Riders begin Stage 1 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.
Photo: Jesse Hammond/ Active.com
If you have recently been inspired to try road racing and you're new to the sport, a reasonable question is, "Where and how do I get started?"
Let me see if I can help:
Most people come to road racing from a sheer love of bike riding. Maybe you've trained for a few century rides
or done other rides. In any case, you enjoy being on the bike and spending hours in the saddle. This is good. If you can comfortably spend two to three hours riding, you're off to a good start.
2. Group Rides.
Investigate local group rides. There are several options for group rides, including bike shop-hosted rides, club rides and pick-up rides. Often, bike shop rides and club rides offer groups for riders of differing levels.
If they have a beginner group, with a leader that helps with skills, this is a great way to get introduced to group riding
. The structure also allows you to ride with faster groups when you want a tough workout, or ride with the not-as-fast-groups when you want to take it easier.
If you join a club, you will enter races under that club (or team) name. These teams usually offer team clothing options for purchase by members. Only the big--and fast--dogs don't pay for team clothing.
Generally, pick-up rides are much less structured and meet at a coffee shop, a store or someone's front door. Some of these rides are open to anyone, while others are by invitation only. In some cases, the goal of the group ride
is to...well...race. It is better to know this upfront.
3. Find a Mentor.
It is really helpful to have an experienced racer take you under his or her wing. Having someone to help you learn the ropes significantly decreases your learning curve.
4. Watch Bike Racing.
Catch the Tour de France
--or any other bike race--on television or on the internet. Good commentators help you learn about bike racing skills and tactics. For the more subtle issues, head back to your mentor or club for some help.
5. Read About Bike Racing.
A good book on competing is Racing Tactics for Cyclists by Thomas Prehn. VeloNews
covers racing top to bottom.
6. USA Cycling.
A non-profit corporation, USA Cycling
is the organization supporting the Olympic movement for cycling in the U.S.A. Specifically, "The supreme purpose of the Corporation shall be the preservation, development, and administration of the sport of bicycle racing within the United States of America."
You can locate clubs and teams in your area through this site. They also offer education programs for coaches, mechanics and race officials.
7. What Kind of Race?
For most people, it is preferable to enter a time trial
, hill climb, a road race or a circuit race as your first event. Depending on where you live, a criterium
might be your only local option for racing. Crits require better bike skills and are generally leg-searing fast from the start. Be ready for close quarters and some bumping.
8. Which Category?
Racers are divided up into racing categories. Some races have "Citizen's Races." If you are new to the sport, this is where you will likely begin. They are split by gender, and sometimes (but not always) there are age-group splits. These events are for non-licensed racers and event brochures often have the word "fun" before "race." Make no mistake, there are people that focus on the second word more than the first.
The next categories are split into age groups that look like, "Senior Women 35+ or Senior Men 55+." Some races have only a couple of categories and others have more.
Races also have "Category" divisions, such as Cat I, Cat II, Cat III, Cat IV and Cat V. People new to the sport begin as a Cat V. As you do well in races and score points, you can apply for an upgrade
to the next category. Cat I racers are the most experienced and fastest racers.
9. Learn About Rest.
Eager to improve, it will be tempting for you to train, train, train. You do need to train; but you also need to rest
. Plan to decrease training volume every third or fourth week so your body can rebuild and gain new levels of fitness. Know that anyone can ride "hard", not everyone rides fast.
10. Just Do It.
Entering a new sport can seem overwhelming. Everyone that is a great racer now had to start somewhere. Just pick a race
, get out there and give it a shot. After that first race is over, it's easy to make gains in fitness, nutrition
, skills and race tactics.