Stage Race Preparation

My “A” race this year is a 6 day MTB stage race ( in September. I’ve done a few similar events in the past, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever been adequately prepared for such an event. My N:1 challenge is to enter this event with enough fitness to feel like I have the ability to push my pace for the majority of the event, and to race smarter (better pacing, avoid cramps, and no crashing). My question to the forum is how to best prepare for 6 consecutive days of intensity. My general approach is an increase in training volume (10 -12 hrs/wk up from 6-8 hrs/wk) in a polarized distribution and more weight training. What are the best strategies of specific training to target a stage race? My ideas are:

  1. 4 day “overreach”/“fatigue” blocks. Three in total, one in April, one in June, and the last one 4 weeks prior to the event before my taper. Is three fatigue blocks enough, or too much? Is 4 days the right length? I think 6 days would require too much recovery.
  2. 2X per month doing my LSD ride the day after an interval day.

Is this a good approach?
Are there other strategies I should pursue?
@trevor @chris and @ryan how are you going address specificity for your N:1 challenge stage races?


Hooray for 6-day stage races this year!

@robertehall1, as I am training for the same type of event (6d MTB stage race), we’re thinking along the same lines. To your thoughts:

  1. The 4 day blocks are great in my opinion. Staggering them into specific time frames is smart, and I like how you don’t have one in May. I would assume this is to either plug in a 1-day race or something, or just give the body time to unload from those fatigue blocks? What would these blocks look like for you? Will they be all base rides, or include some intervals of some sort? I would agree that 6 days would require too much recovery and become counterproductive.

  2. Doing your LSD ride the day after an interval day would be completely appropriate in my opinion as well. You’re coming into the ride with tired legs (which you will experience in ST6 of course), and you’ll be able to work on fueling and pacing with tired legs.

When I was preparing for the 3-day stage race a few years back, I found that the way I was loading myself due to full-time work got the job done, but it had its drawbacks. In the snip below you can see how there are a number of spikes in the training load (pink lines) and more of a heavy/off approach with Training Stress Balance (TSB, the yellow bars). So this was basically set up where I was doing my normal base riding week to week, but when I had the opportunity I would throw down a huge 1-day ride (e.g., that last spike on the right was a 10 hour ride on the SS MTB). So that happened, and then the focus was on just trying to recover from it.

Did it work? Yes. The race couldn’t have gone any better. My take-away: this was certainly effective because having done a number of brutally hard 1-day rides on the MTB, I was ready for 3 days of more XC style racing even though I never got 2-3 day blocks of hard/long riding in.

Moving into 2020 and being unemployed for the pandemic summer, I was able to apply the training load very differently, below:

Above, you can see a much more gradual progression. TSB (yellow bars) still falls into the negative, but we’re not seeing these massive one-day spikes (pink lines). This was, of course, the pandemic year, so training planning was easier due to the circumstances. Coming out of that season, I was in much better condition to continue riding well and feeling motivated to race, whereas in 2019, once I pulled out of Nats, that was it. I needed to take a bigger rest and motivation was lower. For a one-hit summer race though, that preparation worked fine.

Having learned that, I’m going to pull this consistency from 2020 into the training this year and marry that with some of the things that worked from 2019. Hopefully some of these thoughts can fuel some ideas for your preparation:

  1. Maintain the consistency and use bike commutes and my foundation of fitness. I have seen good gains in metabolic function from doing 2-a-day rides to/from work where I can extend or shorten as necessary.
  2. Minimize any massive MTB rides unless it’s just for fun (e.g., soul rides)
  3. Include some consistent 2-3 day blocks of moderate length rides (e.g., 4-5 hrs/day for 2-3 days instead of 1x 10 hour day)
  4. As you suggested, definitely maintain the strength training. This, in terms of postural control, is a big focus for me. I know the legs will be tired, and the aerobic conditioning will help them to keep pushing the pedals over. But I’m more concerned with postural control and being able to hold a healthy and comfortable position on the bike hour after hour/day after day. This is to ensure I want to get back on the bike for the next stage.

