If you’re new to road racing, or you just haven’t lined up for the start of one for a few years, you might be feeling a little nervous as road season kicks off in Ontario. But don’t worry: Remember, bike racing is fun! And if you follow these tips, you’ll be ready for anything.
Before Your Road Race
Choose your road racing style.
Remember, not every road race is created equal. Criteriums are in the road racing category but typically last under an hour and feature many corners on a short sub-kilometre course. Circuit races are longer and feature longer loops (usually 5 to 10 kilometres) of a course. Road races are the longest of the bunch, typically running in a large loop or as a point-to-point. Each has its pros and cons. Criteriums can be incredibly tactical and dynamic and require a lot of cornering, but the short loop makes it easier to pull over if you need to exit the race or get support. On the other side of the spectrum, road races still involve corners and pack dynamics but are often a slower pace since they’re longer, but if you have a flat or get dropped from the group, it may be a long solo ride to the finish line.
Nervous? Start with a time trial.
We didn’t mention time trials in the section above since they don’t require riding with a pack and arguably are a totally different category of races. But if you’re new to cycling and want to make sure you’re comfortable with start lines and race days, time trials are a great entry point into road cycling.
Check the route
If the race you’re looking at has a course map profile on their website, make sure you look at it, so you have an idea of if there are lots of turns or lots of climbs. If you can’t find that on the race site, do some Strava searching to see if someone uploaded a file from that race! While you don’t need to go the ultra-pro route of having a course map or cue sheet taped to your top tube (though that won’t hurt!), just having a sense of what to expect from the course will relax you on race day.
Do some group rides, if possible.
Check to see if there’s a local club or a shop that runs group rides. If you can’t find any, try to recruit some friends to ride with you so you can practice riding in a group and drafting other riders. Even if you only make it to one group ride, having any experience riding with a group will be a big help.
Practice clipping in and out
Enough said. (It’s very awkward when you roll up to the start line, get stuck in a pedal, and create a domino effect for the other racers… this author has personal experience with that.) Similarly, practice pulling your water bottle in and out of its cage, and practice pulling gels or bars or other snacks out of your pocket.
Wear gloves and sunglasses
Even if you don’t usually wear gloves on the road bike, it’s smart and safe to wear them in races. It’s not fun to talk about, but crashes happen, and a protected palm is a happy palm. Glasses are also helpful since wheels in front of you may kick up pebbles or dirt.
Road Race day
Pin your number properly
Make sure you pin your race number to the right spot or put it in the right place on your bike. If you’re pinning it to your jersey, make sure you don’t pin a pocket closed if that pocket contains your snacks!
Have the stuff to fix a flat
This isn’t the Tour de France, and you likely won’t have a team car at the ready to fix a flat if that happens. So have a spare tube, a CO2 and head, a mini pump, a tire lever and ideally, a few patches if you have more than one flat. If you’ve never fixed a flat before, practice ahead of race day.
Check tire pressure
If you’re new to cycling, you may not realize that just because a tire isn’t flat, that doesn’t mean it has enough air in it. This author raced several criteriums on 20 PSI before a friend finally clued her in that 80 PSI was more appropriate. Aim for somewhere in the 70 to 90 PSI range.
Easier said than done, but as we said before, remember that you’re doing this because it’s fun!
In the Road Race
Look up and around
Keep your eyes up. It’s tempting to just focus on the wheel directly in front of you, but you should be looking around, up ahead, and paying attention. If you only focus on the wheel in front of you, you may miss if the pack is coming to an abrupt stop. (Aim to stay between 1 and 2 feet away from the wheel ahead of you.)
Try to stay in the pack.
It’s tough when you’re first racing, but the goal with any road race is to stay with the lead pack—unless, of course, you’re with a group that’s attacking off the front! If you fall behind and get dropped off the back of the pack, your race will be much harder since you won’t be able to relax in the draft of the rider ahead of you. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails more than being a mile into the race, 50 miles from the finish, and being alone off the back.
Don’t freak if you get dropped.
That said, getting dropped happens, especially in those first races. Maybe the first climb or descent separated you from the group. It’s OK: Just think of it as being out for a fun ride, in that case—and likely, you’ll catch back on to other people as they also fall off the pace. That said when you first start to get dropped, make a significant effort to catch back on. It’ll be much easier for you if you can reconnect with the group!
Remember to shift. Sometimes, new riders (again, this author included) get a bit paralyzed in races, so focused on what’s happening around them that we forget to shift into more appropriate gears. You shouldn’t need to stomp on the pedals to make them turn, nor should you be spinning frantically. Aim for 80 to 90 RPM.
In general, avoid abrupt moves of any kind, and this especially is true of braking now that most people have disc brakes. Think about modulating your brakes and slowing down steadily rather than coming to a quick stop. And don’t brake while in corners; brake before them!
Listen as well as look.
Riders ahead of you will often shout things out, from indicating that a turn is coming up to letting you know the group is slowing down to pointing out a pothole in the road. Keep your ears as open as your eyes—and definitely don’t use headphones.
If someone shouts ‘hold your line’ during a race, that usually means that someone is riding erratically, moving from side to side in a way that’s incredibly unsafe. Try to stay in as straight a line as possible, and telegraph your movements. If you need to pull over or drop back, raise a hand. If you need to slow down, yell ’slowing!’ And if you aren’t sure how smooth you will be in a group, try to stay outside rather than being in the middle with other riders surrounding you on all sides.
It gets easier every time.
This may seem like a lot of things to remember, but don’t fret: After a couple of races, things will start to feel more natural and begin to click! Just get out there and start racing.
About the writer:
Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.