In Cycling, what is a Stage Race?

Dan Cavallari

One of the most grueling sporting events in existence today is the bicycle stage race. Held over the course of several days – ranging up to two weeks or longer – the stage race consists of several days in which racers will ride their bicycles over long distances. A stage race can include several categories of racing, including the normal road race, the individual time trial, and the team time trial. There are several categories of awards given out for the stage race: overall leader, best climber, best sprinter, best young rider (or new rider), etc. Famous stage races include the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta Espana.

The best sprinters from a track and field team usually run the respective legs of a relay race.
The best sprinters from a track and field team usually run the respective legs of a relay race.

In a normal stage of a stage race, riders start en masse and often employ team tactics to get ahead of the group. One of the most important tactics is drafting, or tucking behind another rider to cut down on wind resistance. Team members will alternate who leads – cutting down the head wind – and who drafts by staying behind other riders. This is called taking pulls. As the stage race goes on, the group of racers – known as the peloton – will begin to break up in preparation for the finish. If that particular stage of the stage race is a mountain race, the best climbers from each team will get into position to climb for the win. This may take place early in the stage or later toward the end. If the stage is a sprint finish, the best sprinters from the teams will get in position to dash for the finish line.

A stage race involves riders starting en masse and using team tactics to get ahead of the pack.
A stage race involves riders starting en masse and using team tactics to get ahead of the pack.

The individual time trial during a stage race tests the individual mettle of each rider. The course is much shorter than a normal stage and requires a special type of bicycle called a time trial bike, which has a more aggressive riding position, more aerodynamic tubing, and often a solid rear wheel to cut down on wind resistance. In this portion of the stage race, an individual races for the fastest time over a set course. The team time trial is based on the same concept, except an entire team of racers will work together to come up with the fastest time.

The overall winner of a stage race is determined by a combined score of fastest times as well as individual stage time bonuses. The leader at any point during the stage race will typically wear a specially designated jersey. For example, in the Tour de France, the overall leader wears a yellow jersey to signify he is in the lead. The leader’s jersey may change hands several times throughout the race, but the ultimate winner of the race will be rewarded with the final yellow jersey.

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Discussion Comments


A couple of friends and I ride in a 300 mile charity ride each year. The race in completed in stages. We stop and stay overnight in hotels along the route. This is not a race, but the ride is for a good cause, and we all have fun while raising money to help fight cancer.

Stage riding is a challenge because your body has to recover so quickly and be ready to perform again is less than a day's time. As I said, I enjoy this event, but no matter how good of condition I think I am in, I am always worn out at the end of the journey.


I have seen some of the individual bike time trail competitions like were mentioned in this article. As racing goes, I think the time trials have to be one of the most boring types of races out there. I enjoy seeing a large number of bikes competing against one another, but watching one guy ride a bike is not very exciting. I could go to the park and do that.

To be honest though, I have only seen this type of racing on TV, so maybe watching a real professional cyclist in person trying to go as fast as he can might be more interesting.


I really want to start riding my bike competitively. I ride the bike to stay in shape and to vary my workout routines. For starters I want to enter a triathlon where I swim, bike and run. I want to enter one with shorter distances not the full ones or anything like the extreme one that is held in Hawaii.

Maybe at some point if I get experience and get into better condition, I will be ready to ride in a few stages races against other amateurs. However, stage races sound like they would be really exhausting and physically challenging, maybe too challenging for me.

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