so much with you on each stage is less, and the recovery nutrition options are excellent.
Meals: Great meals at your accommodation – and there’s food in the finishing area too. It would be worth accounting for up to 20 additional Euros each day for coffees or a drink or two, and to sample something local… “you must try our cheese!”
Pre/post event accommodation: Included
Total cost: 2115 Euro
Per day cost: 352.50 Euro
The Perskindol Swiss Epic has filled a spot that was empty in the European marathon stage race scene – a full service race that favoured quality, technical trails in the Alps. Having run for four successful years so far, the Swiss Epic has earnt a name as a demanding, but highly rewarding race. The Swiss Epic is another UCI ranked event with an S1 status, however the Flow category does away with a portion of the climbing for those who prefer descending – note that Flow entries are a little higher to account for lifts and vehicles. In a manner that befits the nation, the Swiss Epic is a high quality experience. It is very well-run, the route traverses many trails that are not otherwise open to mountain bikers, and the food and accommodation are hard to beat. And above all that – the singletrack is breathtaking. Distances are shorter than the first two years, which many will appreciate. We feel that races like the Swiss Epic are the perfect package holiday for mountain bikers.
Interestingly, the Swiss Epic was just purchased by Ironman. So along with the Cape Epic and Pioneer, Ironman own 3 marathon stage races. We may see some changes to the Swiss Epic in the future. Don’t be surprised to see the Cape Epic having a ‘qualifying’ stage race in each major mountain bike market. Europe and Oceania are covered. Next up – North and South America? Our picks are Singletrack 6 and Brasil Ride.
Sudety MTB Challenge
Entry Cost: 300Euro (or 250-500 Euro, depending on when you enter)
Number of days: Six
Accommodation: There’s a camp, but there is also an accommodation package that is 400 Euro twin-share
Massage: 80Euro for the package.
Nutrition: There are feed stations with fruit and biscuits, but for 40Euro you’ll get two bars, two gels and two isotonic drinks before each stage
Meals: Plenty of food, and there’s food at the finish. But factor another 15Euro for some beers and pizza, and maybe an ice-cream after dinner.
Laundry: Handwashing – you might be able to negotiate with your hotel, but we had no luck.
Pre/post event accommodation: Within the race accommodation package.
Total cost: 910 Euro
Per day cost: 151.65 Euro
The Sudety MTB Challenge isn’t just amazing value – it’s an absolute joy to race. The trails are varied, and a far cry from what you will ride further west in Europe. Linking towns via ancient paths and routes, it’s a race that will truly take you to places you might not otherwise visit. For the budget-minded, it can be done for less than 500 Euro if you slept in the school rooms and entered early. Cost aside, the experience is amazing, and it’s a brilliant way to experience central Europe, it’s a highly recommended marathon stage race. You could also check out the 4-day Beskidy MTB Trophy.
Mongolia Bike Challenge
Entry Cost: 1950 Euro (although early bird pricing can save several hundred Euro)
Number of days: 6
Accommodation: Camping in gehrs – quite an experience.
Massage: This isn’t cheap – but it’s one of the best in-race massage services experienced. 40Euro gets a long, intense massage.
Nutrition: It’s ok, but factor taking your own specific sports nutrition at 15 Euro/day
Meals: Varied, from freshly slain goat dumplings to curries and more. But pack a food bag of your favourite things. Do all this in Ulaanbataar before you leave there, factor 30 Euro. Factor another 30 Euro for any meals while in UB that aren’t at the hotel.
Laundry: You’ll be handwashing. Get a collapsable sink and an elastic clothesline from a camping store and some detergent in UB. 20Euro should be plenty.
Pre/post event accommodation: You will need at least two nights before and 1 after. Factor 250Euro for this, but it depends if you stay in the race hotel twin share or not.
Total cost: 2592 Euro
Per day cost: 432 Euro
The Mongolia Bike Challenge has morphed from a 10 day epic race, to a 7 day epic race, and now to 6 days to make it a little more realistic for everyone. The 7 day format had back-to-back BIG days of over 170km and the newer, shorter route should be much more popular. The long days of previous years are part of what made the event so epic – but it also broke a lot of people. Regardless of changes to distances, for most people who head to Mongolia this will be a race into the unknown – and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a wild landscape and one that has serene beauty in photos, but the reality is different on the ground, with the potential for wild winds, big temperature changes, and storms. It’s a true adventure, and if you like riding fast, and you’re interested in seeing this part of Asia – stop thinking and start entering the race.
Learn what Subaru-MarathonMTB racer Justin Morris took home from the Mongolia Bike Challenge.
Entry Cost: 1772 Euro
Number of days: 8
Accommodation: Camping when you’re not in Cairns. You could Soft Trophy it and have a driver and go back to Atherton most nights, at a reasonable expense. But the camp is easy. If you don’t like camping, look at a camper van – but you’ll need someone to drive it.
Massage: Pay as you go: factor about 220 Euro for 7 massages.
Nutrition: You get some gels in your starter bag and the feeds have food too – but take more of your own, about 10 Euro a day would be a good budget.
Meals: Plenty to eat, but not so good for the gluten intolerant and only passable for vegetarians. 50Euro spent before leaving Cairns will top up a bag of luxury (snack) items for you.
