If you want to race there is a lot of information out there to sift through to find the bits relevant to you. Hopefully this little guide will help you on your way.
As a 4th cat rider you need to get 12 points to make it to 3rd cat, and you’ll probably be entering regional C+ races in order to get your points: 10 points for a win, 8 for second, 7 for a third place etc.. 9th and 10th places both get 1 point.
Get a licence and sign up.
This year the two leagues near me (SERRL and Surrey), require you to have attended rider training classes. I was lucky starting last year as I didn’t have to attend any for SERRL races and jumped straight into the fray. All I know about the training days are that they’re good if you’ve not done much group riding before, but a PITA if you’re an experienced club rider. There are other races that don’t require any training to enter, so you could get away with just entering those in order to get up to 3rd Cat, at which point you’re deemed experienced enough to race anywhere without training. Near me there is a series of races called Crits At The Park (at the Cyclopark) which I don’t think you need to have attended training in order to enter. These 4th Cat races do seem very popular. However, races like these are likely to be that bit more sketchy compared to races that require riders to have been on two training days (but actually actually I’ve seen plenty of dodgy riding in 3rd Cat races too). You pays yer money, takes yer chances!
If you’ve never raced before and only have limited group riding experience then I would recommend going on a few club rides or a training day before you enter a race. If you’re not very experienced at group riding then you’re likely to have a bad time and be a danger to other riders. I had previously had a race day at the Cyclopark with my club, and I’d been out on plenty of club rides too. So I had already done some unofficial training which certainly helped me. At very least go for some club rides with the fast group from your club, i.e. with people who race. You don’t need to be a member of a club to race, but it helps an awful lot.
You will also need a race licence, which you can buy from British Cycling. My silver membership and race licence cost £77 this year. You can buy a day licence, but if you finish in the top 10 you wont accrue any points for it. One word of warning, don’t let your race licence expire the week before you place 2nd in a race like my friend did, your points will be lost forever. Interestingly, the guy who won that race had already got enough points to make it to 3rd cat the week before – so his points went into the ether too. Anyway, I digress…
You might have to pay to register with the league you’re entering the races in. With SERRL its £20 or £25 for the season depending on if you’re a member of an affiliated club. Once you’ve paid to enter a couple of races too, generally about £15 each, you’ll have spent over £150 before you’ve even started your first race. Its not the cheapest sport – you’ve got to want to do it. However, you can find races that don’t require you to register with a league, such as the Crits At The Park series I mentioned earlier, but you’ll easily still have spent £100 at this point.
EDIT – I have just finished my 2019 season, and have tallied up what I spent in fees:
- Race Licence – I *think* this was £77
- 12 x crit races £216
- 1 x road race £25
- 15 x evening 10 TTs £75
- 1 x open TT £8
- Total cost £401
- Minus winnings of £100 = net cost about £300
Of course this doesn’t include other costs such as petrol, nutrition, bike bits, club membership etc..
Incidentally, my best year cost wise was 2017. I only entered 2 crits and a Stage race, with licence fee I spent about £200 in total, but then won a set of wheels worth £500 🙂
Preparing to race.
So thats all the paperwork covered. Now to cover the hard work. Racing is hard, even entry level 4th cat races are tough. Typically the 4th cat races I’ve been in have averaged 38kmh for an hour. The first 4th cat race I saw the bunch averaged 43kmh around the Cyclopark. You will likely be racing a large and varied bunch of riders too. But this makes racing the rewarding experience that it is. Of course, riding in a bunch is a lot easier than riding solo, so don’t worry if you can’t average these speeds on your own. I’d say that if you can average 32kmh (20mph) solo on a calm day over rolling terrain for at least an hour then you’re probably fit enough to think about racing. When you race you’ll be asking your body to go into the red over and over again, so you need to be able to recover quickly whilst still riding at speed. To get better at this you could do some interval training. I recommend using a heart rate monitor, or even better, a power meter. Doing lots of max effort sprints will also help you get strong, most races will end in a bunch sprint, so working on sprinting is a very good idea. I have a reasonable sprint, which I put down to my mild Strava KOM addiction.
In the week leading up to the race you should taper off the training, i.e. take it easier and let your body recover as much as possible. Eat, drink and sleep well. Don’t do any last minute training, it will most likely make you fatigued and not any faster.
Crits and Road Racing.
It’s a good idea to start with some crit racing. Crit is short for Criterium – i.e. circuit races. They are shorter and faster, but most importantly you don’t need as much fitness as you do with road races. You might be able to find a road race in your area too. Road races are generally held on open roads and are longer and might feature some climbing. I recommend trying both, you’ll probably suit one more than the other.
Your first race will seem like an age to come around and you’ll lie awake at night fantasising about winning in glorious style. On the day you’ll be lucky to finish in the bunch and it will all be over in the blink of an eye. You’ll want to turn up roughly an hour before your start time. Find the sign in desk, get your race number and, if there is one, transponder. Make sure you drink plenty of water and use the toilet. Warm up a bit – get your sweat on, you’ll see lots of guys on rollers and turbos, if you’ve not bought yours just go for a little ride. I have recently decided that I need to spend 20 minutes at my Functional Threshold Heart Rate in order to be properly warmed up – so at least half an hour riding with a high effort in the last 20 minutes. Make sure you’re at the start with a few minutes to spare though for the pre race talk. You’ll most likely spend the whole race concentrating on not being dropped or trying to avoid crashing into the other riders around you – be prepared, but don’t aim, to rub shoulders at 60kmh! At points you’ll think “I can’t keep this effort going all race?” and/or “I want to be sick!!!”, but this will just be your mind playing tricks on you, work through it and you’ll feel better. The strongest riders don’t always win, you’re more likely to do well by keeping your head. There is no point sitting on the front for half the race, burning all your matches, only to have nothing left for the sprint at the end. Similarly if you sit at the back drafting all the way you’ll miss any attacks and more likely get caught up in a crash. Sitting at the back is also a bad idea as you’ll continually be slowing to the speed of the riders in front of you for corners, and then have to put in more efforts to catch up with the pack, than if you were otherwise nearer the front. If the bunch splits you’ll be in the wrong part of the field too. There will be lots of accelerations to contend with, and most will be out of slow corners. So, try to stay near the front. Taking a turn or two on the front is a good idea as you’ll be able to better feel where the wind is coming from, and come the sprint you’ll be better prepared for the conditions. Its best to do your turns on the front on any uphill sections, you’ll get to dictate the pace of the climb and the riders behind you will get less benefit from drafting. Don’t do silly things, keep an eye on the lap board for example – you need to know which is the last lap, I got that wrong once, realised too late and couldn’t get through the bunch to sprint. I also seem to find myself coming out of the last turn on the front, if this happens to you don’t think “oh well I may as well try to sprint all the way from back here” – it (probably) wont work. Instead take it easy and keep an eye on the riders behind you, if one tries to get past then accelerate and draft behind them until they blow up – freelance it! But as I said at the start of this section, once it all starts you wont remember any of this anyway, don’t fret it just do it.
If you make it to the finish with the main bunch then you’ve done well, point even better, if you realised the dream and won your first race then maybe its time to look for a sponsor? If you were dropped then work out why and up the training in that area. Unless it was just bad luck of course, in which case hope you’ll have better luck next time.
When I was thinking about entering my first race I sought out other riders blogs about theirs, I also posted on a couple of forums asking for advice. Here is a link to the post I left on my clubs forum, some good bits of advice in there:
Bigfoot CC racing intro – little bit out of date, but some more info there