Signing up for a cycling event can be a good way to challenge yourself and gauge your fitness level. But part of the challenge of racing is overcoming the fear of the unknown — and knowing what you should and shouldn’t do on the course.
Use these 10 tips to put yourself ahead of the pack and set yourself up for success on race day.
1. EAT A NORMAL BREAKFAST
It is possible to eat too much before a ride. Instead of pigging out on all the food provided at the pre-race festivities, eat only what you know your stomach can handle. Test your pre-ride meal during training and don’t change too much on race day. Stick with what you know works for you to avoid cramping and other unfortunate side-effects of eating too much or eating unfamiliar foods pre race.
READ MORE > WHAT CYCLING PROS EAT FOR BREAKFAST
2. GET TO THE RACE EARLY
Other than parking issues, you’ll have plenty to worry about before the start of your race. In addition to your essential cycling gear, have a checklist for things that should be done before the race actually starts. Topping off water bottles, locating the support vehicles, inflating your tires and finding out where the aid stations are on the course are some items to include. Also make sure you give yourself plenty of time to check-in and pin your race number so you won’t be in a rush. It’s also a good idea to find a spot behind the start line at least 10 minutes before the race begins just in case the announcer has any instructions.
3. KNOW THE RULES OF THE RACE BEFORE YOU HEAD TO THE START LINE
All races require helmets, but most events have other rules, too. In most mass-start events, triathlon or aerobars aren’t allowed. If you sign up for an off-road race, there may be restrictions on tire size. Make sure you read all the info on the organizer’s website instead of just clicking the “accept all terms” button so your first race doesn’t end in a disqualification.
4. IT’S OK TO START SLOW
Just like any other race, there will be a lot of energy and nerves at the start line which usually makes for a fast start. Avoid getting sucked into a pace that’s too fast for you to maintain by starting at a comfortable pace. There will be plenty of time to pick up the pace when you’re closer to the finish line.
5. RIDE IN A GROUP AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Ideally, a group will form at a pace you feel comfortable riding. If not, pick up the pace and try to ride with a group ahead of you or just behind you so you can draft and conserve energy. Riding behind other riders can save you as much as 40% of your energy compared to riding solo. If the pace is too easy, ride harder up the climbs when others are tired and see if you can bridge a gap between you and a few other cyclists ahead of you to form a new group.
READ MORE > DRAFTING BASICS | CYCLING 101
6. BEWARE OF THE YELLOW-LINE RULE
In most sanctioned USAC cycling road racing events, the course will still be open to traffic. This means that unlike what you see in the Tour de France, cars will be coming in the opposite direction. To be safe, never cross the yellow line in the road even if you don’t see any cars around. Doing so may disqualify you from the race and put you and others in danger. Obey traffic laws and stop for traffic signals when necessary.
7. CHAMOIS CREAM IS A MUST
Chafing isn’t cool. Applying chamois cream to your cycling shorts can help prevent saddle sores and reduce friction against your saddle. Consider it a must for any rides that take you more than two hours.
8. DON’T DEPEND ON OTHERS FOR ROADSIDE REPAIRS
You know how team cars follow the peloton so they can switch their wheels when one of the pros gets a flat? That isn’t going to happen for you. To keep yourself from getting stranded when help isn’t available, know how to complete all basic roadside repairs on your own.
9. AVOID BONKING BY EATING AND DRINKING CONSISTENTLY DURING THE RACE
Drink at least one bottle and eat one energy bar or gel per hour of your race — and that doesn’t mean saving all your food and bottles for the last hour. To keep your energy stores level, be consistent and begin eating and drinking early, before you begin to feel depleted.
10. SPLURGE FOR A POST-RIDE MASSAGE
One of the perks of being a pro is the pampering after a hard day on the bike. While you might not be able to get daily massages like the pros, getting one after a big race can be a nice way to reward yourself. It can also help reduce soreness and help you recover faster.