Mastering tough conditions in a mountain bike stage race

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Philip Buys (left) and Matthys Beukes from Team PYGA Euro Steel cross the line first to win the final stage at the 2017 KAP Sani2c from Jolivet to Scottburgh, and with it the overall victory. Photo: Anthony Grote / Gameplan Media

After the Cape Cycle Tour started the year off with 100km/h wind speeds that blew people right off their bikes, you may have hoped that the worst was over for South African cyclists.

Next thing you know, the Cape Epic is being shortened for the first time in history after an extreme heatwave, and Sani2c is forced to include a ‘neutral’ day of riding after severe rainfall that made tackling any single track almost impossible.

Team PYGA Euro Steel’s Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys have been through it all, and come out victorious! After a respectable seventh place at the Cape Epic in March, one of their greatest moments of glory came this season when they crossed the finish line as the 2017 Sani2c champions (caked in mud).

(If you prefer sticking to the road, check out our tips for conquering the six toughest Cape Cycle Tour climbs.)

If you’re taking on your first mountain bike stage race, however, or looking to up your stage racing game, Matthys and Philip provide some key tips tackling the different elements that come with stage racing.

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Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes at the Absa Cape Epic 2017 on the second stage of the event. They can offer some crucial mountain bike stage racing tips for heat after this year’s event!  Photo: Ewald Sadie

Matthys and Philip put their heads together and list the toughest conditions they’ve had to face and share how they got through them:

South Africa is at the forefront of presenting some of the coolest stage races in the world, but with the challenge of a vast variety of elements you have to be ready to battle out there.

In the first half of our 2017 race season I think we’ve experienced all of the major elements, from high temperatures and rough terrain at Cape Epic to cold and muddy conditions at Sani2C. So here’s some of our mountain bike stage racing tips after getting through all of that.

Extreme Heat

In these conditions, there’s no hiding from the sun and or the fact that it is going to be uncomfortable.

It can be a struggle to be your best in very hot conditions, and over the years we have found a few ways to make the suffering a bit more bearable.

The first thing I’ve learned is to prepare for it. Do some training rides in the midday sun or if that’s not possible, ride on the indoor trainer without a fan or even with a heater in the room. Make sure to drink more than usual during these sessions!

The key is to adapt to higher temperatures in training. If you are used to training in the cooler mornings or late afternoons, a sudden spike in temperature can come as a fatal shock to your body.

On race day, a wet and cold towel over the shoulders at the start will help keep the core body temperature down a bit longer. Also, topping up your bottle with an ice-cold electrolyte drink makes a big difference (we use Cadence Carbo Fuel).

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Recovering and re-hydrating after the third stage in sweltering heat at the Absa Cape Epic 2017. Photo: Nick Muzik

Technical Terrain

Rocky and technical terrain can either help better your time in a race or be a dreadful slog.

A lot of people spend plenty of hours working on their fitness and fly up the climbs and along the flat roads. They may gain a few seconds, but if they neglect their skill training they’ll lose minutes or end their race when it gets tough and technical.

Don’t neglect skills training. It could be really helpful to get a skills coach, but riding with people more skilled than you is also important because you will soon imitate their riding style.

Equipment choice also springs to mind. We use Maxxis tyres as we know chances of them letting us down are close to zero!

Remember: a skilled rider is a smooth rider. Smooth is safe… and eventually fast.

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Buys is all power as he leads his PYGA Euro Steel partner Matthys Beukes up a technical climb on the final stage of the 2017 KAP Sani2c from Jolivet to Scottburgh. Photo: Anthony Grote / Gameplan Media

When it’s cold and wet

To be able to prepare for these conditions, the first step would be to check the weather forecast and pack accordingly.

If you pack the right gear then wet and cold conditions won’t be a problem. Things like rain jackets and clear lenses make these conditions a breeze. What we recently saw as well is that a pair of gumboots could be a worthy investment!

Cold is fine because you can just dress warmly so make sure you invest in proper kit for these conditions.

KALAS Sportswear has all the right gear for every condition.

Make sure to eat enough before and during as the body burns more energy to keep warm.

Once the kit and nutrition is sorted, you can work on your mentality towards a cold and wet day on the bike. The best thing to do is just to embrace it. Move steadily and try not lose your momentum.

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Muddied and satisfied. Who better to share mountain bike stage racing tips for the mud after this! Philip Buys (left) and Matthys Beukes reflect after winning a dramatic final stage of the 2017 KAP Sani2c from Jolivet to Scottburgh.

Mastering the mud

The mud game is all a mental game. Conditions are going to be the same for everyone, so if you tell yourself that it’s going to be a fun day slip and sliding in the mud, then you already have the upper hand over your competitors.

Key to riding in the mud? Stay relaxed, keep it wide and let it slide.

For the skilled rider this is a perfect opportunity to gain time on the rivals that aren’t as skilled as you. For the not-so-skilled rider, it’s the perfect opportunity to get a free training lesson!

It’s just a matter of looking for grip and letting speed work for you.

The more speed you have, the more traction you’ll get, but this has a down side when things go wrong. Stay calm and let the bike slide its way through the mud.

Big tip! Take some chain lube with and apply it every now and then, it will minimise the chain slip quite a bit.

More mountain bike stage racing tips here

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