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Source: I love cycling portal
How to Start Bike Racing
Getting more kids to ride to school is a key success predictor of any country’s cycling future – and indeed obesity rates. As a European Commissioner stated: ”One might say that Europe (Australia!) faces a choice. Do we want to pursue an American-style approach where kids depend on their parents to take them to school for many years?
So you want to start racing
Anyone can ride a bicycle, most learn to do it quite proficiently at an early age. Almost anyone can ride a bicycle fast, do it often and continuously. So when is a good time to start racing? Bicycle racing is tough to simply jump into due to the skills and fitness required. Some natural athletes may only need some technical instructions (follow everyone else, be first across the line) while others may benefit from a lot of training to bring their fitness levels up. We get many calls and inquiries regarding how to start racing. There is a great community on Ottawa which makes it easy to develop skills and fitness. The following points will describe some basic events and guidelines to help you prepare for entry into racing.
Training and coaching
- In the beginning, ride your bike. It may take over a year (entry level athletes can consider themselves on a 5 year plan) to build the base fitness required to handle the training needed for racing.
- The OBC has many touring events and weekend rides where you will be able to build your fitness and comfort riding in a group. It is important to take the group riding clinic early to ensure your safety and that of your companions.
- The OBC Open Time Trial series allow you to test repeatedly in similar conditions your fitness progression. Do them as often as you wish, but don’t be afraid to skip one if you’d prefer a hard ride in the park for a change.
- Study training plans and think about your goals and the objectives required to reach your goals. The OBC has a fully stocked library for this purpose. We suggest Friel’s Training Bible for a great start on why and how we train with a purpose.
- As you progress, you may desire personal coaching. There are many facilities which offer training services, and these are useful for testing and general planning. There are also training services delivered long-distance over the internet. But a certified cycling coach can add personal services and specific advice required for road cycling. Certified cycling coaches have NCCP certification and are highly recommended.
Getting ready to race
- The OBC holds Learn to Race clinics in the spring. Consider these mandatory if you want to learn to ride in close proximity with other racers(the peleton). You will be safer and more confident in your first races. In fact, some ‘seasoned’ racers need to and do attend a clinic to brush up on basic skills from time to time. Some coaches drill basic skills weekly with their teams.
- The Seenite Criterium series (http://seenite.org/) offers one of the best developmental racing series in the country. There are no winners, no losers, and no scores or points are kept. These are strictly a developmental opportunity to train to race. The series starts up in the spring and continues every Tuesday throughout the summer. We all start in the B-race. When you are ready to try an A-race, you will be told. Please follow the rules of this series as they help our community maintain its good standing with the facilities and stakeholders.
- At some point, you will consider purchasing a license. A citizen’s permit is needed for the Seenite criteriums and a few other events in Ontario. Most other races sell one-day licenses. A UCI license (an international license) is more expensive, but allows you to race in all events, all provinces, and into the USA without having to purchase any more licenses.
- For more on licenses and cycling in Ontario, see the Ontario Cycling Association website: http://www.ontariocycling.org
- The Quebec cycling association also has a website with all of their racing calendars, news, and regulations:http://www.fqsc.net/accueil.htm
- To keep up with what is happening in New York and Vermont, check out http://spokepost.com/ for great racing calendars and links to all races in the North East.
Racing Classes and age groups
- U13 – Under 13 (10-12) as of December 31 (MINIME)
- U15 – Under 15 (13-14) as of December 31 (PEEWEE)
- U17 – Under 17 (15-16) as of December 31 (CADET)
- U19 – Under 19 (17-18) as of December 31 (Junior)
- Elite – 19+ experienced provincial and national level riders (Senior 1 and 2) to introductory to racing (Senior 3)
- Master A – Ages 30-39 as of December 31
- Master B – Ages 40-49 as of December 31
- Master C – Ages 50-59 as of December 31
- Master D – Ages 60+ as of December 31, 2006
Gear Restrictions for Riders Under 19 Years of Age
The international governing body for cycling is the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).The UCI rules are the basis for the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) Rule Book (http://www.canadian-cycling.com/English/information/rulebook.htm). The UCI has specific limits on the gears used by young riders in road events. The main reasons for restricted gearing are to prevent injury and to encourage development of good pedalling technique (although this is subject to great debate!).
Since 2004 the OCA has enforced gear restrictions for young riders at all OCA sanctioned races. For the Junior (U19) category the restrictions are defined by the UCI. For all other riders (cadets (U17), U15, U13, U19 riders racing Senior etc) the U19 gear restrictions will be applied. This means that bikes for all riders under 19 year of age riders will be checked before and after every race to insure that they are not using illegal gears. Please note that the OCA strongly advises that all young riders chose their gearing with care. It is ultimately the responsibility of the rider to use the proper equipment.
