Tips for Your First Road Bike Race!


Nicole Novembre

Nicole Novembre, Tough Girl Cycling

If you’ve been road riding for a while and are considering entering a bike race, there are a few things to think about. The first is to choose a race to enter. There are three main types of road race: a time trial, a road race, and a criterium. In a time trial, racers start one at a time and ride a course against the clock. A road race is a mass start event that might do one or two loops around a course for a total distance of 30 – 50 miles for a beginner race. A criterium is on a short course (less than a mile long) and is run for a set amount of time, usually 30 to 40 minutes for a beginner category. You start out not knowing how many laps you’ll end up doing. At some point in the race the officials will calculate how many laps you have left to do to make the race approximately as long as advertised. At that point, they’ll put up a “lap board” showing how many laps are remaining.

A time trial might be a good race to start with because you can experience the race environment without the complication of dealing with riding in a pack. If you haven’t had experience riding in a pack, seek out some group rides before entering a road race. Your local bike shop should be able to tell you about group rides. You might also want to consider joining a cycling club. Entering organized rides such as the Copper Triangle or Triple Bypass are also good ways to get experience riding in a group. Make sure you are comfortable eating and drinking while riding with people around you. Keep your arms loose so that you can absorb the occasional bump from a nearby rider. You’ll probably want to have a couple of road races under your belt before signing up for a criterium. Criteriums (or “crits”) are more technically challenging because there is a lot of cornering and sprinting. Crits are the most spectator-friendly of all of the road races, so be sure to go watch one before signing up!

Once you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to prepare. First make sure your bike is in safe working order. It might be time to take it to your local bike shop for a tune up. Before every race, carefully inspect your tires for any signs of trouble and inflate them to the proper pressure – there are few things more frustrating than getting a flat in a race! You’ll want to get a look at the course and even ride it ahead of time if possible. The more comfortable you are with the course, the more you can focus on everything else going on in the race. Also, you’ll be shocked to discover how feeble your mind can be when you are pushing your body to the limit in a race – knowing the course well will help you avoid silly mistakes like going off course or not realizing that you are approaching the finish line!

On race day, show up early and go straight to registration. There can sometimes be lines at registration, so it’s best to get that out of the way first. Most races require a racing license. If you aren’t sure how many races you’ll do this year, just buy a 1-day license – you can always upgrade to an annual license later in the year. You’ll be given a race number to pin to your jersey – be sure to ask which side to pin it on (this will depend on from which side of the road the officials will be watching the finish line). Take a look at how other racers have pinned their numbers – you want to make sure it’s flush to your back so that you don’t have a sail flapping around throughout the race! Make sure you get a good warm-up before the start. The colder the day and the shorter event means you need a longer warm-up. Make sure you get your heart rate up during your warm-up – you should definitely break a sweat, don’t worry about tiring yourself out! Many people like to bring a trainer or a set of rollers for warming up on. The advantage is that you don’t have to deal with traffic and you can be near your bag of stuff, the start of the race, and the bathrooms. I have missed the start of a race because I went to warm up on the road and misjudged how long it would take to get back to the start line – I didn’t make that mistake again! Keep an eye on the time. It’s best if you can set yourself up near the start line or the registration tent so that you can hear announcements. You’ll want to get to the start early enough that you get a good spot, but not so early that you’re standing around letting your legs get cool before the gun goes off. Keep an eye on the start area and head over when you see a group starting to form. Plan on working hard at the start of the race to get in a good position in the pack. It’s usually safest to ride in the first half of the pack (but not at the very front), and if there are going to be a lot of corners, it’s more efficient to be in the front half. The people in the back experience a “yo-yo effect” where they have to slow down way before the turn and then sprint out of the turn to catch up to the people in the front of the pack who never touched their brakes and only had to accelerate a little bit coming out of the turn.

Remember that the number one goal of your race should be to finish safely. Make sure you are comfortable, keep your arms loose, and if you need to brake, do so smoothly and gently – never slam on your brakes because you might get rear ended by someone behind you. Look around and take note of fellow riders. If someone looks tense or insecure on their bike, stay away from them! Find a solid rider (a “good wheel”) and try to just sit behind them and watch what they do. After you complete a race or two and love it, start talking to fellow riders about the strategy of bike racing. The best way to learn is to talk to more experienced racers. Head out on training rides and ask every question you can think of! You might want to consider joining a team if you find that you really enjoy bike racing. Hope to see you out at the races!


tough · girl (tuf · gurl) -

n. The ultimate female athlete who rides bikes day in and day out. A tough girl will be found competing in every event in any weather condition around the U.S. A tough girl is a female cyclist who is able to withstand great strain without tearing or breaking; strong and resilient; physically hardy; rugged.

syn. Aggressive; strong-minded; resolute; a tough negotiator.

Team Motto:

TOUGH GIRL Cycling Team promotes women’s active outdoor lifestyles through bicycle racing both regionally and nationally. Our goal is to have fun, stay fit, be competitive, and look great doing it!

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