How To Train For A Mountain Bike Stage Race With Johan Wykerd

by | Feb 27, 2023 | Training "How To's", Bike, Sports, Training

There isn’t much worse than arriving at a stage race that you’ve spent a lot of your hard earned cash on when you are very much under-trained. While fitness isn’t everything in riding (you should pay attention to your skills as well), it is a lot of the thing.

Being aware of that fact and the incoming KAP sani2c 3-day stage race we have reached out to Johan Wykerd of Absolute Motion (sani2c’s official training partner) to get some insight into stage race training, what to do if you’re in a time-poor situation, and what is important in these final weeks of training pre-race. Whip out the notepads and listen up!

Training For A Mountian Bike Stage Race Sani2C
Absolute Motion have seen many pros onto the top step of the podium as well as getting everyday riders into good enough shape to really enjoy their stage race of choice! (c) sani2c / Ant Grote

WA: Johan, we have just a couple months until the KAP sani2c events which is the highlight of many people’s annual riding calendars! What do you personally love most about this iconic 3 day stage race?

Johan: Jason, I have been on the start line of the very 1st Sani2c and have seen how this event has evolved over time. If I can highlight 2 things that put this event above any other event I have done it must be the hospitality and friendliness of everyone involved and off-course the trails.

You don’t have to be a white-knuckled technical terrain specialist to ride sani’s flowing trails, but this is not to say it’s easy. The trails are flowy with just the right amount of open road and single track to get you to the end of each day feeling that you have had the best time possible on a MTB.

WA: Love it! We are already getting pretty excited to be back in April for this iconic ride. Alright let’s talk about training for sani2c. What is the ideal time frame that you would want to give to focused training in preparation for an event such as the sani2c or is that very specific to each individual?

Johan: This answer will depend a bit on your fitness level. If you are a very social rider and have entered sani you should have ideally started with your preparation from 1 February. If you have reasonable fitness you can get “event-ready” in around 8 weeks to have a good experience.

WA: What are the main goals of a sani2c specific training plan? What specific demands of the event are of most importance to address with planned training preparation?

Johan: We are professional coaches and it is easy to get carried away with trying to build a Training Plan that we would have designed for race winners. In the last couple of years, we have seen that there is a sweet spot that most people who subscribe to our sani2c training plans will comply with and that is a training week of between 8 and 11 hours.

At the end of the day this is an endurance event and fitness is definitely the key-driver to you enjoying your race or not. Our Training Plans therefore start by building a good fitness foundation and then we slowly start to focus on muscular endurance for those longer open road sections and closer to the event the focus shifts to strength for when you have to climb those challenging sections that you will find in every stage.

Recovery is key and this is the reason why we have 2 recovery days per week with the training volume spread over the weekend and the interval sessions during the week.

Training For A Mountian Bike Stage Race Sani2C
To get to the good trails, there’s always a price to pay in the form of vertical ascent! At least you have a bit over 1000m extra descending vs climbing at sani2c! (c) sani2c / Ant Grote

WA: For the time-poor individual, who is maybe only able to get in 1 hour every few days, what sort of training will be most effective for them with their limited time?

Johan: Yes, this is a challenge. If you only have 5 hours/week and battle to find time to go longer than 2 hours on a weekend we need to be very creative with what we do. I would suggest that you don’t bother with endurance rides during the week.

Try to do 2 very hard sessions during the week, a tabata type session will be ideal where you go 30 sec all out followed by 30 sec easy. Do a set of 5, go easy for 5 min and repeat this 3 to 4 times. I will also work in 1 run/fast walk for 45 min and then go for as long a ride as possible on the weekend.

WA: That sounds like fun, sort of! So we are now 8 weeks away from the 3-day sani2c events. If a rider already has some good base fitness or had been training specifically for a month or so, what would the focus of the next couple of months be?

Johan: The next 6 weeks is crucial and is the time when we need to focus. The intervals are becoming pretty strenuous and require real commitment and there will be at least 4 big-volume weekends ahead. The intervals are designed to build muscular endurance and strength and the big-volume weeks will get your body comfortable on long back-to-back riding days.

WA: Riders traveling in from flatter locations such as Johannesburg may not be accustomed to the length and gradient of some of the bigger climbs at sani2c. What would your advice be to these riders to best prepare for the climbs?

Johan: Haha, this is one of those questions that we get a lot. If we however look at where the best cyclist in SA comes from you will see that many come from Potch where there is not a hill in sight! Our advice is not to worry about the climbs too much, if you follow the plan you will be strong enough.

What is often more important is your body position on the bike to climb effectively and maybe, if you have any doubt about your bike setup now is a good time to have that looked at.

Training For A Mountian Bike Stage Race Sani2C
The climbs will come, don’t you worry! (c) sani2c / Ant Grote

WA: Interesting! Could you share a little more insight into the bike setup and working on one’s climbing position on the bike?

Johan: I see many mountain bikers with a very upright sitting position as they believe this will save their backs. When you ride on a flat gravel road this position could be comfortable, but when you ride single track or need to climb steep hills your weight distribution must be more evenly distributed between the front and rear wheel.

This allows you to control the front-end of your bike better when you climb a steep hill. If you are sitting too upright you have to crouch very far to be able to control the front end of your machine and this results in 2 things; 1. You are fighting your bike and burning a huge amount of matches doing this and 2. You’re ending up with a very sore lower back. A good bike fit will help you climb the hills on the way to the sea much better than just more power in the legs.

WA: If a rider hasn’t managed to start training effectively yet, is it too late? What would your advice be to someone in that position?

Johan: Let’s be honest, if you are totally unfit, and a bit overweight and your friends dare you to do sani you will most probably not have enough time to get to the start line with any level of fitness to complete this race. Yes, I know there are people who can do anything they put their minds to, but it is definitely not the wisest and healthiest thing you can do. If you are a regular rider and have been riding a couple of hours/week then for sure you can still get ready to have a fantastic 3-days on your bike.

Training For A Mountian Bike Stage Race Sani2C
Train hard so that the race doesn’t have to be! Unless you out gunning for a top result, then it’s all hard. We’re big supporters of just enjoying the ride and letting the pros do the racing. (c) sani2c / Ant Grote

WA: What is the biggest mistake you see riders making in the final 8 weeks pre-event?

Johan: A 3-month Training Plan takes commitment. It is always easier to start than to persevere and we see quite a big drop-out rate in the last 6 weeks to the start of the race. This is a pity as these riders have come so far with their fitness. Another big mistake is that people don’t experiment with their bike setups and on-the-bike nutrition well in advance of the race and then they change things a couple of days before the start. Doing this can mess up all your preparation.

WA: Definitely not worth throwing it all away so close to the goal! Thanks for sharing that insight Johan. Any final words of encouragement for riders going into these final 8 weeks?

Johan: Wishing everyone taking part the very best of rides. And remember, your recovery for the next day starts every day when you start your ride, so make sure you take enough fuel onboard during the ride and lay off the beers at the end. #lovetheride

To find out more about the training plans available for sani2c through Absolute Motion (including the free options) head over here.
If you want to find out more about the KAP sani2c, click here.

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