2.2.024 For Junior Men and Junior Women, the authorized maximum chain gear ratio is 7.93 meters.
What does this mean?
When the bike is in the largest gear (big ring on the front, smallest gear on the back) it must travel less then 7.93 m when the pedals are turned exactly one full circle. This is tested by doing what is called a “roll-out”. At the race, the commissaire will shift your bike into the largest gear available (biggest front, smallest back), and then roll it backwards watching one pedal. When the pedal goes around exactly one time, the distance will be marked. If it is more than 7.93 meters the bike will be illegal, and you will not be able to ride. At the end of the race the same check will be done, and if your bike fails, you will be disqualified.
So how do I comply?
The best way to insure that you bike will pass the test is to make sure that your “big ring” has 52 teeth, and that your smallest rear gear is 14 teeth. This combination is by far the most commonly used and will be very convenient if you need help with a flat or require other mechanical support during a race. These are standard parts that are readily available from your local bike shop, and should be provided at no extra cost on a new bike.
The other way to pass the test is to “block out” some of the gears on the back. If you have a 52 tooth “big ring” on the front you must block off all gears smaller that 14 on the back. If you have a 53 tooth “big ring” you must block off all gears smaller than 15 in the rear. The best way to do this is to adjust the limit screw on your rear derailleur to prevent the use of the smaller gears. Some commissaires may also require you to make the illegal gears unusable by wrapping them with tape and/or cable ties. Remember that your bike will be checked after the race – if the adjustments slip during the race, or if you get a spare wheel that has different gearing you could be disqualified.
Special Note for Younger Riders
The CCA Rule Book states that gear restrictions may be applied to younger riders as follows:
- Under 17 6.94 metres or 52 X 16 chain rings
- Under 15 6.00 metres or 45 X 16 chain rings
- Under 13 5.60 metres or 42 X 16 chain rings
These restrictions will not be enforced in Ontario. Riders entering races in other provinces may find that these restrictions are enforced there. This is especially true for cadets (U17) who travel to Quebec for major races as part of OCA development projects. If you plan to race outside of Ontario make sure you find out if gear restrictions are enforced, and that you have the correct equipment on your bike.
Your First Bike Race
I can still remember my first bike race. It was a mountain bike race in Canmore, Canada and I was in the citizen’s class with about 20 other guys. I could barely tell the difference between the pros and the guys like me in citizen class wearing cotton t-shirts with MEC bike shorts. To me it was all the same. I figured I was in way over my head! I completed the relatively short race and came in 9th place, ecstatic to be in the top 10! Of course I talked it up and told everyone there were 100 people in the race
I still get nervous every single time I stand on the start line of a race. Be it a local club crit or along side some of the best pro riders in the world. I think once I lose that feeling it’ll be time to hang up my helmet. Until that time comes, bring it on! As elite bike racers, we often forget that every single one of us had to do this for the first time and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t nervous. You pull up to the race knowing no-one, everyone looks like they are one big family, you get yelled at in the pack for dropping a wheel, etc. It’s a daunting experience.
Putting the elitist and arrogant cyclist reputation aside, here are a few TIPS to help you with your first bike race.
- Before attempting to ride in your first race, be sure you have a good dozen group rides under your belt. The more the better. This will accustom you to riding along side dozens of other cyclists at high speeds. You will become familiar with drafting and positioning in the pack.
- Too much focus on specific training may not be of much use at the beginning. Getting out on the bike and having fun is priority #1. You could be the fittest rider in the bunch but if you don’t know how to race you can still easily get dropped (I was dropped in my first road race and I was an Elite class mountain biker – yeah… strong and dumb). Be sure that you’ve ridden similar courses to what you’ll be riding in your first race. If it’s a crit course, perhaps go there a few days before and understand the profile of the course and where all the turns and danger spots are. Visualize yourself in the race and prepare for what could be difficult parts of the course. And if it’s a road race, definitely know where the climbs are. Perhaps ride the course with a more experienced rider so you can get an idea of what speeds you’ll need to be going.
DAY BEFORE RACE DAY
- Make sure your bike maintenance is complete at this point and don’t leave anything untested. Clean your chain and wipe your bike down with babywipes. A clean bike is a happy bike.
- One of the most frequent questions beginners ask is “what are you supposed to eat the day before a race?” The answer is: Nothing different that you’d usually eat the day before a ride. Don’t go and eat a mountain of pasta the night before if you’re not used to it. That’s the biggest wives tale in sports. If you’re going to carb load, do it right.
- Make sure you have all your water bottles filled, your energy foods organized and your equipment laid out, etc. Get absolutely everything ready the night before so that you’re not stressing about it on race day.
