How to choose and prepare for your first cycle race

AT some point, every old and weathered smart-arse racer was facing into their first cycling race – and may not have been so smart-arsed, but perhaps just as old and weathered, writes John Malone, racing secretary.

Your first race can be quite intimidating, but hopefully I can provide some pointers to ease the path somewhat.

Choosing your first cycle race

  • Talk to your club mates
  • Ideally, head to a race with club mates for support
  • Tend towards a race with a climb

Talk to your club mates about the early-season races. Riders who’ve done a season or two will know which races tend to be safer than others. Generally, the early-season races in Ireland have really big numbers and some courses are able to handle large numbers better than others.

A race with a climb in it can often be safer than a flat race as the hill will tend to thin out numbers, leaving a reduced field for the finish, which is always hectic with tired riders fighting for position, before sprinting for the line. With the reduced field the finish should be safer than with a large field.

A race that club mates are also going to is a big help for your first race. They can help a lot with what to do and where to be. The start can be a bit chaotic and it can be unclear to the first-timer what’s actually going on and how everyone seems to magically know what group they are in.

The week before

  • Get your race bike serviced
  • Get out on your race bike
  • Remove pumps, mud guards and other bits
  • Familiarise yourself with the course

If you’ve been training on a different bike to the one you’re racing on, your race bike will have been hanging in pride of place over the mantlepiece all winter. It’s important to get out on your bike for an hour or two in the period before your race to ensure it’s in working order and to ensure the fit is still right.

You may need to tweak the saddle height if it’s slipped down or something similar – doing that the morning of your race is a pain you don’t want.

DSC_0219Get your bike serviced. Good brakes are vital in races. Having brakes with blocks right next to the rim helps a lot; it means you only need to pull the levers very slightly before they engage, meaning better performance.

Check your tyres for nicks and cuts and if there’s any in there change them. If you’re using tubs, I’d recommend getting a trusted bike shop to glue them, unless you really know what you’re doing – and do this well in advance of the race so they are fully set. Tubs rolling off your rims in a race will hinder your arms aloft at the finish ambitions quite significantly. . .

You must remove various things from your bike for safety reasons: Frame-mounted pumps, mudguards, and other items can become lethal in a crash where riders might be landing on other bikes, so remove anything unnecessary that might impale you or someone else.

While bikes are not formally checked before races, commissaires will be looking round before races and will pull you out if they spot something on your bike they don’t like. If in doubt, ask a club mate on a club spin.

Also be aware of what you carry in your pockets. Things like pumps, multi-tools and similar items can cause serious injury in the case of an accident. If you are carrying your car key with you, try and wrap it up in a tube to remove the danger of it impaling you in a crash.

Find the race route on Strava. The hosting club may not have links to it, but you’ll find last year’s race (or previous years) on Strava.

Open races tend to be held over relatively small courses where you do a number of laps. Find out how many laps you are doing and how many kilometres the race is going to be. Look for hairy turns, climbs, descents, towns, and other stuff that might cause issues in a bunch.

Don’t be afraid to ask club mates in advance for advice on a route. Knowing that there’s a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill means you can prepare for the sudden braking at that point. You can also check out Google streetview to see what corner exits are like, check out any towns you might be going through, and spot road furniture that might surprise you on the day.

Generally you can ride the finish line from sign on and you’ll usually cross the line a few times during the race anyway if you’re doing laps, so you probably don’t need to examine that in too much detail.



The night before

  • Pin on your numbers
  • Pack your kit

Your race numbers should have arrived with your licence. You get one set of numbers for the whole year and must wear both numbers, one over each pocket on your back in each race. Each category has different colours so everyone in your category will have the same colours (follow them before the start if you’re confused, and pretend you really know what’s going on…).

You’ll need 7 or more pins for each number, and getting them pinned on right will reduce them flapping around. Numbers that flap around probably have some aerodynamic impact, but mostly, it looks daft.

I pack my kit the night before to avoid frantically rushing around and forgetting my shoes. I’ve done that twice over the years and it blows. Don’t forget your shoes.

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