A guide to road racing

Road – what?

Road racing is the highest participation area of British cycling; it is, simply, massed start cycle racing on public roads or tarmac circuits. There are multi day stage races, single stage races, criteriums (city circuit races) and circuit races. G.S. Henley members actively participate in British Cycling and LVRC (League of Veteran Racing Cyclists) road racing events.

Road – membership and licence requirements

  • If you are over 40 and only want to do veterans races, simply join the League of Veteran Racing Cyclists (LVRC), pay the modest annual membership and pay a race fee (around £10) for each race you enter.
  • If you want to race in British Cycling (BC) events and accumulate ranking points and move up from the starting Category 4 as you win points, then you must join BC as a minimum Silver membership for £32 and buy a £32 race licence.
  • The maximum level you can race as a Category 4 rider is Regional A; Category 3 can race at National B level and Categories Elite/1/2 can race National A level.
  • If you are only doing a few Regional C+/C races and happy to stay as a Category 4 rider, then many races at Regional C+/C level will sell you a day licence; the break even against BC Silver membership, no race licence, is anything more than 3 races per annum. If you do more than 6 races you will be better off with the BC Silver/Race Licence combination. But remember you must have a race licence to accumulate ranking points and move up from Category 4. Note that track endurance (not sprint) events also count towards your ranking.
  • As we want to get exposure for G.S. Henley by accumulating club points in races, the more members who buy the BC Silver/Race Licence combination at £64 the better.  This will also enable you personally to move out of Category 4 racing (sometimes called “carbon carnage”) with other novices and mix it with Cat 3 and above racers who know what they are doing.
  • Best advice: try a circuit race first (say Hillingdon) at Category 4 level on a £10 day licence; if you think you like racing and will do more, then go for the BC Silver membership; if you think you can win some points by placing in the first 10 in a Category 4 race, then buy a BC Race Licence also and work your way up the Category rankings. Note your licence also applies for Track Racing; you will, however, need track accreditation before they let you loose on the boards.

Road – where and when?

Road – why?

The Club is keen to encourage more members into road racing and anyone interested in road racing (whether existing or prospective members) should contact  the represetative above.  He can advise on event entry, LVRC or British Cycling membership and racing licence requirements. If you are new to road racing, he can steer you towards some good advice, either books or the web. Road racing is a high profile activity to encourage other cyclists to join G.S. Henley. Road races suit a range of cyclists:

  • Endurance riders who can stay in the saddle and crank it out for hours at a time
  • Sprinters, who hang in there until the sprint for the finish line.
  • Climbers, who earn points or win stages in the mountains.
  • Sociable types who enjoy riding and chatting in a bunch.
  • Lazy “wheelsuckers” who sit in and get dragged around.
  • You can race on the bike you train on, although a set of racing wheels is always a good investment.

Road – how?

What next?

  • If you are interested in road racing contact as per top of this page.

Your first race!

  • A word of advice: you will be surprised by the pace of your first road race if you have only done group rides with G.S. Henley before and a few sportives. The pace at the start can be vicious and you can be whip-sawed if you are at the back of the group. Get involved early and stay behind the peloton arrowhead if possible, not hanging out the back or you will be dropped.
  • Be on time. Try to be at the course around 30-45 minutes early. As soon as you get there, find the officials and tell them it is your first race. They will ask you what grade you want to race and for your race licence. If it is your first race, ride the lowest grade they have (Category 4).
  • Once you have entered, you will get a number. Have a look at how the other riders have positioned their numbers, so people standing by the road can see it. As you are bent over the bike that means it needs to be part sideways to be vertical.
  • Then, go for a warm-up. Ride around the course, assuming it is a short circuit, taking note of the best lines through the corners, where the finish line is and if there are any tricky bits (as at Hillingdon).
  • Make sure that with around 5 minutes before race-time, that you are warmed up well – crits take off pretty quickly sometimes, and if you are not warm, you will blow up in the first 10 minutes. Warmed up means doing some fast stuff at race pace before the race, not just cruising around.
  • There will be a start area where all the riders for your grade will be at the start. Get into the bunch and try to be reasonably close to the front. Being near the front of a crit (or any race) is good tactically, it allows you to stay clear of most crashes and see what is going on, and if there is a surge, you can let the bunch slip by a bit to absorb the surge, saving your energy.
  • Sometimes races start with a period of riding “under control”. This means that the field will ride around the course a bit slower than racing speed, and no-one will try and attack. This is to let the field have a look at the course and in the case of lower grade races, let the field get used to each other and being in a racing bunch. The officials will say for how long this controlled period will operate. If you are not sure, be sure to ask the start line official.
  • Once the race starts, you will need to understand a bit about how road racing works. Generally, riders will race to their strengths, which means that people who can ride at high speeds for a long time but cannot sprint will want to break away from the bunch, and riders who cannot ride fast and long but who can sprint will want a bunch finish, so that they can sprint clear after drafting the bunch.
  • And then, there are the bunch fodder riders, who do not really have a plan and who do things for no reason other than they were bored or just felt like it. They are the ones who take off in very early attacks and get reeled in over and over again.
  • Watch what happens, see who seems strong, and remember one racing golden rule – never do any work unless it is for your benefit or the benefit of a team mate.
  • Racing etiquette: racing is not like a training bunch ride where everyone is doing turns and riding smoothly together, but it is usually a bunch ride, and you need to remember a few basics: always ride safely is the biggest one of all; do not make any sudden sideways moves; do not chop other riders into corners; do not ride underneath other riders into corners; ride in straight lines; and treat your competitors with respect and courtesy.
  • There are no prizes for who does the biggest turn on the front, but sometimes you may have to do a turn to help chase down a break. Sometimes other riders will not help; sometimes riders will shout at you to chase – always think before acting in a race, if someone shouts at you to chase down a break, ask yourself if you think it will benefit your race, or the shouters?
  • Race tactics is the subject of whole books and experience is what counts, but if you remember the golden rule (see above) you will generally be ok. Try not to let gaps open up, stay near the front and stay out of the wind!
  • Treat the race officials with respect. They are always volunteers and without them, you are not racing. Thank them after the race too, if you get a chance.
  • Race Rules: racing is pretty simple, but in crits there’s some interesting rules – for example if you have a mechanical problem – a puncture etc, you can usually take a lap out to fix it and then rejoin the main bunch in your grade. You have to ride around to the race officials and inform them. You cannot do this in the last few laps – but the officials should tell you that at the start. If you have been dropped by your bunch and lapped, you have to pull out with 3 laps to go and stay out of the way for the rest of the time. It is illegal to ride with another grade. If you’re riding Cat 4 and Cat 3 comes past overtaking your bunch, you are not permitted to jump across into the Cat 3 bunch. You have to ride outside their slipstream. Usually your bunch will be neutralised when being overtaken and if you think that is a good time for a surge or an attack, be prepared to be disqualified!
  • As you get closer to the finish, the pace usually increases and riders will try late attacks; do not panic at this point. If you have a plan, stick to it. If you are in the sprint finish, ride in a straight line, do not try and weave over the road to stop anyone overtaking you. It is illegal and very dangerous. Once you cross the finish line, ease off and roll around the course or follow the instructions of the officials. There are usually other grades racing at the same time and you do not want to get in their way, especially close to a finish line. If you think you got a place or won, see the finish line officials and tell them (it is called “claiming”). Also, although the Pros put both hands in the air when celebrating a win, do not do it. It is actually illegal in amateur racing to take both hands off the bars at any point during a race, and you run the risk of not only crashing, but being disqualified.
  • And that is it, your first criterium!
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