- What do you eat and drink while racing you ask? Well, if it’s a 1hr crit, I wouldn’t recommend having anything more than a bottle of energy drink and maybe a gel. If you’re doing a long event, you might want to read this post. Anything more than 70-90km for your first race is highly unlikely. Basically, try to eat and drink about 500 calories per hour after the first hour. For example, a bottle of energy drink has ~200 calories, a gel has ~90 calories, and a powerbar has ~250-300 calories. Mix and match based on preference and the length of the race.
- Don’t take a full rest day on the day directly before a race. Do a race preparation rideto get the body used to recruiting those specific muscles that you’ll be using tomorrow.
- Get all the start times, directions and maps for the race printed out. Know where the start line is and be there 100% ready to race 1/2hr before you need to.
- The preparation is the best part of the race. All of the stuff above may seem overwhelming, but in my opinion it’s the most fun part of the process. Savor it!
- Since this is your first race, it’ll probably begin very early in the morning (most of the lower categories do). Have a good breakfast about 3hrs before the race start if possible. Eat either some toast, oatmeal or muesli along with some fruit, and juice and coffee. Also have a small amount of protein (maybe an egg, yogurt, or some peanut butter on your toast). The protein will slow down the absorption of sugars into your bloodstream. Nothing too massive or out of your ordinary routine.
- Before the race make sure you have your race license. Double and triple check this! You won’t be able to race without it.
- Check the forecast and make sure you’ve prepared the proper clothing. Take a look at some of the A-grade or Cat1/2 riders and look at what they’re wearing. Wear what most of them are wearing.
- Once you get to the race, get signed in, and have your number pinned on your jersey, go and check out the stretch before the finish line. If it’s a road race, check out the final kilometer. See if there are any turns or round-abouts in the road, and get familiar with this stretch of the road. This is when things will really pick up and you need to be prepared for that. You don’t want to be near the back of the bunch in the last km or lap.
- Positioning plays a massive part of road racing. Being at different places in the pack will require different amounts of energy to stay there. Its not a good idea to be at the back of the bunch nor directly at the front (unless it’s 100m from the finish). If you’re not a strong climber, make sure you’re one of the first people to start the climb so that you can slowly drift back and still be in the bunch by the time you’ve hit the top. If you’re not good at accelerating, don’t be at the back of the bunch in a criterium. There’s no better way to get the hang of this than experience. I could write for days on positioning.
- try to drink one bottle of fluids every hour. If the race is a crit, eat your gel in the last 20 minutes of the race. It’ll perk you up and give you some more energy for the finish. It’s amazing what a little bit of sugar can do.
- The goal for your first race should not be to win. I would not recommend trying to take part in the final sprint at this stage of your career. These can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. You are also likely to be a danger to everyone else out there if you’re too eager. Watch and learn. The goal should be to gain the experience you need to eventually win.
There’s a great write-up by Groover on her experiences when she was starting out cycling and eventually bike racing. Find it here.
Maybe all you experienced roadies have something to contribute that I missed? You are now well on your way to being a bike snob. Good luck in your first race!
In 2005, I was riding a similar wave of enthusiasm when I purchased my first road bike. This happens to millions of people each July, and soon-to-be roadies around the world are surely contemplating the same purchase right now. Many even hope to race, and I’m not surprised that a few of my “normal” friends recently have asked for advice on joining the competitive ranks. I’m happy for them.
Bike racing lifted me out of a funk when I started in New York in 2008. I’d just spent a year working as a messenger, and while I knew the city like the back of my hand, I was lost. A recent college grad, I was severed from my cozy campus community and set adrift in the harsh world of adulthood, where I eventually landed a respectable desk job. Suddenly pent up in a cubicle and desperate for an outlet, I gave racing a try. I was hooked immediately. Racing offered a new set of friends and, as crazy as it may sound, a much-needed sense of purpose and identity. Today racing is my job.
OK, so maybe racing won’t work out like that for everyone, but I’d like to think that I gained a few relevant insights along the way. If you’re drawn to the competitive side of the sport, here’s my two cents:
One of my biggest regrets is waiting until I was 23 to start racing. I’d been interested for years but waited until I could commit to a full season and really “do it right.” If you’re holding out until you feel exceptionally fit, or until you can go buy that speedy new race bike, or until there’s a long break in your busy schedule, keep in mind that there’s no time like the present.
Don’t be intimidated.
I remember showing up to my first races wearing a plain jersey and riding a well-used aluminum bike with second-tier parts. I couldn’t help notice the matching logo-covered clothing and equipment of those around me, and how their chiseled legs sometimes made my absurdly skinny calves look like chopsticks. I’ve since realize that there’s surprising little correlation between a cyclist’s ability and his or her appearance, physical or otherwise. Further, don’t buy into elitism or listen to anyone who shouts in a bike race. The best advice is dispensed quietly, from people who are self-aware enough to know that their expertise in cycling is, in the grand scheme of things, somewhat odd.
