In this blog installment we will talk about team stage racing. You may have seen a few teams racing as one during at least one event in the past, but you may not understand the complexity of this nor the challenges that team competition posed beyond basic stage racing. Hopefully this discussion will shed some light on this niche within stage racing and perhaps entice you to give this a try.
But why should I pull a team together to compete you may ask? Well there are a variety of benefits. Not only is this a new dimension within stage racing but there is much more strategy involved especially if racing hard. You get to spend quality time not only with your wider stage racing family in general but with your team mates in particular. Additionally, team stage racing offers some challenges that you would typically not face when racing as an individual.
A team typically consists of at least three individuals and can be made up of any mix of male and/or female unless specifically dictated by race regulations. This is not a relay format and every team member must complete the entire course. There is also a requirement that team members remain within a predefined distance of each other while racing. This is typically 10-25 meters, and this is where it gets difficult. If a team member drops, or the distance limitation is violated the team is disqualified. If this happens remaining team members typically can compete as individuals but are no longer considered in the team competition. Sometimes teams of four are recognized and can suffer the loss of one team mate and still maintain team status.
Team Make Up Considerations:
When forming a team, a variety of factors should be considered. This will prevent issues latter on and set you on a trajectory for success. It is a good idea to first know the members of your team and be able to get along with them since you will be spending a week together in very close proximity. Everyone also needs to have a strong teaming attitude and a willingness to listen. If possible, it is advantageous that everyone on a team be close in capabilities and experience. Finally, all need to put aside their personal ambitions and work for the benefit of the team. Think of the Apollo astronauts and the teams they formed to accomplish their missions.
Teams are also a great vehicle for charity work or sponsorship due to their typically increased visibility over individuals at most events and the higher possibility of a podium showing.
Besides your standard preparations for a stage race there will be some additional items to look after. If possible, try and train and/or race together. While you don’t necessarily need to be within the set distance requirements above during these opportunities you should try and gain an understanding of your team mates capabilities and challenges. It can be just training runs or some other predetermined race that you meet at. Either will work well.
You may also wish to coordinate travel so you arrive approximately at the same time. This can allow for sharing taxis, rental cars and hotel rooms. Costs can be minimized, and teaming can start before the event. Spouses or significant others that may accompany you can also get together before the race and make some plans while you are out and about.
Finally, at a minimum having team colors or jerseys are nice. Don’t overdo with all the same gear since certain items may not work for some on your team mates (packs especially). Other pieces of team uniforms could include hats, buffs, jackets, etc.
If your team is really racing, there is going to be only one big challenge; how to move as fast as possible as a group. This will be impacted by capabilities, physical/mental states, strengths/weaknesses and a variety of other factors. These will need to be managed individually to optimize your overall performance. If you are just there to finish, there is significantly less pressure and your strategies will differ.
Equipment failures can also slow your team down so be sure everyone’s kit is in top shape. This is particularly important with packs and how your gear is stored. During a recent race two of us on our team suffered equipment becoming unstowed resulting in minutes lost. This can make the difference in the end!
Fueling while racing can be a big challenge for the stage racing team. Some do not need to eat that much during a typical stage, others require constant input. Slowing down for team members to fuel impacts the pace. We will cover some strategies for this below.
Not necessarily a challenge but one thing that you should be prepared for is that teams may have an increased possibility of gear checks during the event for a variety of reasons. Smile, comply and wish the race officials a great day.
Strategies and Tricks of the Trade:
First, no matter what, you will need to come to grips with the fact that you will not be “racing” the entire time. Due to the enviable ups and downs of your team some will just be hanging on and others will be acting more like a pacer. You will need to go at the fastest speed that can be reasonably maintained by the group. Push too hard one day and the pace may be slowed significantly during the next. Overdo it, and you may lose a team member and be out of the team category all together. But when you are all in the grove, then it is on and this can be exhilarating!
Communication is paramount! Let your mates know how you are feeling, when to slow down and when to speed up. Don’t suffer in silence or assume that the pace is easy enough. Determine if you are all going to stop for water at an aid station or just move on through. Let your team mates know if you have a blister that requires attention and take the few minutes to deal with it.
Discuss the strategy for each stage with your team mates. Decide when you are going to push it or throttle back, water stops or not, etc. Make a plan, but be flexible enough to change depending upon the circumstances. Things never go as you hope for in stage racing and it is more so with a team.
Fueling times/strategies as stated above can be an issue. Preferably your team can manage some give and take in this area. If you are seriously competing you should all be able to snack along the way but if not, then plan on some slower up hills to top off the tank. Be sure everyone is staying ahead of their nutrition (and hydration) needs and not trying to gut it out until the finish line. A hard bonk by a team member will cost you much more than the extra couple of minutes to chow down.
If you find yourself on the speedier end of your team spectrum then you have become the defacto pacer. You have just been awarded the role of team cheerleader and personal motivator for your less rapid team mate(s). Be positive, keep the team on its planned strategy if possible and keep an eye out for course markings. You are the leader so to speak so do all you can to make the experience as tolerable as possible. Do not push too hard especially in the earlier parts of a stage. Be aware that this role can be temporary or last the entire event. It can also pass from team mate to team mate depending upon how everyone is doing.
Planning is a little more complicated with a team but can be easier since there is more than one of you to remember it all. Rain gear, sunscreen, photo ops, etc. should all be figured out. Remind your team mates of these things before the stage starts just to be sure you all have it covered.
One great benefit of having team mates with you is their ability to get things out of your pack (or stow them) for you while still on the move. This typically requires a slight reduction in pace and of course having the items of concern well within reach (not at the bottom of your pack). This can be a big benefit especially if weather is constantly changing and clothing is taken off/put on frequently. Get into the habit of before each day’s start of checking each other’s packs like paratroopers to ensure everything is tight and you are familiar with your mate’s pocket packing strategies.
Pay attention! Do not get so engrossed in your conversations and company that you miss a turn! Six eyes are better than two so make use of them. This is especially true at night when you all may be beat down. Three headlamps are also better than one. Have the leader on high beam with others are illuminating the track as required.
Give space as needed both on and off the trail. You are spending a huge amount of time together and even the most compatible individuals need time to themselves. Sometimes it is nice not to talk and enjoy the quite. Allow team mates to interact with other competitors and do not dominate each others time in camp.
Finally, be prepared to hold up your end of the team bargain. Be ready to go, cheerful, supportive, helpful and have your own needs squared away. Be there for you team mates and they will be there for you!
Enjoy the race!