A road race is rarely a contest of who can pedal the hardest. It's more of a pulse-pounding game of psychology, skill, and luck. While you shouldn't expect to win your first time out, you should try to navigate the event with the savvy of a more experienced rider—both on and off the course. Here's your guide.
Check in, pin on your number, and prep your bike. Then, about 30 minutes before the start, get in a quick spin to warm up. Use the time to locate the mechanic's pit or support vehicles, first-aid tent, and precise location of the finish line. (Important: Wear your helmet—it's a rule.) Get to the starting line at least 10 minutes before go time, and listen closely to prerace instructions specific to the event and course.
There's no need for a furious start--allow a group to form in front of you, then draft among or behind them (be safe and follow these Group Riding Rules). The idea is to keep up while pedaling as little as possible.
Prevent a gap from opening between you and riders ahead, which will help you save energy so you can pass dropped riders or stay with the leaders over hills.
Above all, relax. Races play out in one of two ways: Either a small group accelerates away from the main field and those riders duke it out amongst themselves, or the entire group stays together and gallops to the line. Increase your odds of making the winning breakaway by riding aggressively when others are tired—on climbs or after fast sections. If a field sprint looks like a possibility, position yourself near the front of the group but stay out of the wind until the final 100 to 200 meters, when you can unleash an all-out charge to the finish.
Race officials typically post results near the registration area. Standings become final after a 15-minute protest period. Earned a prize? Collect it by presenting your race number and license at the registration table.