Focus on safety and efficiency.
There’s a lot more to racing than just that, but staying upright and using as little energy as possible is the best way to ensure that you’ll finish races and get to do it again, which is the only way to eventually learn about all the other aspects of the sport. By efficiency, I mean staying out of the wind and pedaling as little as possible. The same goes for using your brakes. As Adam Myerson, my teammate, once told me, “If you use your brakes, that means at some point you’ve pedaled too hard.”
Allow yourself to race as much possible.
Skill is as big a factor in bike racing as fitness, especially in flat races. This sport is less like running a 10k or doing a triathlon, and more like playing basketball. Spending countless hours in the gym or perfecting your free-throw might help your game, especially if you’re already an experienced player, but the best way to learn how to play basketball is simply by playing basketball. Same goes for cycling. This includes fast group rides, which are the equivalent of pick-up ball. Ask your local bike shop where they are and where these people hang out. Talk to them, which will help you make friends, learn about the sport, and join a team.
Join a club or team.
Cycling is as much a team sport off the bike as it is on the bike. Joining a club or team is great way to learn about the sport, share resources, carpool to events, and, above all, make friends and have fun. That’s what this sport should be about in the first place. The serious point is that cyclists new to the sport (or the hobby, depending on how you view it) need to take the time to learn its rules and etiquettes. Riding in a straight line on the open road is harder than you may think. Fail to learn the technique and you run the risk of becoming a lycra-clad wrecking ball, an accident waiting to happen – or a ‘fish and chipper’, as they’re known in bike racing circles.
Here, then, is my 17-point guide to enjoying cycling safely and avoiding the dreaded ‘chipper’ label…
1. Join a local cycling club and learn something about the sport and how to ride. You’ll be surrounded by experienced riders who know how to conduct themselves on the road.
2. Be respectful to everyone on the road, including other cyclists. If you pass another cyclist say hello. If you see someone with a puncture ask them if they need a hand. Wave cars by so that people aren’t delayed on their journeys.
3. Support local races and get involved as a race marshal. You will meet proper cyclists and learn more about the culture of cycling. Put something back into the sport.
4. Never ride more than two abreast and always go into single file when a car approaches from behind. If you’re riding in a big bunch, suggest that you split into smaller groups – it makes negotiating traffic that bit easier.
5. Don’t ride in the gutter, it won’t save you from the articulated lorry with your number on its bumper. Instead, give yourself plenty of room and make yourself visible to other road users without hogging all the road.
6. Never perform a two-handed victory salute when riding uphill and never take your hands off your £800 carbon-fibre handlebars in a bunch unless you’re from Belgium.
7. Ride a bike that reflects your ability, not your ego. Bikes worth £10,000 are only cool when piloted by racing snakes who can ride 25 miles in under 52 minutes. I won my first race on a £150 third-hand Paganini, which changed gear of its own accord.
8. Don’t shave your legs unless you’re a woman, or you actually race. Sportives don’t count. While we’re on the subject of Sportives, numbers are for the back of the jersey and not the front of the handle bars.
9. Buy some mudguards. I admit I’ve been guilty of not having these in the past, but I now realise that it’s not cool for anyone behind you on a group ride in the wet to have water sprayed in their face. Failure to use mudguards in winter could make you a more hated figure in the bunch than Lance Armstrong.
10. Always look at the road ahead and not your GPS or the back brake of the person immediately in front of you.
11. Sign up to a bike race early on in your fledgling cycling career. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
12. Never wear a rainbow jersey, yellow jersey, national jersey or any other type of winner’s jersey that you haven’t actually won (yes: that basically rules out everyone). This is also another reason to join a local cycling club. They all have their own kit and some of them are pretty cool. My own favourite was Ferryhill Wheelers.
13. Always share water with other cyclists and always wait for riders struggling on a group ride. No matter how strong you think you are, one day you will be the one hoping someone has waited for you.
14. Don’t “half wheel” in a group. This means nudging your front wheel slightly ahead of the rider next to you. Learn to ride at a balanced pace. If you want to turn on the gas, agree to a specific target before you set off. Town sign sprints are things of legend in most training groups.
15. Watch any cycling video of Bernard Hinault. The ‘Badger’ knew how to do it and would give ‘Wiggo’, Froome and the rest of the pro-peloton a kicking in his day.
16. Smile. It could be much worse – you could be a rugby player!
17. Wear a helmet. Obviously
Have a good and healthy season.
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