The last thing I’ll mention is fueling. MTB fueling is different from other disciplines, so while you’re out on your fatigue blocks, be sure to practice the timing of your fueling and hydration, along with accessibility of it. Plan your fuel and fluid ahead of time, and then when you’re back home, do a little download where you can write down what came in and assess how closely you came to your original plan, and just as important, your actual needs for performance.

Thanks for your question, and it will be fun to keep this conversation going as we all prepare for our N1 Challenge events!
Coach Ryan

1 Like

Sorry for the slow reply, but I agree… hooray for 6 day stage races! I think Ryan covered it well. Just a few things to add:

  1. I wouldn’t put a set an exact number on the fatigue blocks. One is better than none and two are better than one. But you also don’t want to get too many. I’d say 3-4 before your event is certainly going to help. I think the schedule you outlined works well. I also think for someone who has a job, four days is fine. You don’t have to perfectly simulate the race.

  2. I like your back-to-back days with intervals and then an LSD ride. While you want to be careful not to cross the razor’s edge (go into over-reach) you do need to train yourself to perform with fatigued legs. That’s something I’m working on right now and I will make myself do interval work after a hard day or do weights beforehand to fatigue my legs. I don’t hit the same numbers as I would fresh, but I want my legs to learn to still put out good power when they are yelling at you to stop abusing them. That’s what your legs are going to be doing on the fourth, fifth, and sixth day of your event, so you need to be used to it.

Hope that helps!


Hello, I am just getting online here but have been watching this conversation for a while.

If you don’t mind @robertehall1 can you share some information about your threshold as it currently stands and the way you determine it? (software, testing, etc.)

I have had athletes do this race, BC bike race, Pisgah among others, so I have lots of data and ideas around the moutain bike stage races.

I would like to get an idea of your current fitness level first before making some suggestions.


Hiya @steveneal. Yes happy to share. I think my 1hr FTP is in the 4-4.1 watt:kg range. My last ramp test suggested FTP 291 but I know I’m more of a fast twitch guy and the ramp test way overestimates it for me. My 20 min tests have been in the 240-270 range, last was 255W. The best power I have actually seen over 1 hr is 240W. I’m 61kg. I’ve been following fast talk Lab advice pretty well since last fall. I haven’t seen much change in my FTP but I do think my endurance has improved. I recently held 3.5 w/kg for an hour at the end of a 5 hr zwift ride which I know I wouldn’t have been able to do last year.


Thanks for the info.

I will gather some data from that race over the next few days and be back.

Keep working on that endurance :slight_smile: … without even looking at the data I can say that to podium in masters in a North American MTB stage race is takes 3-4 hour days at 80-85% of mFTP normalized power.

Will be back with some more info as I mentioned.

Over the course of the 6 days it was around 84-87% of mFTP for my rider.

This was around 240-247 watts normalized power each day.

This will be an endurance/tempo session for most people to finish with really good consistency.

The biggest piece of this puzzle will be pacing right from day 1 (or it will really catch up on Day 4 and you will really slow down and not be able to recover during the stage race). The other will be nutrition, once again right from the start.

If you can put in some training blocks focusing on repeated training in the tempo range on the flats, sweetspot climbing, 2 or 3 days in a row this will really help.

There is no need to put in really big weeks, but more important really consistent, week after week training focusing mostly on race-specific intensity.

The other thing to note is the cadence every day was between 61-85. There are lots of amazing climbs, but many are technical, or steep, or both! Working on lower cadence will really help you be ready.

One session I really like is a long day where you ride off-road, start at endurance pace on flatter terrain at 80 plus cadence naturally, then every hour push a little higher intensity but drop the cadence. By the last hour you will be climbing at your perceived limit and pushing 50-60 cadence, basically split the time into thirds depending on your long ride availability.

Hope this helps, let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.