After finishing the recent Tour de Timor I have been giving my bike a post stage race overhaul. Going through my bike and all my personal equipment after many of these ‘adventure style’ stage races over the years has given me a deeper insight into appropriate equipment selection than I had before. By ‘adventure style’ I mean the type of race that generally occurs in a remote location and more often than not requires camping as the only form of mid-race accommodation. The Tour de Timor and the iconic Crocodile Trophy are what I would consider perfect examples of ‘adventure style’ stage races.
I’ve compiled a list of things that have worked for me, and a few that have not, over the past few years of racing off the beaten track.
WHAT DOES WORK:
- Sturdy, new tyres:
At the Tour de Timor I used a new set of Maxxis Aspen 29er 2.25 tyres. Maxxis have always been kind to me in stage races with very few issues tyre wise over the years. A strong sidewall is essential particularly for races in rocky terrain like Timor. The EXO protection sidewall offered by Maxxis makes most of their range ideal for ultimate reliability when in remote locations where a cut sidewall can sometimes result in a complete DNF or at best big losses in your GC time.
The Aspen was a choice I was glad to make in Timor as the lower tread profile meant I could carry more speed on the long road sections, given there was little singletrack grip was not a big concern but durability and speed were. A good choice for such a race. With that being said, any multi day event I believe warrants a set of new tyres whatever type is your preference. New tyres, valves, and a top up of sealant has for the most part carried me through many stage races without any issue in the tyre department. Save for a few burps and losses of a bit of psi which is usually remedied within a few seconds thanks to a good CO2 inflator.
Don’t miss our look at some of the most popular XC treads from Maxxis – set for an update after more time on Aspens, Rekons and the Rekon Race.
- Hydration pack:
As someone who lives with Type 1 diabetes adequate hydration and nutrition is of absolutely crucial importance to my life on and off the bike. In previous races I have opted for the 2 drink bottle approach, my Norco Revolver has a second bottle cage attachment on the underside of the downtube. However, in previous experiences I have had trouble with this arrangement as quite often this bottle would eject itself particularly on long rock garden sections. The other hesitation I have about this arrangement is the debris that can be flung onto the bidon lip. Quite often we would be racing through farmland with cow poo among other unpleasantries in the developing world this can be especially dangerous for your immune system.
This time I opted to race each stage with 1 drink bottle in the traditional front triangle bottle cage mount filled with a carbohydrate mix to treat instances of low blood sugar. I also used the Camelbak Chase Vest filled with water for hydration. This proved to be a flawless plan, I never ran out of water and the Chase Vest sits very comfortably on the back and never posed any sore back issues that wearing a hydration pack can sometimes induce. You can read a recent review on the chase vest by contributor Gordon Wadsworth here. I was very happy to have made this choice.
- Dual Suspension Bike:
Those that know me well know that I am a big fan of the ‘old school’ approach to our sport. I love hardtails and still think they have a place in our sport. However, in 2016 I made my first foray into the dual suspension world on the Norco Revolver FS. Since then it is all I have ridden in stage races. The older I get the more ‘frail’ I begin to feel and the constant shuddering and jarring of riding a hardtail on long, corrugated days in the saddle is no longer appealling at all.
The technology in the duallies bringing the weight right down and not jeopardising the pedalling efficiency has made a dual suspension XC bike the obvious choice for multi day stage races. Especially given most ‘adventure style’ stage races are putting riders over often 100km+ of constant corrugated, jarring terrain the modern duallie gives the benefit of not only saving your body for multiple days of racing but also sustaining a lot more speed through rougher sections of trail.
A lot of the climbs in Tour de Timor were on very loose terrain and the extra traction offered by a small amount of travel in the rear end meant any loss I may have experienced from extra weight of a rear shock I gained back through the ability to sustain my traction on the steepest of pinches of any climb. Having the buttery smooth FOX Step Cast 32 up front and FOX Float EVOL up the back made the dual suspension situation even sweeter.
