Crits At The Park #6, 2015, 4th Cat

 After my good first race and promising 2nd race I had been looking forward to the race today with a mix of confidence and trepidation. Happily Ian and Daz were racing again, and we arranged to meet up beforehand for a warm up. The warm up really helped – after about 45 minutes of riding I went from feeling slow to punchy, phew!
It was a beautiful day, but typically windy at the Cyclopark, wind was blowing up the finishing straight which I think I prefer. When we got to the park we met up with Chris who was giving racing a go for the first time – chapeau Chris! Bigfoot was well represented with the 4 of us (there were about 50 riders on the start line), I even had my club jersey – thanks to Jeremy for his very kind donation.

On to the race. The pace felt a bit too easy, but as my targeting computer seemed to turn itself off I had no idea what the actual speed was like. I had decided to stick with Daz or Ian as much as possible, and stuck to Daz’s wheel for at least half of the race (thanks Daz). Having a club jersey certainly helped this (thanks again Jeremy), other riders readily let me sit on my club mates wheel.
At some point in the first half of the race there was a crash just in front of me on the hairpin which I managed to avoid and then put in an effort to get back on the back of the pack. In the second half of the race an obviously well planned break occurred where a lone rider attacked up the start/finish straight whilst his club mates on the front sat up and slowed the bunch down. The peloton weren’t having any of that and started chasing, but upon arrival at the hairpin (the next turn) we found the poor chap on the floor in mid crash.

A couple of laps later another rider tried a lone break but only made it 100m down the road before blowing up, where he was left to suffer by the guys at the front of the bunch, cruel but funny. Then a serious 4 man (I think) break got away. The red mist descended and and a couple of other riders and I put some turns in to chase them down. That was quite thrilling TBH, I flicked my elbow to signal for someone else to take over and they did – just like the pros! I quickly realised that I couldn’t be doing that again if I wanted to finish in the points. So, when the next 3 man breakaway got away on the last lap I stopped myself from chasing it. In hindsight I should’ve been expecting this and gone with it – the pace was relatively slow and I was feeling good.

I got to the front of the bunch and rode alongside Daz, with Ian nearby I think too (?) and we led the group at our pace down the back straight. Then a few riders went past me for the last section of the course, this gave me a minute to recover and take some big deep breaths ready for the sprint. Luckily Ian was one of the riders who went past me and I jumped on his wheel (thanks Ian, and thanks again Jeremy). I patiently WAITED (I’ve learnt) for the sprint to start from about 6th or 7th in the bunch. As soon as it kicked off I put the hammer down, used the force and went right when everyone else went left.

Finding myself with an open road and good legs I span up my cadence to 130, and went past everybody and convincingly took the sprint win for 4th place (the 3 man break having already finished a few seconds earlier). Ian was just behind me in 7th and Daz finished 10th which got him the 1 point he needed to get 3rd cat (chapeau Daz). Chris managed to stick with the bunch for the first part of the race but then got dropped and put in a valiant effort to avoid getting lapped (hope you enjoyed it Chris, see you next weeks yeah?). Overall a pretty successful day at the races for Bigfoot.

Distance 38km (ish)
Time 1hour (ish)
Strava link to what my busted Garmin made of the race.

SERRL, 25/07/15, 4th Cat

After last weeks race successful high I decided to join Ian and Daz once more for this weeks SERRL 4th cat only race, again at the Cyclopark. I am finally capitalising on living so close to the place: I live about a mile away, it almost feels like I’m cheating. In the week leading up to the race the three of us had chatted (via Strava) about possibly trying a break away this week, our confidence was palpable! So I had been really looking forward to this one.

However, I almost didn’t make it. A day or so before my baby son had come down with a temperature which got worse the night before the race, and then my 3 year old son decided to wet the bed and have a restless night to boot. Luckily family stepped in and took mummy and little one to the hospital for me, and toddler went to spend the day at Nannys. This meant I was able to race, but after almost no sleep the night before I wasn’t sure if I’d be capable. I had a pretty strong coffee with my toast, with some drinking chocolate powder chucked in for good measure!

Ian, Daz and myself met up en route and talked about the possibility of a breakaway. We thought 3 laps to go down the back straight would be the time to give it a go. This would mean we’d be sprinting off the front of the bunch into a strong headwind, but have respite for the remainder of the lap. Ian also informed us that another Bigfooter, Dave would be racing his first race today and that Phil from Panagua would be in the mix too.

