Racing Tip 8 – How to Develop a Mountain Bike Race Plan

mountain bike race plan

At left is my mountain bike race plan from a recent event.

Now, the words ‘race plan’ might sound too serious if you’re a casual mountain biker, but as you can see, a race plan can be short and simple, but BIG on benefits.  A simple race plan is a few notes prepared ahead of time for you to memorize, and to read before the race start to remind you exactly how you want to race.

If You Fail to Plan, You’re Planning to Fail

Without a written and memorized mountain bike race plan your nerves could easily hijack your thoughts on the start line and distract you from how you want to race.  You could start too slow, or too fast, or forget what skills to focus on.  You could forget to refuel or relax on the bars when the going gets rough, or forget your overtaking tactics.  Or forget a hundred other things.

Without a race plan you’re just reacting to what happens in the race.  You risk making too many decisions based on your attitude and emotions at the time.

With a race plan you’re acting to make your race happen how you want it to.

With a race plan that you’ve memorized, read just before the start, and even taped to your handlebar, you’ll race with more purpose. You’ll race with a clearer head, and your on-the-fly decisions will be better ones.

Think of your race plan as a mental compass.  Something to refer to during the race to keep your ship afloat, to help you make the most of the winds and the waves, and to help you weather the storms.

If it’s Not Written Down, it’s a Dream

How to develop a simple mountain bike race plan: Video: How to Develop a Race Plan

  1. Pre-ride.  First, if possible, pre-ride the course, or at least the first few kilometres before race day, then on race day as well.  The better you know the course, the smarter your decisions, and the better your race plan will be.
  2. Plan ahead.  Develop your plan ahead of time and away from the start line nerves so you have time to think it through and memorize it.  It’s okay to make minor adjustments to your plan after that race day pre-ride.
  3. Prioritize. Expect your draft plan to be full of jumble, long sentences, your hopes and dreams.  Then start prioritizing what is most important.

You’ll explore many strategies and aspects of the race – that’s all part of the process. Just don’t go over-analyzing the race to the point where you feel weighed-down by all your decisions.

There is Beauty (and efficiency) in Simplicity

You must prioritize.  Whittle your draft down to your top three to six most important points.  Make sure your race plan is:

  1. Short and simple
  2. Clear and understandable
  3. Achievable, action based and easy to remember

All the other good stuff will still be in your brain somewhere, should you need it on race day!

Questions to Start Your Mountain Bike Race Plan

(I’m sure you’ll come up with a heap of your own, too.)

  1. Do you get nervous when being overtaken by faster riders on single-track?  How can you remain calm and in control?
  2. Are you competing in a multi-stage race?  Have you developed race plans for each different race?  Will you need to conserve energy?  Will you need to reduce your risk-taking to ensure you make it through every race?
  3. How will you remain calm and relaxed on the bars?
  4. Do you really know the course and the terrain types?
  5. Do you have the tools and spares to repair a puncture or recover from a basic mechanical?  Are there key skills to remember in those moments?
  6. Have you ridden the course before?  What sections were difficult ?  How can you ride to make them easier?  Have you practiced alternate lines along difficult trail or in potential bottleneck areas?
  7. How soon does the start track narrow to single track?
  8. What pace will you start the race at based on your training, fitness and course knowledge? Strong, steady or slow?
  9. Is there another rider you want to stick with, be in front of, or keep in your sights?
  10. What are your strengths?  Climbing, downhills, singletrack or open fire road?
  11. Where are the single track and open road sections?  Will they provide passing opportunities?
  12. Are there any technical sections you need to have clear trail or be ahead of others for?
  13. What are the three most important techniques you want to focus on during the race?  Momentum on approach to hills?  Gear-shifting in advance?  Looking ahead?  Relaxing through the rough? Keeping good posture?
  14. On what parts of the course can you use your fitness to your best advantage?
  15. On what parts of the course can you use your skills to your best advantage?
  16. Are there any recovery points for you to catch your breath?
  17. If it’s a lap course, what’s your estimated average lap time?  Will you aim to ride consistent laps or a different tactic?
  18. What do you expect the weather to be like on the day?  Will the weather forecast influence your race strategy, tire choice or how aggressive you’ll ride the downhills or corners?
  19. Is there an average heart rate or power rate you’d rather stay below?
  20. Where are the best opportunities to grab a gel or mouthful of fluid without risking a crash?
  21. Will you need to restock your food or fluid supplies during the race?  When?  Where?  How?
  22. What attitude do you need when something goes wrong or gets difficult?  Will you think and act like a victim or victor?
  23. What words will keep you positive and focused?  Are they stuck on your handlebar?   Are they stuck in your mind?
  24. What finish time are you aiming for?  Is it achievable?  How will you race to ensure you can come home strong?
  25. How will your body cope when you get tired?  What can you do to keep good posture?
  26. What are the downsides of your choices?


Good luck in the race.  And keep your sense of humor!   Not all races go according to plan…

I’ve given you some questions to kickstart your race plan.  What other questions and strategies have you come up with?


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