The following is an excerpt taken from the book, Reading the Race.
Recon the Course
If you love surprises, roll up to the starting line without ever peeking at the course beforehand. Don't look at a map, profile or hand-drawn etching. Just roll. You're sure to be surprised.
Meanwhile, the rest of the field will study the course. It's what every rider with aspirations should do.
Of course, the ideal situation is to pre-ride the course. By doing so, you can pace off the last 200 meters, check the quality of the pavement, test the corner-ability of the turns and note the tricky features that will test your bike handling abilities.
Riding it slow will help you notice the small stuff, such as sewer grates and manhole covers, and riding it fast will let you see how it handles at race pace. For instance, some hills are easier at 25mph than they are at 17mph if you carry momentum into them.
Too real for you? Then perhaps a virtual lap of the course will suffice. This is done using Google Maps Street View. Clearly, this service was developed by cycling enthusiasts and bike racers looking to take a virtual pre-ride of almost any course in the world from the comfort of their office. Frankly, I can't think of any other possible use for such a tool.
Google Maps satellite view is almost as handy. It will let you see the course, identify landmarks, and help you figure out where you're going to park on the day of the race. When used in conjunction with the measuring tool, you can measure out the distance from the final corner to the finish line. And you're not limited to measuring in meters. I find it helpful to know the distance in furlongs or parsecs.
You should also pick the brains of your teammates who raced on the course earlier in the day or previous years. They'll be able to tell you how a hill affects the pack in race conditions and which corners might give you trouble. Don't forget to ask them about the wind. Some discoveries, however, must be made while the race is underway.
I participated in a circuit race last weekend that consisted of 20 laps on a 1.4-mile course. There was one quirky segment in which the pavement narrowed inexplicably by about the width of a pair of handlebars. On each lap, it seemed that a different rider made the same discovery and got pinched into the grass. Try to catch those elements early and anticipate that others will be slow on the uptake.
The next step is to predict what the course features will do to the race itself. Where can you expect to see an attack? Which of your competitors and teammates will do well on this course? Which ones will not be a factor? Where will the pack relax and recover? How much climbing is there? How will the corners affect the final sprint?