So we all met up at the circuit, signed in, numbered up and put our transponders on our bikes. Didn’t like the transponder – not 100% compatible with the dropout on my carbon forks, and after the warm up laps I found that my front wheel needed to be tightened as it had moved and my front brake had been rubbing – glad I found that out before the race. I drank another coffee in the cafe, then went to warm up. During the warm up I tried a couple of little sprints to test the legs. The legs were OK, but the rest of me felt very tired, was on the verge of blowing up after only a few seconds. I decided that I needed another pick me up, so had a gel on the start line.

On to the race. The field was a bit thinner than last week, about 30-40 I think. The timing system took ages to initialize, and one rider had snapped a spoke in the warm up, so the race was shortened to 30 minutes plus 3 laps. As it was shorter I thought it was probably going to be a fast one. I had positioned myself behind Daz on the line, and tried my best to stick to his wheel throughout the race. The pace was pretty comfortable again, which on the one hand suited me because I wasn’t confident of keeping up with lots of accelerations, but on the other hand it meant if everyone was still fresh near the end of the race our breakaway stood less of a chance of being successful. My Garmin decided to crash again, so I had no idea how fast the pace was, I had to trust my instincts. The quality of riding was generally OK, apart from one chap who was literally all over the road, and off it a lot. Myself and a few others shouted at him a few times, but he kept doing crazy things like choosing to take to the grass to overtake the bunch. I made sure I kept my eye on him. Apart from him the average riding ability was good, but there were a couple of crashes. I almost had one myself, I was pedalling around the long sweeping bend at the bottom of the course when the one youth rider in front of me twitched off his line causing me to take avoiding action which in turn caused my inside pedal to touch the ground. Instinct kicked in from my BMXing days and I bunnyhopped and pumped my bike back into position. That woke me up! After half an hour of racing nobody seemed sure how many laps were left. About this point in the race Ian sprinted off the front of the group just after the hairpin, but Daz and I were nowhere near him. I turned to Daz and said “what is he doing?”. Sorry Ian, we were way too far back. With 2 laps to go (I think, recalling a race is very blurry for me) coming up the finish straight Daz had positioned himself near the front of the pack and I hustled myself up to be with him. I was suffering a bit at this point, but really wanted to try my best to make the break away work. After the hairpin I went for it, going past the few riders in front of me with Daz, and I think Ian, in my wheel. I flicked my elbow a few times but we’d not managed to create a gap so it was futile. With 1 lap to go Daz tried again and he flicked his elbow but I had nothing left and shouted at him to sit up. We let the pack go past us and recovered in the middle of it. On the last lap Ian, Daz and myself hustled our way up the pack to be near the front. At the bottom of the circuit I found myself on the front heading into the last bend. I’d been here before and knew that this was a bad position to be in. I sat up flicking my elbow for someone to come around me, nobody did at first, and I wondered if anyone actually would. One chap decided to take a chance, and just as I had done in a previous race, he went up the inside of everybody taking the racing line out of the bend at speed. I put in a little acceleration and jumped onto his wheel. Now in second place heading up the finish straight I needed eyes in the back of my head, as well as in front. the guy in front of me snaked about a bit, trying to get me out of his slipstream. I stuck to him like glue though whilst waiting for the bunch sprint to start behind me. My lead out man cracked though, so I was forced to start my sprint about 100 meters from the line. Knowing I needed just one point to move up to 3rd cat I buried myself expecting to be swamped by the pack at any moment. But it never happened. I saw one wheel to my right come alongside me and nudge ahead slightly, I kicked again summoning whatever strength I had left and then lunged my bike over the line. I looked around to see that I had been racing Daz for the win, but neither of us had a clue who’d taken it. One thing was for sure though – a Bigfoot 1 2!!! Ian also finished strongly for 7th place, and Dave finished in the bunch too.

Saying it was close would be an understatement – we found out that Daz had taken the win by 0.028 seconds! Everyone was on a high after such a great result, and several other riders congratulated us saying we deserved it. I checked my phone for family news and the little one had seen a doctor and all was OK, phew! What an awesome day!

