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An Introduction to Road Racing

Road and Circuit Racing

What is it?

The key feature of racing on roads and circuits is that they are bunch races.  This means a mass start and in all probability most of the race riding in a group.   This requires bike handling skills to be in close proximity to other riders at speed; it requires a fitness level to deal with varying pace and effort and a tactical ability to figure out when and where to break away from the bunch or sprint for the finish.

Road racing takes place on public highways.  The road may be fully closed, allowing the race to take place over the entire road, or more commonly, on the left-hand side of the road with a rolling closure as the race progresses along the road.  All highway laws must be obeyed.

A circuit race takes place on a dedicated cycling circuit or a closed road circuit.

Races are organized so that you will be racing against people of a similar standard. You will either be categorized (by ability or age) or handicapped.  The categories in the UK start at category 4 (Cat-4) for novice riders, going through Cat-3, Cat-2 and Cat-1 to Elite (E).  E+1+2 may race together, and 3+4 may race together, but there are occasional races where E to 3 races together but not 4, although there are some exceptions in women’s races where they all race together.  Some races are for Cat-4 only.

The most common type of race in this area consists of a criterium which is run over repeated loops of a course.  The race length is determined either by the number of laps or total time.  The laps can range in length from as short as 800m to as much as 10km.  Generally, a criterium will last about one hour. Road races may last quite a bit longer, but are limited to a maximum of 90km for local races (Regional B)

What do I need?

You will need a roadworthy race bike and hard-shell helmet.

Your bike must have the following:

·        Dropped handlebars

·        Freewheel

·        Independent front and rear brakes

It must not have:

·        Aerobars, arm extension or arm pads

·        Any accessory not essential for racing (so no mudguards, lights, bag, etc)

Note there are restrictions on the size of gears for youth riders.

Clothing must consist of a sleeved jersey with the colours of the club or team.  Note, for Cat-4 and Youth riders they can wear any suitable racing clothing.

Where do I do it?

We are fortunate in having some very good race leagues and circuit venues in or our area.  See LWCC website and facebook page for racing round up of organisers and venues.   However, to do many of these events you must have cat-4 accreditation which means two training sessions to learn how to race.  See below link.

How do I do it?

You will start racing as a Cat-4.  To get a Cat-4 you need to register as a member of British Cycling with a BC Silver race license as a minimum.

Or you can purchase an on the day, temporary race license (check with organiser beforehand) at your specific event.

Links below are a guide to the UK license and race categories and the British Cycling member options.

Pathway to Racing – A personal perspective

I started bike racing as an adult by mountain biking in my mid-twenties.  I was a keen cyclist as a child going out on road rides with my dad but didn’t do any road racing.  I also enjoyed four or five years BMX racing (from 9 yrs old) and started mountain biking in my teenage years.  BMX and recreational mountain biking were the reasons I started mountain bike racing in my twenties.

The mountain bike racing tailed off a bit through my thirties while having young children but then in my late thirties I joined Lewes Wanderers and went straight into Road racing, not really following any kind of pathway or structure.  I would highly recommend following a structure!

My first road race for Lewes Wanderers was in 2012 and I didn’t really train or build up to it.  I hung on to the bunch for 2 of the 5 laps and was then out the back! 

When joining a cycling club the various different rides on offer do give you the opportunity to build toward having a go at something like road racing if you fancy it.

Sunday club rides are a great way to start building the miles into your legs on a weekly basis and you can progress from the B ride to the quicker paced A ride for building your stamina and strength.

From here you can progress to the chain gang sessions starting in April, where you can practice and hone your skills for riding in a bunch at a more race ready pace.

You may also have met some like-minded riders within LWCC by this time and be heading out on some paceline style rides, where the pace stays fairly high for the duration of the ride and everyone takes a turn at the front doing the work.

After my first road races in 2012 I did as many club runs as I could into the following season and began the chain gang sessions in April, followed by my first evening 10 time trials in May.

If the chain gang builds your confidence for riding in a group and gives you the ability and fitness to deal with the turns of pace of road racing, then time-trials help build your engine and stamina to be able to finish a 5 lap race (30 miles in the case of the LWCC Crits).

Come June 2013 and the first LWCC Crit race, I finished the 5 laps in the bunch, thoroughly exhilarated by an open road race and definitely keen to do it again.

As a Cat-4 rider it is now mandatory that you complete two novice racer training days if you wish to compete in any 4th Cat races on open roads.

Consequently many novice racers target 4th Cat races on closed circuits where you don’t necessarily have to have undertaken the training days (but you should always check this with the organiser).

I would actually advise anyone thinking of racing circuits or open roads to do the training days anyway, as they are valuable for practising bunch skills, boosting existing skills and confidence and picking up tips and info from very experienced coaches.

Follow this with your first 4th Cat only circuit race and then progress to target an open road 3/4th Cat race, when either you feel confident enough, or have gained the 12 points needed to gain Cat-3 from the circuit races.

Another great way to start racing and build confidence is by riding and racing off-road.

Mountain bike and Cyclo-cross racing build bike handling skills and can improve strength and fitness, all of which serve you well when road biking.

The link below lists lots of good reasons for off-road riding and racing.

Next date for Novice training day at Ardingly Showground is Sun 19th April, entry at Rider HQ –

Dan Street – LWCC Road and Track secretary

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