We all lined up our bikes ready to grab that title of the fastest kid on the block. There was around 8 of us all prepared to put it all on the line for that little taste of glory. Go! Simultaneously, we all pushed off and started to pedal furiously trying to get ahead and stay ahead. An older girl cut across me and I was drafting her wheel. The pace had intensified as some of the older kids used their physical advantage pushed on. I made sure I stuck on that girl's wheel so close that our tyres had rubbed together and the smell of burning rubber whistled through the air. BANG! One went down, then another, then the girl I was drafting went down too. Ah, this is it isn't it? It's a cliche presumption which is actually quite true but everything slows down in a crash just like the HD advert Sky Sports puts out when it slows all the sports action down so you can see the sweat trickling down Messi's head or Hamilton's wheel bouncing off the tarmac and you can pick out the specks of rubber spraying out in all directions. I was 10 years old.
Fast forward to present day and I'm starting to realise I'm being surrounded by racers. I've got Liam and Sam on Whatsapp updating each other on their races and how they should of timed their sprints better. I've got Nick on Twitter giving us the lowdown on his power outputs every week. Meanwhile, over on Instagram, David and his Dirty Wknd crew are turning their racing team journey into a weekly box set on Insta-stories! I'm starting to feel left out which is why I'm gonna' give it a go. Even if it's just once, the experience of racing full throttle against other hyperactive cyclists is something you can not replicate anywhere else. But my mind is a little bit like the Riddler at the mo. Riddle me this, riddle me that, is it E/1/2/3/4 Cat?! So here are a list of some questions and queries I'm looking to find more about as I prepare/train for my first race as a...racer? Road racer? Lycra whippet? Cat 4? Fluffy cat? What do you call each other?!
How much does it all cost?
Probably one of the most important queries don't you think? So you need a racing license, I know where to get that at but which one? When does it run out? How much does it cost to race? Have I got to be a member of anything else? Will my wife even let me race at all after she realises how much it will all cost?!
So to race, you need a British Cycling membership, everything runs through them. Then, you need you racing license which only runs within the calendar year so I managed to get a cheaper price on mine as it's coming into Winter racing. That's not to say the racing dries up, far from it, Full Gas has just released their racing dates all the way up until the end of February. To race in their league which covers Hillingdon and Lee Valley, you can buy into their league membership, optional but you get a discounted race entry. So far, a British Cycling Silver membership has cost me £44 for a full year, the racing license for the remaining races of 2018 was roughly £20, my first race at Hillingdon was £21, the Full Gas league membership was an early bird special at £16 (with each race £15 for members). In total, it has cost me so far £101 and I haven't even raced yet! Blimey!
All the gear and no idea?!
I've seen the pictures with the racers with their deep carbon rims and slammed out aero machines. Normally, their clothing looks all pro' too especially their sock game. Am I allowed just to rock up in anything? I've always believed if you look good, you feel good so do I need to invest in a little sexy number?! One thing I do have is a n+1, my Planet X EC-130 is starting to come good, I'm feeling more at one with it (sounds cheesy!) so in that sense, I'm good to go.
I queried this with a few people. I was even told that to race, you had to wear all black as I would not be representing a club/team. This didn't sound right and it didn't specifically say in the British Cycling Rule book what non-affiliated riders are allowed to wear. Just as long as there's no sponsors, team logos etc. it seems any other kit will do. Pippa at Full Gas confirmed off the shelf clothing should be fine so my little shopping spree a couple of months ago looks to have paid off!
What's the procedure then?
So when you've signed up to the race, is it literally a case of turning up to the track and off you go? Is there a signing on process? Do I have to do a blood and urine test?! I might have to back off the tea a lot otherwise I might get done for too much caffeine! Now back in my football days, you get changed in the changing room with your team mates and all your stuff gets locked up. I won't have any team mates to share anything with (doubt the Saddledrunk boys and the Dirty Wknd crew want me mingling in listening in to their race tactics!) so are there places to leave a bag? Having the circuit at Hillingdon in mind where our first experience of racing will probably take place, I don't want to be lugging a backpack around the race with my keys and everything else jingling around as we fly around so are there lockers or somewhere safe to leave personal belongings?
I was a little worried about this because I've been down to Hillingdon and weren't too sure if there was lockers available but apparently in the race information I've received for my first race, there is. I will be riding down (albeit very slowly!) so wouldn't mind putting a few after things in a bag (food, spares etc.) and leaving it safe somewhere. My family are keen to pop down and watch but I've had to remind my Dad that it's not like football when I was young, you can't be shouting at me to 'mark him' or 'goalside', it's all about 'allez allez'! My sister wants to pop down too to practice her photography so at least I don't have to pay for any captured imagery...well she better not charge me!
Onto the racing, are we allowed a warm up or is it line up and bomb away?! What's the etiquette? Are newbies allowed to overtake or am I expected to do some initiation by leading everyone out whilst singing 'I want to ride my bicycle'?! Are there racing calls/rules I need to know about? Last thing I want is to cause or worse, be involved in a crash! I would like to return home with myself and my bike in one piece! And if the inevitable happens and I get dropped, can I continue round or am I sent home in shame?
What happens if I get a mechanical?
Am I supposed to bring my man cave along equipped with bike stand, track pump, tools, tubes, spare cleats?! In all seriousness, what happens if you get a puncture? Obviously change it but are you allowed back in? Is there a mechanic on hand for any serious issues?
