A bit of background on me first. I’ve been riding ‘seriously’ since March 2016. I bought my first road bike at that time with the no intention of getting into racing, but soon my competitive side took over and I had set myself a target of finding enough fitness to start circuit racing before the end of the year. So here are some tips from a novice, for other novices looking to get into racing.
Join a Club
Joining a club will enable you to meet established racers who can provide the inspiration for you to enter your first race. You’ll also get to go out on fast group ride’s with the club and learn valuable ride techniques. Joining Pearson CC is what really pushed me from semi-keen cyclist to one with competitive aspirations. Also you’ll race in your club’s team kit, so make sure you choose one with good colours!
Ride with (Fast) Groups
Its essential that you are comfortable riding in close proximity at speed to other riders before entering your first race. Riding at 25+mph inches from the wheel in front of you is something that takes practice and for your safety and those around you, isn’t something you should try for the first time on race day. As mentioned before, joining a club is a great way to find these fast group rides and learn from more experienced riders.
Races tend to be over-subscribed and become fully booked days or even weeks before the day. I managed to miss out on my first intended race-date as I left it too late to register and had to wait another week for the next one. My advice is that once you find a race, get it booked in straight away.
Watch a Race
Going to watch a race can give you an idea of the procedures on race day such as the briefing, race start and finish. You’ll gain some understanding of race tactics and generally feel a lot more comfortable when it’s your turn to get out there.
Bike Checks / Cleaning
Make sure you’ve given your bike a good going over the day before the race. Test all the components, especially making sure that your gears are aligned and the brakes won’t rub. Take off anything you don’t need on the bike like lights and saddle bags and give the bike a good clean at the same time because you can’t be turning up on race day with a dirty bike!
This applies to what you eat before, during and after a race. It’s likely you’re going to be feeling nervous on the morning of your first race and won’t have much of an appetite, but it’s important to still get the fuel in. I like to get good dose of carbohydrates and sugar in on race day morning; usually a bowl of porridge and honey. During the race, aim to eat a gel with about 15 minutes to go to give you the extra energy for the final effort. Afterwards, as you would when training, it’s important to eat something within 30 minutes of getting off the bike to feed those tired muscles. I’ll always eat something natural like a banana after any hard effort but also rely on bars to provide a good hit of protein before I’m able to find a proper meal. I've found that these Multi Power protein bars really help with recovery and taste better than others I've tried, while still having a low sugar content. The flavours (cookies and cream, chocolate and berry yoghurt) were sweet but not sickly which means they were ideally edible for post-race munchies. I also thought they tasted more natural than they looked and with it being a low sugar bar, it suited my racing ideology and how I want my body to recover.
Hold Your Line
One of the main things to focus on in your first race is good safe riding technique while in such close proximity to so many riders. You’ll hear riders shouting ‘hold your line’ throughout the race. This means that for example if you are on the outside entering into a corner, do not cut across a bunch of riders in an attempt to clip the apex like you would when riding alone. Hold your line on the outside, allowing room for the riders inside of you.
Remember to Drink
A Cat 4 circuit race is going to last about 45 minutes to an hour. You’re going to want to take on fluids during this time. Before racing, you should be comfortable reaching down to grab your bottle, taking a drink and replacing the bottle without looking, changing speed or swerving from side to side.
Don’t be Afraid to Fail
One of the main fears I had prior to and during my first race was that my fitness would be pushed too hard, resulting in me blowing up and being dropped by the group of having to pull out. Being afraid of this throughout the race meant that I rode conservatively and was simply happy to be a part of the bunch, reacting to moves around me when necessary. While this is not necessarily a bad mindset for a novice racer, results aren’t going to come if you are afraid to put it all on the line and push yourself deep into the red zone.
At the time of writing this I’ve competed in 3 races. In the first one I learnt that I needed to push myself harder next time out. In the second race I went too hard too early and got dropped with 15 minutes to go. Third time out I followed wheels, focused on position and got a top 20 finish. My point is that there’s a huge amount to learn every time you pin a number on your jersey, so get out, ride lots, race hard have and always learn something new.