Race time: 48:30
Distance: 30.5km
Average speed: 38km/hr
Strava link to what my busted Garmin made of the race.

Crits At The Park #2 16/4/2016, 3rd Cat, Race Report

Waffle

After a surprisingly strong finish in my first race of the season 2 weeks previously you’d think I’d be feeling a bit more confident. Well, I was, but only a little bit – every time I thought about the race coming up I’d get butterflies and that racing heart feeling as if my body was practicing going through the motions. Hopefully the more races I do the less this will be an issue? We will see. In preparation for the race I put in a few big effort rides, but I have maintained a less is more approach to my training – I’ve pretty much halved the weekly mileage I was putting in last year. I have much more energy and I am getting stronger to boot. I also did a session on a borrowed turbo trainer to work out my functional threshold heart rate, which I highly recommend to anyone who races. Preparation was slightly marred by troubles at work which has been playing on my mind and keeping me awake at night. But on the flip side of this I have been able to vent any frustrations I’ve had on the bike. This led to me getting a PR on my commute home one day averaging almost 37km/h for an hour, half of which is through rush hour traffic!!! So in a nutshell I knew I was strong, just didn’t know if I’d be rested enough to make it to the end of the race and still feel punchy. But I have two small kids, so really I’m never fully rested.

Race day prep (more waffle)

Put my race wheels on, drank coffee and ate some pasta. My race wheels are actually some old relatively cheap Fulcrum 5s. A lot of other crit racers ride much more expensive deep section carbon wheels but I like the 5s. The thing that makes them my race wheels is that they have latex inner tubes and nice new tyres. I can tell the difference with those tubes, even pumped up hard they soak up the bumps in the road. If only they didn’t deflate overnight. One day (soon I hope) I will get some better wheels and tubeless tyres which should help my winning breakaway ambitions.

I left for the circuit about an hour before race start. Again I didn’t really do much of a warm up. I got chatting to a couple of other riders, gave a chap from out of town some advice about the circuit. The weather was staying dry, but threatening to rain with a cold reasonably strong north westerly wind blowing up the finish straight. The hairpin part of the circuit had been coned off because a Circus had set up camp there?!? This meant the hairpin was not in play today, just as well should it have rained. It was a shame for me though, as I go quite well around it, and the uphill drag coming out of it is where I make up places each lap. “This is going to be a fast race” I thought. I ate my banana and did a warm up lap to recce the shorter circuit. I lined up and looked about – LOTS of riders, over 50 had entered online and I’d seen a few EOL signing up too, could’ve been 60+ starters. “Getting points is going to be hard” I thought.

The Race!

