The common feature of all road races is that they are bunch races. You’ll start off in a group and ,unless you’re sufficiently strong to ride off the front on your own, you’ll spend the majority of the race surrounded by other riders with your wheel only inches from the one in front. You therefore need to be confident riding in a bunch at racing speed. Club training rides are an excellent way to build your experience of riding fast close to other riders and going ‘through and off’ (taking short turns at the front). British Cycling’s video series on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of road racing is also very useful.
Road racing is challenging. You need to be able to accelerate, climb, sprint, recover quickly, and then do it all again. Unlike time trials, where the strongest rider generally wins, road racing is as much about tactics as fitness: you need to be able to read the race, spot the breaks that matter, get into them, and attack when the time comes.
Types of races
Races are generally held on public roads over a set number of laps on circuits of around 10 miles in length. Circuits vary in difficulty depending on the number – and steepness – of the climbs included. As a beginner, races will normally be between 30 and 60 miles and you will be riding with riders of similar age and/or ability in a bunch of around 30 people.
Roads are still open to the public, so there will be a lead car in front of the race, and a car or (more usually) a motorcycle behind the main bunch. There will be marshals at junctions and danger-spots, but they are there just to offer warnings - not to stop oncoming traffic. You’ll be expected to follow the rules of the road at all times - such as keeping to the left of central markings and never crossing solid white lines.
There are also events on closed circuits such as Oulton Park, Darley Moor and Swynnerton Army Camp. These are generally run over a set time (usually one hour plus five laps) and have the advantage that you’re not worrying about oncoming traffic or negotiating junctions. However, bunches will often be larger, the circuits more technical, and, because the races are shorter, they’ll generally be faster.
Am I fit enough?
You never know until you try but, as a general rule, if you can ride on your own for 30 to 40 miles at an average of 18 to 19 mph, you’re fit enough to give racing a go. Don’t be discouraged if you find the speed very high in your first few races or get dropped by the bunch, it happens to everyone at some stage!
How do I get started?
You’ll need a roadworthy racing bike (no tri bars), be at least 16 years old and to be a member of one of the three organisations that oversee most cycle road racing in the UK:
If you’re under 40, you can join both BC and TLI Cycling. If you’re 40+, you’re classified as a veteran and can join both of these and the LVRC. Both TLI and LVRC events are based on competitors’ ages, whereas BC races are based on ability. Details of races (dates, location, length and difficulty) are published on line and (less frequently these days) in handbooks sent to members. All three organisations allow you to enter a race on the day, but it’s much better to enter in advance rather than get there and find that your race sold out months ago.
British Cycling (BC)
BC is the governing body for most road, track and cyclocross racing. To race at a BC event you’ll need to:
BC has three levels of membership, Bronze, Silver and Gold (details and costs on the BC website). All three include a Provisional Racing Licence that enables you to join entry-level races in BMX, road, track, cyclo-cross, cycle speedway and mountain bike racing.
If you join BC as a Silver or Gold member, you can buy a Full Racing Licence. This will allow you to enter regional, national and international events at which you can compete for points to move up the categories from 4th through 3rd, 2nd and 1st to Elite standard.
TLI Cycling organises age-related road races and is particularly active in the North West: most Wheelers who road race do so with TLI Cycling. Membership of TLI includes a licence which allows you to compete in their events. TLI races are an ideal way to start road racing, or get back into it, as competitors are split into different races by age (in five-year bands).
An event will typically involve two or three races with several age bands usually combined as follows:
There are generally prizes for each individual age category so everyone has something to race for. You don’t have to race in your own age group. For example, if you are 40+ but feel you’re not up to the standard of that age group, you can ride in a 50+ or even 60+ race (although you won’t be eligible for any prizes). Women generally race two or more categories above their age.
TLI membership is considerably lower cost than BC membership and if you want to try out a race, you can buy day membership.
The League of Veteran Racing Cyclists
The League of Veteran Racing Cyclists is organised in a similar way to TLI Cycling but is specifically for men and women racing cyclists over 40 years old. As with TLI Cycling, you don’t have to race in your own age group. Unlike TLI, you cannot buy a day licence. There are many fewer LVRC events in the North West, although the Darley Moor series is very popular.
Further information and advice
If you’re interested in road racing for the first time and would like any help or advice, please ask on the training rides or via the Club’s website or FB Group.
Photo credit https://www.velouk.net/