Pairs vs. Solo: The future of stage racing

Kate Slegrova has done a fair bit of stage racing in the last few years. She’s ridden the Cape Epic twice, the Transalp, the Cape Pioneer Trek and a whole host of three day races, so she’s got a bit of experience when it comes to mountain biking team dynamics. Given that a growing number of races are offering the solo option we asked Kate to let us know what the pros and cons of each are.

South African stage races are famous for being ridden in teams of two. It’s only been in the last two years or so that the option of riding solo has been offered at some races.

 Why solo?

This option seems to be offered by more and more races these days. From a rider’s point of view it’s not always easy to find a partner that has the same goals (race for podium or just to finish) and fitness. Or if your usual partner pulls out of race at the last minute because of work or sickness. Then what? Do you end up riding with someone you just met on the Hub not knowing what to expect (like me with this year’s Epic…) or do you rather ride solo?

Prize money and results

There still seems to be more prestige in doing well, in terms of results, as a team, even though it may actually be harder to ride solo. For the pros, teams get far better prize money. There was no prize, for example, for the first solo rider to reach the top of the Merino Monster on the Tankwa Trek, so although Urs Huber was well ahead of the first placed team his efforts weren’t monetarily rewarded while theirs was despite cresting behind two solo riders, Huber and Karl Platt.

Teams get much better prize money for podium finishes than solo riders, but there is a slight trend towards evening out the prize money. Dryland and Garden Route Events should be commended as they seem to appreciate and encourage the solo riders more than most of the other event organisers.

Prize money aside there is also confusion about whether to list the teams and solo results together or separately. Some organizers make separate results for teams and solo, while others put them together, a unilateral approach either way would avoid confusion for riders.

 The Big Race…

Will the Cape Epic ever offer the option of competing as a solo rider? I think not, as they are big on the team finish and seem strongly against the idea. Whether their reasoning is for rider safety, to add another level of difficulty or simply just because they don’t want to interfere with a system that’s worked for them, they’re unlikely to allow solo riders to challenge for victory.

 Pros and cons of riding solo


  • Being able to ride at your own pace is the biggest advantage. If you feel strong you push hard and don’t have to wait for your partner that may be having a bad day physically or mechanically.
  • You can operate on your own time frame. On and off the bike your time is your own, allowing you to go to the start line when you feel like it, spend as much or as little time at water points as you like and it simplifies the eating and travelling logistics.


  • It may get lonely! With nobody to talk to.
  • With no teammate you’ll have to rely on other riders stopping to help with your mechanical issues if you are not the best mechanic. (Ed: this is less of an issue for Kate than it might be for other riders, given she’s a pretty blond lady.)
  • No one to motivate you or even give you a push or a pull when you are having a bad day. And having a partner you don’t want to let down is also a massive motivation.


 My experience:

I have done  Cape Epic twice –both as the weaker rider (sigh) – you end up pushing harder than your mate and get more tired, while your partner gets stronger and bored of your slow pace. It’s not easy for either party.

I have done Cape Pioneer and a few three day races where I was the stronger partner and ended up pushing and pulling my teammate. I think I was patient, kept quiet when I was frustrated or offered support with words of encouragement. I prefer this option. You suffer less and it can be the rewarding to nurture and look after the weaker partner through the race. Even though it can be a bit frustrating if the partner is really slow and you feel strong and want to race.

I did the Transalp with Carren Henschel in 2013 and we were very even. It was great as we kept each other motivated and could keep on pushing ourselves to ride harder. She’s my ideal partner but partners like her are not easy to find!

The bulk of my solo riding experience came at the 2013 Cape Pioneer Trek. I had some great days of feeling strong and I rode very consistently until the Thursday when I felt very tired and just not up to racing. I got dropped and rode quite slowly on my own that day. But generally I enjoyed the solo experience, as the other riders were very friendly, were willing to chat and happy to ride with solo riders. The scenery on the Pioneer is so lovely that you can’t get bored on the bike, even if you’re alone.

At this year’s Garden Route 300 I also rode solo as Lara Woolley, my would-be teammate, injured her back and had to pull out at the last minute. On the Friday I felt great and had fun on the superb single track. But the Saturday and Sunday were more of a challenge, as there was a lot of forestry gravel road. I was tired and struggled to motivate myself to push hard. I think if I was in a team I would have pushed harder…

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 The deal breaker…

I think it depends on the partner. If you have a great mate and are on the same fitness level and focusing on the same goal definitely go for it as a team.

If your favourite partner pulled out and you have the option to ride solo, don’t know your new potential partner or are not sure about him or her, then go solo. You’ll probably enjoy it more on your own and it’ll help you meet people along way in the race too.


Sus the Sport Psychologist’s view

Reread Dr Clinton Gahwiler’s article on Team Dynamics in mountain biking in the March issue of Full Sus. If you don’t have a back copy at home ask your LBS or read it online by scanning the QR code.

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