The pace was fast from the off. I cursed myself for not warming up properly . I struggled to keep up and fell towards the back of the bunch. There were a few comings together around me, but nothing that looked too serious. Early on in the race a few riders attempted a break away. The guys on the front of the peloton sat up, the bunch compressed and there was no room for anyone back where I was to manoeuvre. I was pissed off that I wasn’t able to get to the break and had a bit of an angry shout about it. Should’ve kept my mouth shut really as the break amounted to nothing and I looked stupid for getting upset about it, lesson learned. Generally the level of riding was good, certainly better than I have experienced up until now. During the first two laps I figured out the best way of staying out of the wind – stick to the left!!! It worked all the way around the track. It gave you a tailwind up the finish straight, shelter on the back straight, the inside line around the tight corners and the faster wide line around the sweeping bends. Couldn’t always keep position there, but for most of the race that’s what I did. The race was pretty uneventful, at times the peloton was bunched up, then someone would attack and it’d get strung out. When gaps did form there were plenty of people willing to put the effort in to fill them and chase down any breaks or splits. Not sure when it was, but a break did get away. At the time I didn’t see it until I saw a couple of riders 30 or so seconds up the track, but didn’t realise what was going on. I had planned to get involved with any break if I could, but I had been way too far back and didn’t even see it go. There didn’t seem to be anybody up for chasing it down, and I was finding that even just getting to the front was quite difficult in such a large group. Lesson learned – try to stay nearer the front in future. The rest of the race was fairly uneventful, I made up places then took shelter in the bunch and promptly lost said places again. At 5 laps to go I took it easy, but others seemed to be putting in effort to get to the front. I made sure I didn’t fall back, so let the guys who wanted to put the effort in go past me and then sat in their slipstream for an easy ride. At 4 to go I started paying more attention and luckily moved up just as a split almost happened. I put the effort in to keep up with the front guys and towed the rest of the peloton with me. At 3 to go I worked my way up and ended up at third wheel in the peloton going over the line. During the penultimate lap the guy in the lead put in a massive turn around the whole lap. I expected him and the other guy in front to pull off and leave me with my face in the wind, but it didn’t happen. “This guy is crazy, whats he doing??” I thought to myself. On the last lap there was a solo attack down the back straight and this seemed to make the guy in the lead pop. I found myself on the last lap, on the front of the bunch, going down the back straight, into the wind. Shitballs! This was not good. There was also the single rider a few seconds up the road from me. I didn’t want to let him get away, but I also didn’t want to pull the trigger too soon and go pop myself.  At this point I didn’t realise there were two riders another 40 seconds up the road, must pay more attention, another lesson learned. I looked down at my computer, heart rate wasn’t in the red yet, lets go for it. I kept a constant effort just above FTHR that I thought I could maintain for a lap and went round the two 90 degree left handers as fast as I could taking the racing line. I took the first sweeping corner as fast as I could too, but then I was riding into the wind and it was at this point that my body started complaining. I flicked my elbow, hoping that someone would go past me and lead me out through the last bend and up the final straight. But nobody was falling for that one. Shitballs of shit – go go go. I accelerated and took the last bend as fast as I could then put in a hard acceleration in order to keep the peloton strung out behind me. The solo rider up front was still there and I had been catching him, but in a final bid of desperation he’d opted to go for a long sprint up the final straight so had pulled out a little lead, however I could tell he was starting to blow. “If I can just bridge to him and get a small draft slingshot past him I might stand a chance” I thought! So I went at 95% to catch him, and as he went round the last slight bend in the track I got the slightest of tows flicked up a gear and went full gas to the line. Much to my surprise my plan pretty much worked, only one rider managed to get along side me and just took me on the line.

At this point I still didn’t realise there had been a 2 man break, and thought I’d managed to come first or second. Another lesson I need to learn is that I shouldn’t overestimate my placing, I was almost disappointed when I learned I’d come fourth. But actually, although I missed out on the prize money, I am well happy with fourth – especially as there was such a big field.

Learning about my heart.

I mentioned doing a FTHR test earlier, and I found this helped massively in the race. When I looked at my heart rate I knew what efforts I could sustain and when I should probably calm down a bit. As it goes I was pretty much well within my comfort zone for almost all of the race. So when I felt like I was putting in too much effort I looked at my HR and realised that I actually wasn’t, and that I could probably sustain that effort indefinitely if I wanted. I can also see on the HR graph at the point that I was properly warmed up. It looks like at about 20 minutes in my HR started recovering properly, and it was at this point when I started feeling good. Now I also know what sort of warm up I need to do next time, 20 minutes at FTHR!

Time: 1 hour 2 minutes

Distance: 42KM

Average Speed: 40.3km/h

Link to Strava activity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crits At The Park #1, 2/4/2016, 3rd Cat, Race Report

First, the waffle…

My first race of the season was a journey into the unknown. Last year I’d got enough points to make it up to 3rd Cat relatively easily, but then failed to gain any points in the two 3rd Cat races I entered. Looking back I was fatigued. When winter came I got every illness going. I was ill for all of December and January and not right for February either. So instead of carrying some form through winter I was forced to take it easy. I was beginning to think I’d wasted my money renewing my British Cycling race licence. But I managed to get myself better, and as soon as I started feeling punchy I entered this race.

As I didn’t have a clue if I was even race fit I decided to panic buy some latex inner tubes and some new Conti tyres. Think they helped, I certainly noticed the ride was smoother on my way home over the rough surface of the cycle path, and the tyres made a very pleasing hum. I also made sure my bike was working at 100%. I’d replaced the headset, BB bearings, chain and all the cables in the weeks leading up to race day. I’d also roughed up the brake blocks and thoroughly cleaned the drive train the night before. Everything was tight, dialled and clean – a first for my bike. As I’d been feeling some discomfort on the bike for a long time I also adjusted my position. Lowering the saddle made a massive difference, it’d been way too high – what was I thinking?!?!