- Shimano XTR Di2
Electric gears like dual suspension bikes is something I was somewhat sceptical of initially. What could possibly be an improvement over the mechanical simplicity of a cable I ignorantly assumed… However now well into my 2nd year using XTR Di2 I am well and truly convinced of it’s benefits and could not imagine going back to a mechanical group set. Have a read of my impressions from this time last year after my first 6 months on XTR Di2 here.
A stage race is all about conserving energy until exactly the right moment and sustaining your equipment for numerous back to back hard days. As silly as it sounds but being able to shift gears with the slightest tap of a button rather than the cumbersome push of a cable lever is a huge benefit particularly on steep, technical climbing terrain of which there was plenty in Tour de Timor. Then when the climb is immediately followed by a fast descent being able to drop down more or less the entire cassette with one push of a button is again much more of an advantage than it sounds. Electric shifting is something you have to spend some time with to appreciate the benefits of, but after these are realised it is hard to ever go back to the cable operation.
Skinsuits being used outside of their initial purpose of Time Trials has been a thing for a few years now in road racing. The Tour de Timor was the first time I thought I would give this a go in a MTB stage race. I raced stage 2 in my Champion System skinsuit featuring 2 convenient pockets for nibbles and spares, this was without doubt the most comfortable I felt the whole race. No pull on the shoulders from bib and brace and contrary to my initial fears about the onesie it was actually very breathable and made 1 less piece of laundry to keep track of. I would definitely opt for the ‘skinny’ again especially for races in hot climates like the Crocodile Trophy.
WHAT DOES NOT WORK:
- Big Chainrings/ Small gear ratio’s
At Tour de Timor this year I started the race thinking I could ride the same gear I normally do in training, a 34T up front and I had a Shimano 11-46 up back which I arrogantly thought could get me through anything. The climbs at the Tour de Timor do not take the traditional European ‘switchback’ route up an incline. Most roads and trails in this race just go straight up the mountainside making for very aggressive gradients.
Luckily I had packed a 32T as a spare and changed to this after stage 1. In multi day races particularly those with a lot of climbing there is no benefit in grinding a big gear either on the flat or up a climb. Spinning a higher cadence places much less strain on your muscles and conserves more of your energy whilst still getting the same if not more power into the pedals. ‘Spin to win’ is probably more true in MTB stage racing than it is in any other discipline I believe.
- Relying on availability of food
Given my medical condition I have always been a little more conscious of being prepared in the nutrition department. Most multi day adventure style races will provide all meals and sometimes extra race nutrition and snacks also. However, your fuel (food) is probably the most important element of your race plan in a stage race. I have seen many times at stage races particularly in developing countries riders going hungry and getting sick as they wait for availability of food from the race organisation. It also pays to be aware of what you are consuming when racing in countries that may not have the cuisine you are used to. Your immune system will often be weakened from days of hard racing and is often not up to dealing with different foods. I always pack a few bags full of goodies from home that I know I can rely on in the case that race provided food is not available or suitable.
- Going full gas on Day 1
I have done it myself many times and see it happen all the time at multi day races. On stage 1 the excitement and motivation is at boiling point, many riders have trained for months for this and it is all about to happen. With a stage win and automatic leaders jersey on the line riders often go very deep on the first day fuelled by that excitement and motivation. This always carries with it the very real danger of blowing up big time in the later stages of the race. Your motivation is like a can of Coke; you just want to take little sips throughout the duration of the race rather than sculling it all on day 1. You have so much energy reserve in your body, going 110% on day 1 can mean you will be operating at only 60-70% for the remainder of the race.. The best strategy is to stay within your limits and avoid extended periods in the red early in the race. Consistency is rewarded in stage racing, an 80%, 80%, 80%, 80%, 80% effort will get you a far better result than a 110%, 70%, 60%, 50%, 70%. Get to know your body, get to know your effort and the associated feelings and you will get better and better at this.