Start at the beginning.
Getting into racing is almost as complex as getting into cycling itself. I know from experience. If I hadn’t had a friend around (Nigel, thanks again) then I would probably have lost all patience with the idea and binned it. Thankfully, I didn’t and I was able to navigate the sea of memberships, affiliations and protocol to successfully partake in racing.
There are so many things you need to get organised just so you can enter a race, let alone participate. Do not fear however, you lucky lot you, here are my Top 10 steps on how to go about it all:
Join a team –
This is, in itself, a tricky practice. If you are lucky enough that there is only one team around in your area then good on you: you don’t have to scratch your head wondering which one to join. For those of you who have a high concentration of clubs around you, good luck. It’s difficult to choose when there is so much variety but I suggest looking into each club, contacting them and finding out more about them. Maybe even go on a ride with them to see if you like the people there. CRUCIAL POINT TO NOTE – always go for the team with the best kit. You want to look good after all. Cost for the year is normally between £30-£60.
Register and become a member of your governing body (British Cycling, if you’re based in the UK) –
It’s actually really straightforward and worth mentioning: you need to buy a race license as well. The upshot is you are insured with BC for third party, legal and personal accidents. You may want to buy additional race insurance, as this is not covered. You start out as a Cat 4 rider and, once you get 12 points, you are automatically moved up to Cat 3. Once here, you will never revert to Cat 4 again. The points system is pretty straightforward and you have to achieve a certain number to be bumped up a level.
Cat 3 – 12 points
Cat 2 – 40 points
Cat 1 – 200 points
Elite – 300 points
The downside is that once you reach your new level, your points are scrubbed and start at 0 again. For those of you aspiring professionals, this means if you want to go from zero to hero (Cat4 –Elite) within one year, you have quite a tough year ahead of you: 552 points is no mean feat. You also need to retain a certain number of points (depending on which category you reach) every new season; otherwise you slide back to Cat 3. Pricing for membership and license varies depending on what cover you get but Gold totals around £150 and needs to be renewed each year.
Join your local race league –
First port of call should be speaking to your club. They may be affiliated to a certain league so you will get priority access to races. Otherwise, go on RiderHQ or BC and look at races in your area. As a newbie you may find it difficult to do road races, as some leagues require you to do training before hand to qualify you for such events. Not all do so just check. Cost for entry to leagues or series differs but cover the season. You’re looking at between £10 – £30 on average.
Enter a race –
Durp. My suggestion is start out in Criteriums (or crits) and build your race craft. The benefit of these races is that they are closed circuit so if something does go wrong, then at least you won’t be risking hitting oncoming vehicles. As mentioned above, you may be able to get into road races, which are longer but more fun. The knowledge and skills you have honed in the crits will stand you in good stead as you will be more explosive and stand a better chance of creating (or joining) that awesome breakaway. If your league does require you to do training to race on roads as a Cat 4, my advice is don’t bother. Do the crits and reach Cat 3, then you can race on the roads and you’ll be stronger for it. I reached Cat 3 in two races and came second in my first road race. Costs for races differ depending on the league or series you are entering, but normally come in between £10 – £25.
Research your races –
This is a big one. I made the mistake of entering a road race in a fit of excitement only to discover it was a National B race and I was only recently made a Cat 3. The upshot was I got a good experience of having my head kicked in. Knowing the level of races you enter is useful and will allow you to target and train more effectively.
Plan which races you want to target –
This is also pretty key. Know beforehand which races you really want to win and build training towards that. A win in a Regional C+ crit race is great and all, but wouldn’t you prefer to win a Regional A road race? 10 points vs 30? Learn the points allocation for each level of race as these differ. If you target and execute correctly, you’ll be jumping up categories faster than… well, you when sprinting for the win.
Organise your diary –
This kind of follows on from the last one but seriously, get good at keeping a schedule. Road races sell out fast and are often booked up weeks if not months in advance. The number of times I’ve forgotten I had a race that very weekend only to disappoint my missus because I booked it two months before and never added it to the diary… Also pretty essential is knowing when entries open for particular races. This way, you can be first in line and ensure you are racing, not sitting on a waiting list or frantically researching races halfway across the country.
Work out how you will get to races –
Again, seems straightforward but not all races are easy to get to. Road races are often in the arse-end of nowhere, which is good for your safety (less chance of traffic), but bad if you don’t have a car. Speak to your team and see if anyone is giving lifts or research public transport (and make sure you can take your bike on it). I’ve been caught out and had to miss a race (and not get refunded) because it was too difficult to get to via train. If you do have a car, just make sure you know the route and give yourself plenty of time to get there.
Be friendly with other riders –
It’s very easy to think of them as opposition and therefore akin to He Who Must Not Be Named, however good relationships with other riders is crucial. You will you be racing these guys pretty frequently and don’t want to get a bad name. No one will help you out if you run into trouble (I dropped my water bottle in my first road race but thankfully someone was on hand to donate me one of theirs) and you will suffer as a result. It’ll also help you if you try and create a breakaway, as people may be more willing to work with you. The same applies to your own team of course. If you shut your own team down in races, you will quickly build a bad reputation and will be shunned. No-one is being named but I can think of at least one such rider who has seriously hindered their progress in racing by being one such twerp.
Enjoy yourself –
Yes, these are races. Yes, you want to win. But seriously, this is not the be all and end all. The world does not end if you lose. Enjoy your races, learn as much as you can and I promise you will be a better rider for it. Sure, once you’re pro you can be as serious as you like but, until then, it’s a group of like-minded people, all turning up to race and see who is faster on the day. Remember that and you will enjoy racing, enjoy training and will likely improve faster as a result.
So, there you go! I hope it helps. Get in touch and let me know if you have other points and I may well write up a second help list. As I said, I was lucky in that I have a mentor – of sorts – who helped me out when I first started. Not all teams are very obliging in getting you on your feet so I trust this gives you enough info to get you going. If you are just setting out, best of luck and let me know how you get on!