Stage Racing Basics-
Using Tour de Bloom in Wenatchee, WA as our example.
This post is organized as -
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Format is multi-day, usually it's going to be either a Friday or a Thursday through a Sunday.
National level races often stretch from a Tuesday or Wednesday through Sunday.
*BLOOM will be Friday through Sunday.*
FOR Tour de Bloom : you'll have four stages, consisting of a ROAD RACE on Friday, a TIME TRIAL and CRITERIUM on Saturday, and then Sunday is another ROAD RACE. There is ONE winner at the end of the weekend, and it's determined by the total time to complete
the combined events - whoever finishes the fastest overall, wins. Riders can also choose to focus on individual stage wins versus going for the overall win.
The first road race for Tour de Bloom is a shorter one to get things started, it'll establish a basic order. Road races are mass start according to the rider category.
There is either one big loop or a shorter circuit to be completed multiple times according to category distance - Bloom’s Friday race will be a 29 mile circuit to be completed between 1 and 3 times depending on category.
The time trial for those who have never done one is an individual start event: it's each racer against the clock on a several mile stretch of road - The course is a relatively flat and non-technical out and back. It's VERY HELPFUL to do several practice time trials that mimic the approximate distance of the event as it's tricky to figure out what your maximum sustainable pace is for time trialing - this is a practice, practice, practice skill set.
Not practicing your race-pace threshold effort may likely mean you go too hard (which means you "implode" somewhere mid-ride) or you ride too easy and at the end of the event finish feeling like you could have actually pushed harder.
Time trials have specific rules of conduct which often include rules for passing people, NO draft rules in effect, centerline rules, and special race number placement on your jersey (this may or may not apply, the other rules are nearly universal for time trials on open roads).
After the Time Trial is the criterium. Criteriums are small circuits set in downtown areas, usually about a city block or so in size. They are timed and mass start according to the rider category.
Bonus laps called “primes” usually help make the criteriums highly competitive and fast! Prime laps are announced in some form via loudspeaker or bell, and consist of money, gear prizes or other awards like time bonuses.
The final lap of a criterium is marked by a bell or loudspeaker announcement.
If a mishap like a flat tire happens during a criterium, there is a mechanical station called a "Pit" where you will be able to go mid-race to receive mechanical help (A wheel swap is most common). You will then be instructed to re-enter the race at a certain time and you will be able
finish with the other riders as long as the mishap happens within a certain number of laps to go. It is important that you move quickly to the pit if a mechanical does happen, so make sure you're familiar with where this is.
If you crash, it's the same premise, you will go to a location the organizers should make known at the beginning of the race and they will tell you when you can re-enter.
The final stage for Bloom on Sunday is another road race.
PRO TIPS DURING:
Personal organization and orientation is important for these events: read the technical guide closely, but DON'T hesitate to ask other racers questions and to have them check you over for proper bike number placement on your jersey and bike.
Get to the event early (yes you, earlier than you think you need to) if possible to become familiar with the start of the first event.
If you have time, previewing technical parts (climbs, tricky descents) of the road races or time trial is a good idea. You can do this from a car to save time and energy. This is not necessary but it can be really helpful, especially if you struggle with pre-race anxiety.
*On the same note, you should consider it a necessary for safety’s sake to preview a criterium course before racing - racers usually do this by arriving a race or two before their
event and jumping in to ride a lap between events when they open the course briefly to riders.
You want to keep an eye out for trouble areas like manhole covers, big cracks and other general safety hazards. It's also useful for getting the hang of certain corners in the race.
For stage racing: You need to focus on eating and drinking and resting between stages!!! EAT ... EAT ... EAT. You often won't feel super hungry when you're in the middle of a really demanding event like a stage race and you can't rely on traditional hunger cues - regularly fueling your body and re-hydrating. Put reminders in your phone if you need to and always have extra snacks on hand.
It can also be tempting to be social during a stage race: it's GREAT to hang out with friends, but keep in mind that you need to recover too - try to stay off of your feet between races as much as possible.
Warm up: Generally the longer events (road races) you don't need to warm up as much - that being said, some road races start with a hill very early on and you should be more warmed up for road races with immediate elevation gain. The shorter events like a time trial and criterium need a proper warm up - your body physically needs to raise it's temperature with "work" (a warm up) to produce power as efficiently as possible. A warm up should not take more than
about 30-45 minutes and should be completed no more than 15 or so minutes before the start of the event (you don't want to cool down again before your event).
*The exception to a 30 minute or so warm up is if it is very hot outside, shorten the warm up or take safety precautions so that you do not risk overheating.
Pack a LOT of gear! Do you want to wash your kit mid-race in the sink in your hotel room? (Totally acceptable for stage racing…!) OR, do you have additional changes of kit to bring along.
Take kit for EVERY type of weather, ESPECIALLY for early season races in spring weather! It may look nice and sunny in the weather app for your race weekend but DON’T rely on that information.
DO NOT rely on local bike shops or stores to supply your race nutrition. Have that sorted before you head out, methodically go through every day and plot out your pre, during, and post race nutrition and recovery. This is VERY IMPORTANT! Race nutrition should be dialed in before the event.
Pack sleeping gear… ear plugs and face mask if necessary to try and guard your sleep. You may be sharing a hotel room etc and nothing is worse than having a preventably botched night of sleep in the middle of a stage race.
Bottles! Take bottles that are NOT your $25 special-to-you bottles. The road race stages usually have at least one neutral support section where you drop your empty bottle and collect a full bottle… take advantage of this! Stay hydrated during your race! But also… say goodbye to the bottles you brought with you! You’ll almost 100% end up with a mix of new bottles at the end of a stage race weekend.
STAGE RACE SPECIFIC PRE-RACE TRAINING:
As I already mentioned - get in some threshold-specific workouts to get yourself used to time trial efforts. If possible research the distance of the event and replicate that effort at home.
As far as overall stage race prep: Try to get in several weeks of training where you include multiple harder days in a row. You need to feel what training through fatigue feels like as well as get your body used to that. If you don't have a coach, make sure you then schedule proper recovery time after a focused block of several days of harder training.
THIS IS A LOT OF INFORMATION, and stage racing can be daunting! But we all go through this first-time experience! You’ll have LOTS of fellow racers surrounding you who’d LOVE to help out with any questions. And, mistakes happen and it’s part of learning: Big breath! AND HAVE FUN! That is definitely number 1. Stage races are HARD, but they are absolutely a blast as well. You’ll bond with people and share an incredible journey of a race.
Email me with any questions you have, I’d be happy to answer them.