What to Expect at Your First Bike Race

Course assistants called race marshals are stationed at regular intervals along the route to help guide cyclists and motorists. Race officials traveling in escort automobiles or on motorcycles will disqualify riders immediately if they are caught riding on the wrong side of the yellow line.

During the Race

Criteriums are usually timed events, but road races are almost always measured by distance. In either case, the first rider over the finish line wins. That's not to say there aren't mid-race competitions or bonuses. During criteriums, 'primes' (pronounced 'preem') are sprints across the finish line and are offered as a way to increase competition and excitement during a race.

Bonus incentives are usually announced before the start. For road races, sprint points at the top of climbs or mountain passes serve as similar incentives. For stage races (where multiple races comprise an entire series), these points are often assigned a time value and subtracted from a rider's overall finish time. This is what is done at the Tour de France.

More: Race Strategies for Breaking Away

For criteriums and road races that are run in a loop, there will be a lap counter at the start-finish line. For criterium's, the lap counter will start off displaying the number of minutes left in racing. Usually after half the race is over, the lap counter will be switched to display the number of laps remaining. For road races, the lap counter always displays laps to go. The last lap is signaled with the ringing of a race bell by the race official. The race announcer will usually call out, "One lap to go" as riders pass the start-finish.

After the Finish

When your race is complete, USAC race officials are responsible for tallying the results. For any mass start event, this can be a very difficult process. Even if timing chips and finish line cameras are used, you can expect to wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for official race results to be posted.

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The posting occurs only after an official protest period expires. This period allows individual racers to contest the preliminary results and gives race officials time to sort-out close finishes. Final results are usually posted on paper at the finish line registration tent or other designated area. Official results are also available on the USAC website a few days afterwards.

Hopefully your first race is an exciting and challenging event. With proper preparation, you can minimize stress and limit the unexpected in order to maximize your racing experience.

More: Finish Fast: Race Strategy for Sprinting

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About the Author

Jim Castagneri

Jim Castagneri is a 30-year veteran of competitive cycling and father of two junior cyclists. He spends is spare time coaching the Black Sheep Junior Cycling Team in Denver, Colorado as a USAC certified level-3 coach.
Jim Castagneri is a 30-year veteran of competitive cycling and father of two junior cyclists. He spends is spare time coaching the Black Sheep Junior Cycling Team in Denver, Colorado as a USAC certified level-3 coach.

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