A stage race can takes you on a multiday adventure to some of the most spectacular places in the world, places you’re unlikely to visit as a tourist. A race like this creates lifetime memories and stories you can tell all your friends and family. Why not experience this fantastic journey with a friend in a pairs race!?
I’ve raced many paired stage races through the years with successes like 2 Transalp wins and a top 20 at the Cape Epic but also experienced many failures with mid-race melt downs, unsuitable partners, poor preparation or faulty equipment ripping apart the team. Pairs racing is a completely different dynamic to solo racing and the performance of a pair comes down to many factors. Even the best teams in the world can fall apart at crucial moments.
Having a solid relationship with your race partner where you respect and trust each other will take you a long way. Being able to trust someone’s knowledge and decisions out on the race track could be the difference between a podium finish and a win. If the friendship is good it’ll make communication during the race easier and will make it easier to chat about any problems after a stage. You shouldn’t sit on issues or frustrations from a stage, it’s more productively to chat and make improvements for the following day. Both people should have common goals for the race and each stage, chasing different things is a quick way to cause friction.
When finding a race partner you should try to choose someone with a similar ability to you. Knowing or quickly learning each other strengths and weaknesses will make a successful relationship. Who’s stronger on the climb, who’s more confident on the descents, who can pull longer turns on the flats…? A stronger rider could ride ahead by a few seconds to stop at the feed zone to refill both water bottles whilst the other rider continues past the feed zone. If someone is clearly stronger on the climbs consider whether they should carry the race spares for both riders and even carry both water bottles. If one person is stronger on the climbs block the wind for your partner but make sure you ride a pace they can sustain or you’ll make the situation worse. If the climb is a technical trail or through the forest when slipstreaming isn’t needed it’s worth letting the weaker rider set the pace so they can go whatever speed they are comfortable with. On the descents a stronger rider can show the weaker person the correct lines and warn of obstacles coming up but it’s often difficult for a faster rider to ride slower and keep checking behind safely. You don’t want to get separated, it’s important to stay close on the trails to encourage each other, to help the weaker rider, in case someone had a bike issue or suffers a crash. For safety reasons most pairs races have a rule about the maximum time you’re allowed between the 2 riders.
It’s inevitable at some point during the race there will be an issue during a stage or a problem you need to fix in the evening. If possible use similar equipment so one set of spares is enough to fix both bikes, this saves luggage space when travelling and complications when out on the trail.
In a long multi day stage race its likely one person from the pair will have a bad day, having a teammate there to support you could get you through a day which would result in a DNF in a solo race. I remember one stage race where it was roasting hot during the stage and I struggled to sleep that night. I woke up just as exhausted as I’d felt having finished the previous stage. I didn’t know how I’d make it over the mountains ahead. I warmed up on the turbo trainer but my eyes just felt like closing, the body wasn’t willing to work no matter how hard I tried. My teammate got me through the stage sitting in the wind, keeping the pace consistently smooth and encouraging me to the finish line.
No matter how hard things get in a stage race you should always remember that unless you’re there racing for the win you are doing this for fun, this is your friend your riding with, look up, take in the beautiful scenery, enjoy the trails and smile at the finish line of this amazing adventure.