RACING FOR THE FIRST TIME
Everything is going to be ok
Ok, so you’re going to race. Gulp. Why did you agree to this?! Take a deep breath, it’s going to be fine. Firstly, you don’t have to do it. But come on, you know you want to. Imagine how good you’ll feel afterwards. Imagine how fun it’ll be to smash it. Strava PR? For sure. And as a wise woman once said, if you want to be good at racing… you have to start racing.
Do I have to be fit to race?
‘Fit’ is so subjective. Fit like Laura Kenny? Or fit like you can keep up with your mates on a regular Saturday bike ride? That’s enough, really. And you won’t be able to gauge it until you’ve tried. Choose the lowest category race you can find. For road/road crits, that’ll be cat 3/4 or cat 4 only (there’s nothing stopping you entering, eg, a cat E1234, but bear in mind the pace will be faster). For track, a C or B category is best. Fixed crits generally don’t have categories in the women’s race but you’ll find a wide variety of ability.
What’s the best way to prepare?
In an ideal first race, you want to a) preserve your energy by sheltering behind other riders and b) be strong enough to react to attacks, say if a rider at the front suddenly ramps up the pace. So it’s good to practice riding in a group and staying close to the wheel in front, and do some interval training to improve your strength and speed (basically: short efforts followed by a rest, repeated).
You may also want to work on your bike handling skills – so you can hold your line well, corner neatly and feel confident with other riders close by. Our skills sessions are fantastic for this, and we also recommend riding on the rollers to improve balance and coordination. Another good tip: practice clipping in fast from a standing start.
In the few days leading up the race, don’t ride too hard but do try some chill spins to keep your legs fresh. Drink lots of water and keep your energy up with carbs – especially if you think you might lose your appetite on the morning of the race.
Race day essentials… and nerves
Pack your race bag the day before, if you can. Don’t forget snacks, extra layers, cash and your race licence. Hopefully, you can get a friend or teammate to come along, help you pin your number and cheer specially for you. Arrive early – much better than stressing out at the last minute.
We wish we had a fool-proof strategy for dealing with pre-race jitters but unfortunately they’re part of the game! A simple trick is remembering that you need a bit of nervous energy to make you smashy, and to try to reframe the nerves as feelings of excitement. Almost everyone gets nervous but the confidence and pride you’ll feel afterwards make racing worth it.
3… 2… 1… go!
Firstly, don’t begin at the back. Gather your confidence and be one of the first on the starting line. Other racers can sometimes seem unfriendly on the starting line but that’s just nerves – they’ll be all smiles at the end. When the race starts, try to stay near the front – if you’re feeling strong, do take turns leading the bunch but don’t stay there too long as you’ll quickly get tired. It’s tempting to lurk at the back but try not to – you won’t get as much energy-saving protection from the wind and it’s harder to see what’s happening ahead.
race etiquette and staying safe
There’s a lot of communication in races, mainly for safety – riders will call out to state their positions (‘on your right’) and flick their elbows to signal that they’re going to move sideways off the front of the bunch. You may be warned to hold your line if another rider is worried you’ll veer into them but don’t take it personally. When cornering, you must follow the line of the rider in front of you – don’t be tempted to dive for the inside. If it’s all getting a bit cosy and you feel another rider is too close, relax, keep your arms soft and gently bend your elbows out to absorb any bumps. It’s great if you can take turns on the front and contribute to keeping the pace up but you don’t have to.
What if I get left behind? Will it be really embarrassing?
AKA ‘getting dropped’, this is so common in your first race. Almost all of the Velociposse racers got dropped in their first race. If it does happen and you can’t fight your way back to the bunch, stay calm and think about who else has been dropped. Hopefully there’s another rider close by and you two can work together, taking turns in the wind. If you’re lucky, the bunch ahead will slow down and you might be able to rejoin them. If not, keep communicating with each other and be glad you’ve made a new pal.
Sometimes you’re just out on your own but you’ll still be so proud when you finish and spectators will still cheer for you. Don’t feel embarrassed – they’re not the ones who were brave enough to race! If you’re alone, race officials may signal to you to leave the track but this is just to ensure your safety, especially if the bunch is coming up to the final sprint.
Checkered flag, first race done!
Once you finish, get warm clothes on ASAP, eat a snack and gulp down some water. Maybe you smashed it and even got some British Cycling points. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter on your first go. Hopefully you learned a lot and found some ways to improve. Next one?