Here at Cyclist, we know how to prepare for a Big Ride but when heading off-road we turn to the crew at MarathonMTB.com to get their top-10 tips on how to survive the Crocodile Trophy, Cairns, Australia.
Images: Tim Bardsley-Smith and Robert Conroy.
Don’t forget to read the kit list. While the race is heading to the tropics, after day one in Cairns you ride up on to the Tablelands, so you’re up above 800m high for a lot of the race. Having something comfortable and warm at night when it cools off pays dividends in recovery, and the same goes for your sleeping bag. We’ve found that at any race, you want to bank on being able to sleep warm and comfortably. If not, you don’t recover. So re-think a summer-weight sleeping bag, make sure you’ve got a warm top and pants.
Be confident in maintaining your own bike, at least for minor repairs. While the Crocodile Trophy mechanic is switched on, he could be so busy when you need him that he’s unable to help out immediately. You should know your derailleur hanger from your headset spacer, and have a clear post-stage protocol. Clean, wipe, lube and safety check. It pays to be au fait with each part of your bike, and how it is set up. Monitor bearings for play, check your sidewalls for abrasions, pad wear, double check bolts (ideally with a torque wrench) and never neglect checking your tyre and shock pressure. We’ve raced events where our shocks have lost 20psi in a five-hour stage due to the hard work they had to endure.
Take your recovery gear. Do you regularly use a foam roller or trigger point release ball? Well, pack them. You can get some shorter foam rollers and we almost always pack one for long events. If you have a normal stretching and release regime at home an 8-day stage race isn’t the time to stop. There are massage therapists at the race, so pack some cash if you think you’ll enjoy some time on the table.
Analyse the course. Don’t just glance at the stage plan and chuck some food in your pockets. Analyse the terrain and amount of climbing, and calculate how long you’ll be out and work out your nutrition and fluid needs. You will be burning more energy than on a long road or mountain bike ride, and you’ll be getting through more fluids too. Aim to finish each stage with a couple of gels and half a bidon. Make sure you take plenty of your favourite sports nutrition up to Cairns, as there’s not really anywhere to get more once you’re in the race.
Take a book. Or a Kindle. But don’t forget you’re out for eight days and you won’t have reception the whole time. It’s a world-class bike race but it’s also a holiday. Remember to relax when you can.
Understand your needs. It can be easy to get caught up with what everyone else does in a remote mountain bike stage race where everyone is camping. People pile food in at breakfast, or sit around in their kit, or don’t wash their bottles and just refill them. That doesn’t need to be you. Do you race better with a light breakfast and starting to eat earlier on the bike? Stick with that then. Are you better riding to heart rate and not heading out guns blazing? Well do that as well. A marathon stage race is not the time to change what you know works for you, even if it seems like you’re the odd one out.
Put your tent somewhere away from the backpackers. The race crew is predominantly made up of young Austrians. Depending on your age and relationship status, this can be great! But really, if you want a good nights sleep, put your tent somewhere nice and quiet and relaxed. See Point 5 about it being a holiday.
Take everything to the shower. Unless there is a torrential downpour, your kit will dry really quickly. So take your bibs, jersey, gloves and socks into the shower. Keep your gloves on and go nuts with the washing. This is way better than making an 8 day dirty kit bag.
If there is water, swim in it. Even in 2011 where there was a saltwater croc upstream it was worth a soak in the river. Just sit with some mates and make sure you’re all looking over a shoulder. In all seriousness, a quick dip post-race is an excellent way to cool off, clean up, and remind yourself you’re on a bike racing holiday.
Learn how to ride sand. There’s not much time left to learn but the key is don’t over think it. Don’t steer, don’t stomp on the pedals, just push into the seat and make big circles – imagine you’re trying to blow a rooster tail of sand roost out the back.
A huge thanks to the team at MarathonMTB.com for providing some great advice ahead of our first Crocodile Trophy. To hear from a man who is quickly becoming the Adam Hansen of the Croc, head over to our Q&A with Martin Wisata to hear from a guy lining up for an 8th time.
Keen to try a marathon length stage race? Here are MarathonMTB.com‘s favourites: http://marathonmtb.com/2014/06/15/the-best-stage-races-for-amateurs/