Laundry: Handwashing – although there is a laundromat in Atherton if you ride down there.
Pre/post event accommodation: 280Euro will get you the two nights you need in Cairns and a night in Port Douglas.
Total Cost: 2402 Euro
Per day cost: 300.25 Euro
‘The Croc’ has transformed from one of the most formidable mountain bike stage races in the world – to one of the most varied. Long days on corrugated dirt roads are gone, and there is much more climbing, singletrack, and time spent in one location. Some might say the sense of adventure at the Crocodile Trophy is gone – others might say now it’s an attractive proposition. Camping is the norm, although competitors can opt to hire a camping 4WD or even just a normal campervan, and have a staff member drive it, or have a supporter drive it. This adds considerable cost but as it is it’s a well-priced stage race, especially if you live in Australia or New Zealand. The recfent course changes don’t add a huge chunk of singletrack, but the variety is there, with time in the rainforest, on cattle stations, farmland, and the true outback. Plus of course a finish up 4 Mile Beach!
The Breck Epic
Entry Cost: 730Euro – but it’s time sensitive so you could pay about 80 Euro more or at least 100 less.
Number of days: 6
Accommodation: Book your own. 850 Euros will get you some 3 star self catered accommodation via their partners though. You can spend more, or spend less. Up to you, but they have sorted out good rates.
Massage: The race has some good packages here too – but pricing from their event partner is discounted but not published. It’s a ski town, there are options, and plenty of places will get you 7x 30min sport massages for 270Euro or about that.
Nutrition: There’s a lot of Gu at the event. Bring your own too but nutrition is pretty cheap in the US. Factor 10 Euro a day.
Meals: We are calculating on self-catered accommodation, so let’s calculate on groceries. 300 Euro for the week will keep you well-fed and watered, with coffee and beers as well. This will be too much for many and too little for others. That’s why this is a light-hearted guide.
Laundry: Find one. Leave about 20Euro spare to cover 2 wash and dry cycles.
Pre/post event accommodation: Within the above accommodation approximation.
Per day cost: 371 Euro
The Breck Epic is the cool kid of this lot. The trails are rad, you’re based out of a ski town with a solid mountain bike reputation, and you’re never far from any luxury. But the stages, and the racing, are still hard. It’s got epic in the name afterall. With the camping and RV options, and banquet options too – you can certainly make this one cheaper – and if you’re looking for an American mountain bike stage race you really should look at this first and anything else second. It is about a day after Leadville and a much better mountain bike experience. So if you’re visiting from outside the US forget Leadville, and think about Breck instead. Pricing on this has been a little subjective, as the race does get some great packages together for meals, accommodation and massage – which might change the overall cost. Want to know more? Just contact them, they’re a helpful bunch, and they want you to come and race on the rad trails around Breck. But if you’re planning on coming and want to feel good – come early and get used to the base altitude of 2700m.
Entry Cost: 1896 Euro (but you can enter early and save 400 Euro!)
Number of days: 6
Accommodation: You will be camping – although you could organise other options or get campervans, much like the Cape Epic.
Massage: A massage service is available, for 128Euro per rider.
Nutrition: The feed zones have product from Gu, but not gels. There is also fruit, fruit cake, lollies and ‘Iso’. You will need to bring your own gels for sure, factor a cost of about 10Euro a day.
Meals: But breakfast, dinners and recovery meals are provided. Food vendors are around for lunch and good luck not eating more after epic stages. Factor another 15 Euro a day for a pizza and coffee, or a slow-cooked meat rolls.
Laundry: Buy your laundry washes, 20Euro will do two washes
Pre/post event accommodation: The race has changhed to a 6 day format in and out of Queenstown, which makes logistics a bit easier. 200 Euro should cover your half of a twin share studio before and after the race – just book in advance!
Total cost: 2374 Euro
Per day cost: 395 Euro
The Pioneer is clearly modelled on the point-to-point nature of races like the Transalp, but utilising a camp system more akin to the Cape Epic, with stages to suit. And that is exactly who The Pioneer has partnered with. If you win your race category at The Pioneer (in a Cape Epic category) you earn a place at the following year’s event, avoiding the chance of the lottery. There are also 5 more random entry slots to be drawn. The Pioneer is a truly epic event, with long days on hard wilderness trails in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It is very well organised, and I’d suggest going before it gets too big! Don’t miss our thoughts on The Pioneer.
For 2018, The Pioneer has been revamped, changing from a true point-to-point race, starting and finishing in Queenstown and dropping to 6 days.
So many stage races, how do I choose?
That’s still up to you. This is just from the selection of marathon stage races we have done under the MarathonMTB.com banner, or before that. None of them are ‘cheap’, and they are all an investment, especially considering the time in training you need to put in for the events. But hopefully, this gives you a bit of a guide, so you can see what is included, and what isn’t for many races. Just about any of these races can be done more cheaply, and also a lot more expensively. The Cape Epic Premium package, and the top package at the Swiss Epic are examples of that!
There are so many other costs you need to remember, obviously airfare and transfers, taking bike spares and paying for any services, insurance, and even Visas for a race like the Mongolia Bike Challenge. But most of all – don’t view them with a price on their head. View them as an experience and use this as a guide for what to save for.