Well I'm bringing a bag with some spares and my mechanical knowledge is not too bad, I'm getting better at tuning and replacing cables. There's marshals at hand around the track in case of any incidents but I suppose if I puncture, would just have to walk it back round to the clubhouse, change the tube and trudge off home!
How much do I need to train?
My base fitness I feel is decent enough. On solo rides, I can keep a reasonable pace but ask me to throw in a few sprints and I'll start to flag. I guess riding in a group (which I have done, many social rides plus a few sportives including in a closed one in Norn Iron where being in a big group really does help) covers you in that expect as it's a matter of drafting and choosing the right and safest wheel to follow I suppose. So do I need to start doing sprint intervals on my commute to work? Shall I start running up the stairs where possible? The wife might start think I'm losing it if I start to do sprint repeats from the bathroom upstairs to the kitchen downstairs and back! Don't tell me I have to do more FTP tests?!
I have had some racing experience in the past but it was definitely nothing in comparison to crit' racing. I've done a couple of TTs, a sprint Tri' and the Red Bull Timelaps last year but the racing there was sporadic and very varied in terms of ability. We had pros racing with well...people like me! And when you did find a group to work with, one or many would pull into their pits to swap round so you could never fully immerse yourself in the dynamics of racing.
This has been hard to judge. I commute around 15-20miles a day in total dependent on weather, the urge to get home early or just being tired from work. We know a few routes back home where there's some longer straights and I've been focusing on those segments to maintain power for a specific amount of time. This obviously doesn't work out all the time due to traffic, traffic lights and usually wind (although this can be a good training tool). I've been told racing circuits is pretty much interval training, the pace will pick up now and then when someone wants to breakaway and it's up to you to keep with the group so you're in contention for the all out sprint at the end. Revolve24 was a good test as it was literally 6x1hr efforts of timed efforts. So with that in mind, I've tried to implement that in my commutes home mainly (don't like turning up for work with sick down me because I've just done an all out sprint!) where I've focused on a pushing a big gear but maintaining a smooth cadence often focusing on my quads as the go to muscles. Am I doing it right? Time will tell at my first race, my goal really is just to keep with the pace of the race, I'm not fussed about placing, I just want to know that I'm fast enough to race and then we will go from there.
Shall I start cutting out the tea and toast then?
If I'm going to do this racing malarky, I would like to do it properly. Our diet isn't bad, very minimal on the takeaways and the alcohol, plenty of fruit and we've started to implement a weekly veggie meal to cut down on meats. We usually have porridge for breakfast as we feel it lasts us the whole morning, anything else and we're hungry a few hours later. Should I also be investing in some recovery shakes or downing a pint of milk will be ok? Are there any racing super meals I need to know about?!
Honestly, I haven't changed too much of my diet. Weirdly, we've been cutting down on the protein. This week alone (3/10), we've had 2 vegetarian based meals so am i getting my protein intake to build up the strength in my muscles? Can't truly tell you, I just make sure my hunger doesn't affect my work and that I'm not training on an empty stomach but also not training on a full one either. Breakfast is probably the healthiest point of the day, porridge or shredded wheat are my super food for the morning. A piece of fruit or granola mid morning keeps me going to lunch, then lunch is usually a wrap of some sort or leftovers from last night's dinner. It's also difficult to work out whether being lighter is better for crit' racing, I'm not exactly light but I would say most of my weight comes from my big ass and legs, I could be lighter on top but you could argue that my legs and bum are of good size because they've had to carry a heavier weight on top. So do I trim down on top or power up?
Shave the legs?
Well...would I look a bit out of place if I didn't?
For Revolve24 and mainly because 2/3 of our team mates were also doing it, we gave the legs a trim. Damn they felt smooth especially with the wife's body butter thrown on there! But really it's an image thing isn't it? It's supposed to better for road rash in terms of healing if you did manage to crash but come on, it's better for the Instagram right?! That said, we will be shaving before each race!
What shall I do after?
Shake hands? Shake hands with the bikes? High 5 everyone? Guard of honour? Infiltrate a Whatsapp group? Just go home? Hopefully the answer will be look ahead to your next one.
There's no pub really near by in Hillingdon so no after race drinks I imagine. Instead, I'll probably see riders downing their protein shakes or on their rollers. Me? Just make us a decent cuppa and we will be fine! We have been checking the race list for our first race and there are a few newbies like ourselves so if you reading this and you're in the Cat 4 race at Hillingdon on October 27th, give us a shout, you never know, we could break away and be 'notinthepeloton'! See what I did there?! Just don't expect me to lead you out for the sprint, I've dropped a few commuters this week, granted they were kids going to school on their BMXs but they were there for the taking and I need it for my confidence!
Well there's probably another 101 things I need to consider before I start taking this seriously. From what I can see, bike racing is definitely unique in its preparation compared to other sports. In team sports, you can go 'missing', hide yourself in a position or the pace of the game drops so you can take a breather. You won't be able to do that with racing, you slack off, you're dropped. You can't just roll up to a race, plonk yourself in and go in our opinion, it feels like this is a project which needs articulate planning to get the most out of it. We're not expecting to place anywhere, far from it, we just want to experience the thrill of racing, what it would be like to close down gaps, pulling a group along at the front, sounds ironic but we don't want to be 'not in the peloton' because we're burning wheels with the guy in front and hit the deck at a stupid speed, we're not 10 anymore right?!