Stepping back from even the slightest inkling of performance anxiety, any mountain bike stage race should be viewed as a multi-day mountain bike holiday. But bike races and holidays alike tend to go better if you take what you need. Point to point mountain bike stage races have some slightly more unique demands, as once you jump into the moving beast, it’s not always that easy to jump off and top up supplies.
The Dragon Trail MTB Stage Race traces a route from Branxholm, to Derby, to Weldborough, over the Blue Tier, down the Bay of Fires Trail and then to St Helens. It’s a veritable tick list of must-ride destination in the mountain bike hotspot of north east Tasmania. But the event has it’s own unique demands. Stage races need you, and your bike, to run reliably each day. So let’s take a look at what you should be doing now, and what you should be packing.
Get your bike serviced before the race
Yes, we have said this a lot, including in our article on tips for success. But bike shops are busy and spare parts can have long lead times. So book your bike in now, as you want to make sure the bike you take to the Dragon Trail is a bike that will make it through the whole Dragon Trail.
But what bike should I take?
We covered this last year. In general, a cross-country or trail bike that you are comfortable riding and is in good, serviced condition (see above), is ideal. A dual suspension bike is a bonus, 120mm of travel would be lovely, as would slightly wider tyres, a dropper post and brakes with hard wearing pads – sintered pads are a good choice.
Don’t forget your bike spares
As soon as you enter a stage race, the beast has its own economy. Whether gold coins go up in value as you need them for a hot shower, or perhaps spare brake pads become hotter than beachfront real estate in the tent village. If you don’t have it, you might need it. While the Dragon Trail has some excellent bike mechanic support, and there are bike stores in Derby and St Helens, it pays to bring some of the basics.
That means compatible brake pads, maybe one tyre if your luggage allows, chain lube, some rags, an extra spare tube, derailleur hanger, quick link, and even spare cleats. You might even think about a spare grips, as they often tear in a crash. You’d be surprised how different your bike feels if you replace them with grips you don’t normally used. Bear in mind – you only have a 30kg single bag limit on the daily transport. So pack smart.
When riding you’ll need a spare tube, method of inflation, multitool, quick link, ideally a hanger and a plug kit as well. Of course, make sure your spares for on the bike are all compatible for your bike. Is that T25 torx tool actually long enough? Do you know how to use the chain breaker? Where do you store your plug kit? Do you know how to use it? Do a dry run on operation of the items. As a stage race, you do need to finish each day. So make sure you have what you need for the common issues like a flat tyre or broken chain.
You may or may not opt to carry a backpack for your gear. Those racing all in won’t need to, but if you want to make sure you have a jacket then you might end up opting to carry a small backpack. It can also assist with hydration compared to stopping to refill.
There’s a bike maintenance package to buy, although they may have sold out. What to do? Give your bike a wash, scrub, dry and lube each day. Check the essentials like tyre and shock pressure, and feel for anything loose that makes a knock. Moving any moving part perpendicular to how it should move is a good check. As in, does your wheel move sideways? If so – you have a problem to seek help with! Keeping on top of any issues each day will help major problems during a stage.
Looking after yourself
This is simple, and as mentioned other times here at MarathonMTB.com we have a saying – the race isn’t over until you’re in the shower. Getting cleaned up is important in a stage race especially. There is no benefit in sitting around in a muddy and wet chamois.
With a point to point stage race this has another layer of complexity when you change locations. Where’s the shower? How many are there? Do I need a gold coin? You need to be prepared! Having a wash bag, slides, towel and change of clothes at the very top of your bag is paramount. The Dragon Trail has a rider bag service so you have your essentials right at the finish. You can even squeeze some basics into this and really get to the showers first.
Nutrition is important, as is rehydrating. There’s lunch at the end of the stage, and plenty to drink. It makes sense to eat a bit now, drink, and then back that up with a proper meal right after a shower.
If you have any sort of dietary needs or preferences, practice BYO so you’re not at the mercy of what the food trucks have. Sometimes options were pretty minimal.
Make sure you bring enough riding kit for each day. Hand washing is great, but having things dry is a gamble. You want 3 sets of fresh kit, including gloves. Don’t mess around and leave base layers, vests, warmers or jackets at home. It’s Tasmania.
Let this translate to off the bike in terms of range of clothing. You may be seeking shade from the fierce Tassie sun at St Helens, and you may be seeking out people to snuggle with at Weldborough to stay warm. So have enough clothing for whatever Tasmania throws at you.
Plan your race food for the Dragon Trail MTB
If this is your first mountain bike race, then this part may be tricky. Or if you’ve done a lot of multisport events and you’re trying a three day mountain bike race – the same applies. Even if you’ve done a few multi-day events, you still need to think a little more about nutrition at the Dragon Trail – and here’s why.
You ride a lot of singletrack, and climb a lot of hills – all in a time trial format.
So, singletrack takes more explosive riding for acceleration out of corners, and it uses a wider variety of muscles with more bike handling needed. Stage distances of 45km, 54km or 42km may not sound like too much – but given the majority is on singletrack or fast double track, you may also find less opportunities to eat and drink.
Then there is the climbing. The Dragon Trail is likely the hilliest mountain bike stage race in Australia, on a daily average. The Crocodile Trophy has some very hilly stages – but some flat ones as well. Same goes for Port to Port and Reef to Reef. But the Dragon Trail has some climbs! Of course it has great descents as well.
So make a plan. Study the course, create a realistic finish time, and work out your caloric needs. It can help to have a drink mix in your bottles to help keep topped up, and take an extra gel at least. As always, test drink mixes and race foods before race day.
Recover like a pro
Sure, kick back in your stinky kit after the stage, dump your bike on the grass and have a beer or three and maybe a few cold wedges. It may feel good at the time but you’re unlikely to sleep well and will ride like a bag of spanners the next day.
So along with following the advice with all your handy extra items packed and preparation done – make sure you have what you need to sleep comfortably.
Assuming you have chosen the camping option, and understand the limits of 30kg on your camp baggage, a few things make a difference.
One is a quality air bed. Sure a massive one is ok if you can inflate it. But a thick self inflating one is good – or even one of the car camping ones. They’re not small – but they’re comfortable. Foam mats are a no no.
Secondly, your own pillow. Another luxury item, but that’s what this list is about. Pack it into a stuff sack. Do it. Love it. Enjoy it.
An air bed cover. If you’re not a frequent hiker you may not sleep well in a sleeping bag. So get a custom fitted sheet that goes over your air mat, and unzip your sleeping bag like a doona. You’re welcome.
Hear no evil, see no evil. An eye mask and ear plugs (and spare) are must haves! Whether it’s a generator or a noisy neighbour, this helps block them out.
A couple of other luxuries might be a book or a kindle (you are on holiday) and a nice clean bottle to use for water – plus a quality head torch. Little things add up.
And lastly, pack your sense of humour. It’s a bike race, you and everyone else is there to have fun. Be nice, meet new friends and enjoy riding some of the best trails in the world!