Getting Acquainted with Road Racing
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the road racing season is about to begin. You may have seen a few winter criterium race series and thought you fancy having a go yourself. While road racing is very different to closed circuit, or crit racing, the outcome is the same – you ride your bike very hard for a while in the hope of crossing the line somewhere near the front. And if you’ve never experienced the thrill of the road race before, this article will hopefully help to answer any questions you might have about the UK scene.
What is Road Racing?
Just like the scratch race in track cycling, road racing operates a first across the line system to crown the winner. Albeit, with a lot more kilometres and varying terrain. In the UK, there is a category system which determines the races in which you can ride. When you are just starting out, you’ll be a Category 4 rider.
When you race you earn points. The number of points available differs on gender and the type of race. All the details on the point system are available from British Cycling, but for example, if you’re competing in a local circuit race, it won’t hold the same weight in points as something like a national road race.
If you earn enough points, you can start to work your way up to Cat 3, Cat 2, Cat 1, and Elite.
How to get started
So, what do you need? Well, firstly, a bike. There is no need to spend thousands upon thousands on a special race bike to be competitive or to enjoy yourself. Yes, you’ll likely see a lot of money being spent by other riders, but it’s best not to invest until you’re sure you are committed to racing. Something like the Xelius SL 5.0 2022 is a perfect starter race bike.
Secondly, you will need to buy a race licence. This is available through British Cycling, of which you also need to be a member. At this stage, you don’t need to be part of a cycling club or team, but it does mean you have to wear plain kit or you could be disqualified. Little rules like this and many more are part of the nuance of British cycle racing – just make sure you read the rulebook before taking part, so you don’t get caught out.
It’s also recommended you don’t make your first race, your first time riding in a group. Riding with a lot of other people around you can be nerve-racking and you need to be observant and alert at all times. If you make a mistake, it might not just be your own race you cost. Don’t let that put you off though – just make sure you join a few group rides beforehand, maybe try a local paceline and see how you feel.
What to expect at your first race?
So, you have signed up, you have your licence and you’re ready to race. What can you expect at your first one? We would recommend arriving in plenty of time so you can warm up and get organised. Pinning a number on is always easier if you’ve got someone to lend a helping hand, but if not, don’t worry, just stretch your jersey over your legs and get pinning.
If you get time and the route consists of laps, it might be worth getting in a quick reconnaissance lap so you can see where you need to be positioned for each point in the race. If not, we would recommend spending some time on Google Street View to familiarise yourself with the course.
The commissaires will provide a pre-race speech, detailing the route, anything to look out for and a quick brush up of the rules. In England, most road racing takes place on rolling road closures, so the roads aren’t constantly closed. There will be a car at the back of the peloton which signifies the back of the race. If this vehicle overtakes you, you will no longer be protected by the race bubble. This means you will now be subject to general traffic and need to abide by the highway code.
Once the race kicks off, don’t make any hero efforts straight away. We’re not saying you should just sit in the bunch and watch the race unfold before you, but making a solo move on lap one or in the first few kilometres and expecting it to hold is highly unlikely. Instead, use it as experience. You are also unlikely to win on your first road race, so just take the time to get used to being in the wheels and focusing on where you can improve. Where are you struggling fitness wise, as well as tactically.
Finally, make sure you enjoy yourself! This is, after all, the entire point of driving hours away to a random place in the UK to ride yourself ragged for a few hours and then sleeping the rest of the weekend, right?