Gravel "Singletrack" Race Strategy

I am looking to pick your brain on some race strategies for when you encounter a “singletrack” in gravel during a race.

I recently did some course recon on a future race and found that there are 2 miles (two 1 mile segments) in which the road is minimal maintenance and has really become a singletrack. Arguably its a large road with significant mud and ruts so there is only a “good” single track. I can see the majority of the people single file through this portion.

This brings up my question… I can expect this area to be somewhat of a “deciding” spot. If you get caught behind the wrong person, you will go slow and probably lose the front of the field.
Is it best to burn a few matches ahead of these areas and ensure that you are in the front of the field? I want to be honest an d say that I am probably not the fastest in this sort of tracks so if I am in the front… I will likely slow the field somewhat. They can attempt to pass me but risk sliding out and crashing.

Not sure what is the best strategy.

Always get to the singletrack as close to the front as possible! If you’re good on that section, you can make time. If you’re not good on that section, it mitigates your mistakes because everyone else is stuck behind you.


Race to your abilities.

Don’t be the guy that goes vo2 max to the pinch point of the singletrack, then slows to a crawl and has to dab or can’t bunny hop a rock or let’s a rut completely derail him.

Don’t be the guy that’s more capable then everyone in front of him and loses out on the opportunity to be with the front packs because he got stuck behind people who can’t handle their bikes on singletrack.

I think more often than not these things simply work themselves out on their own with fitness, and it’s not worth stressing over. Ride hard to the singletrack, maybe a bit harder before you get there to gain some positions and don’t let a gap open up in front of you. It’s very rarely going to decide the race, especially if the race is longer than like 10 miles. Yes, if you’re racing XC/CX championships, then maybe being in the front row and getting the line in the first corner allows you to dictate the rest of the race…but I think more often than not age groupers blame those pinch points for races they weren’t about to podium anyways. If you’re fast enough to win the race, you should be fast enough to get to the ST in the top 10.

I also think you should work on passing while on singletrack as a bike skill. It’s generally doable unless there’s cliffs/trees/saguaro.


If your not good at singletrack, then why do you think someone in front of you is going to slow you down? Are you expecting so,e people to be horrible at singletrack?

To me the best strategy is to position yourself as close to the front as possible. I’ve done a number of races that include single track and these sections always play a crucial role in how the rest of the race unfolds.

Whether or not you will have to burn a match to position yourself well is 100% entirely on your fitness and the dynamics of the pack you’ll be in. If you’re riding with people that are stronger than you then yes, you’re gonna be hurting, but if you’re all of equal fitness then it might not require that much energy to position yourself well.

The only time I find myself burning matches to find the better position is if A) I screwed up and didn’t position myself earlier and have to force it to happen or B) I’m attacking the group and trying to make a move into a decisive spot in the race.

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I am trying to minimize what I consider a potential weakness.

As others said, I don’t want to be that guy who slows down the group also… but it is a race.

I will try to be towards the front if nothing else because on the back you get the surges and if somebody goes down it’s over.