Mountain Bike Stage Racing: Tips and Perspective

Pisgah Stage Race mountain bike costumes


“Would I like riding my bike day after day as part of a stage race?" Well, I think there’s no better way to travel than a mountain bike stage race - journeying through unknown trails and meeting new friends from around the world.

I just completed my second mountain bike stage race: the Pisgah Stage Race near Asheville in North Carolina. For the 200 participants from 15 different countries in the 10th running of the race, the roots and rocks of Pisgah National Forest on repeat for 5 days gave us all some epic racing through terrain as steep and challenging as it is stunning.

Pisgah mountain bike stage race bikes lined up

Photo: Bikes are locked and loaded... (Icon Media Asheville)

The fully-supported, expertly planned, mainly singletrack courses each day add up to an unforgettable experience. While this is a test of fitness and determination, both the Pisgah Stage Race and BC Bike Race are approachable for nearly every level of rider, with a timed enduro section every day for the rippers out there!

Every evening, we were treated to an amazing dinner of local delicious food with beer and wine, as we watched the slideshow and a sweet race video of the day’s race while swapping war stories and becoming quick friends.

 Photo: DINNER! Time to share war stories of the days' course. (Icon Media Asheville)

PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE! The best part of stage racing is the people: I showed up to Pisgah this year on my own, not knowing a single person at the race, but left with many friends from all over the US and the world. Camping, eating, and racing day after day with a group of people who love mountain biking allows fast and lasting friendships to form. 

Pisgah mountain bike stage race bus

 Photo: You'll make friends for life after riding, eating, and living with your race mates for so many days. (Icon Media Asheville)

The diversity of riding in stage races is also a favorite component – each days course has a different ‘personality’ at many stage races, with some days showcasing more climbing, more technical descending, more singletrack, more enduro, or more miles. But every day presents stunning views and landscapes that one doesn’t have on their hometown trails.

Pisgah mountain bike stage race bacon handups

 Photo: the race staff has as much fun as we do, dressing up and providing bacon handups to entertain and fuel us! (Icon Media Asheville)

The skills and fitness required in stage races vary, with BCBR and Pisgah being  the most technically-challenging stage races out there. Others, such as Cape Epic, require a higher level of fitness versus technical skills. If you’re gunning for the podium, a lot of training leading up to the race is needed. But if you’re in it to simply enjoy a great mountain bike ‘vacation’, just put in some long back-to-back rides with a good amount of climbing (similar to what you'll be facing in the race) in the months leading up to the race and you’ll do just fine. I like to do some upper-body work in the months leading up to a stage race since the trails are usually more technical than in Boulder, which can really take its toll by Day 5 or 7. Pushups can do the trick if you don’t have access to a gym!

Pisgah mountain bike stage race climbs

 Photo: There will be climbs...and pain...and suffering... (Icon Media Asheville)

That being said, here are a few specific tips to make sure you’re smiling for the entire week:


As you all know, tires can make the difference between enjoying a ride and pedaling in misery. Grip, speed, rolling resistance and volume are key elements to choosing the right tire for the right trails. Talk to people who have ridden the race previously and ask what the best tire choice may be, both for dry and wet conditions (it rained every day the year I did BCBR, which required a different tire than the year before when conditions were hot and dry).

Pisgah mountain bike stage race roots

 Photo: Pisgah and BCBR had roots like no other place on earth - tire choice is key, people! (Icon Media Asheville)


Keeping ‘topped off’ during the race each day (with your own food/drink or take advantage of the rest stops) is important not only for that day, but for the following days too. If you dig yourself into a bonk or dehydration on Day 2, then Day 3 is going to be that much more difficult. Eat and drink before you get hungry and thirsty, especially when you're racing day after day. 

Pisgah mountain bike stage race rocks girl

 Photo: Lots of places to challenge yourself, and possibly harm yourself and your bike!  (Icon Media Asheville)


If your typical post-ride meal is 3 beers and chips-&-salsa at the car with your friends, you may need to fine-tune your strategy for a stage race. What you do today will affect your ride tomorrow, and nowhere is that more obvious than in stage racing.  Take a recovery drink within 30 minutes of the race ending. I usually measure out a 'one serving per plastic baggie' for each day of my race - it's easier to travel with than the tub of powder.  Eat and drink something after the race, even if you’re feeling good. Sit down and put your feet up. Throw on a pair of compression socks or tights. I also rub some Arnica gel on my legs after I shower each day, and use a hand-held roller (easier to pack than a foam roller!) each night. Also, if dinner isn’t served until 6pm and you cross the finishline at 1pm, you’ll need a full meal within an hour of your recovery drink and before dinner, so plan on making a trip into town or having food with you in your hotel/tent/sprinter van J  Also, by Day 4 I usually wake up at 3am starving - this is the only time when midnight snacking is considered healthy so go for it!

Pisgah mountain bike stage race clif

 Photo: Our fine friends at Clif kept us all topped off during the race, and recovered after each stage. (Icon Media Asheville)


Although most stage races have mechanical support, the lines are usually pretty long and you’re also paying a premium. Be as self-sufficient as you can so you can do the basics yourself: spare cleats, brake pads, cables, chain-link, tubeless repair kit, spare tube, patches, boot.

Pisgah mountain bike stage race rain forest

 Photo: "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto" - the deep rain forests of Pisah were nothing like Boulder, CO! (Icon Media Asheville)


Please please PLEASE bring a fresh clean chamois for each day. I’ve seen many people try to ‘pack light’ and bring 2 or 3 chamois for 5 or 7 days of racing, assuming they’ll wash each day. Both of my stage races had damp, wet conditions where chamois did not dry overnight (or even over 2 nights). These folks had some pretty rough butts after multiple days racing in wet shorts…

Pisgah mountain bike stage race river crossing

 Photo: river crossings a-plenty! More reason to start each day with a dry chamois... (Icon Media Asheville)


You’re going to have good days and bad days. There’s plenty of time to make up time if you get a flat tire, poop out on a climb, feel crudy one day, or crash on a descent. Maybe you’re out of the running for the GC, but you could focus on a good performance each day instead. Stay calm and relaxed, get back to your flow, and remember you’re doing this for FUN! 

Pisgah mountain bike stage race beer

 Photo: Not THAT'S the right atitude! (Icon Media Asheville)

The post-stage racing hangover is as real as any substance abuse hangover. Every part of the body aches, the sense of time and place is less certain than on a regular day. And the mess you’ve got to clean up is substantial (laundry for days!). But unlike any other hangover, you’ve got all the memories from the incredible experience, new friends with whom you share a remarkable challenge, and the work day seems boring rather than difficult. 

Pisgah mountain bike stage race white squirel

 Photo: Monday morning work seems so boring compared to last week...! (Icon Media Asheville)

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