As far as the engine prep, I changed things up there too. Instead of trying to do as many of my 50 mile commutes as possible I cut that back and have been just trying to fit a long hilly ride on the weekends when I can, or going out for a quick blast. Basically I have been trying to give my body a chance to recover and managing my fatigue. I’ve been paying more attention to my heart rate too, as it seems to be a good early warning of any illness. I was planning to wear the heart rate strap for the race. As I didn’t want to have it beep at me, which it tends to do a lot, I turned the HR alarm off on my computer.

So race day…

In the morning I had an early pasta lunch with a strong coffee followed by a banana. I pumped up the latex tubes pretty hard – in two nights they’d lost loads of pressure. Left for the Cyclopark with enough time for a short warm up, sign in and have another coffee and banana. The weather was nice and sunny, but fairly windy – its always windy at the Cyclopark. I had forgotten to pick up a gel again, oh well. In my warm up I worked out where the wind was blowing from, right down the finish straight. Any breakaways were going to be very hard work. The family came to watch and they were meant to be looking after my stuff, they turned up about 5 minutes before race start, so there I was undressing in the carpark, rushing to get ready for the race. Got to the start line just in time. Just as the commissaire was finishing his prep talk I heard from behind “look theres Daddy. Hello Daddy” and the voice of a 4 year old boy shouting “HELLO DADDY!!”. I looked round to see the family waving at me from the bridge behind the start, I waved back just as the race started. Panicked, I failed to clip in for what seemed like a long time. When I finally did get underway I was plum last with a gap to bridge… Wasn’t too bad though. So the first few laps I spent gathering myself and trying to move up the bunch. There were a few pretty dodgy riders, two in particular who were all over the place I wonder how they made it into 3rd Cat? “I must get up to 2nd Cat as soon as possible” I thought. Not sure which lap, but 2nd or 3rd there was a crash just in front of me, a rider on his back on the grass on the finish straight, everyone else got round safely. I wasn’t feeling too great for the first half of the race, was probably still warming up – next time I must spend more time on the warm up!! I spent a lot of time wondering if I was out of my depth. Twice the bunch split and I found myself in the wrong group. The first time I managed to break away from my group to join the break, but as soon as I bridged the gap they sat up and waited for the peloton. The second time I only just about had enough steam to bridge the gap but not enough to pull away from the riders behind me. I told myself off for spending all my energy and giving everyone else a free ride. As we got to the 5 laps to go point things calmed down. I half expected a break to happen, but any escapees were only able to put half-hearted efforts in. It looked like everyone was resigned to a bunch sprint, which was what I was hoping for myself. I gradually sneaked my way up to the front of the peloton and was in the first 10 riders. The speed seemed to notch up slightly. Just when I’d managed to get into a decent position there was a coming to just in front of me. Everyone stayed upright, but the guy in front of me in a Wigmore club kit had nowhere to go and had to slow to a near stop. I was boxed in too and also had to stop. I shouted “come on mate lets go go go” at the Wigmore rider, but I was in last place as I went over the finish line with 4 to go. I had gone from the perfect position to the worst, disaster! I managed to work my way up again, and in doing so I began to grow in confidence because lots of people seemed to be in bad shape as I put in measured efforts to go past them. I managed to get up to the front half of the peloton for the last lap. The boys on the front did a decent job of keeping the pace up and the bunch strung out, which suited me. As we went round the last bend I was probably in about 10th position, although I’d had to burn some matches to get there. I was amazed and for the first time that day I thought I might actually score some points! The bunch was all over the place. A few guys went for a long sprint, I was tempted to join them, but was unable to get on to their wheels as I was on the wrong side of the track. So I stuck with the lead out I was getting and as soon as I could see the finish line I went full gas and started passing people. Seems my sprint still holds up at 3rd Cat level! I really should’ve gone sooner, if I had been on the other side of the track I’d have probably managed to stick with the top 3 guys who’d just gone past me. At the time I hadn’t a clue what my position was, thought I might’ve come 5th or 6th, but actually came 8th. Ah well – next time!

As I didn’t know what to expect, and would’ve been happy just to not get dropped, to come away with some points is a result. 2nd Cat here I come, well, I now believe it’s achievable at least 🙂 Worth noting as well; good job I did turn off my heart rate alarm, my max heart rate was 192bpm on the final sprint. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, not bad for a 38 year old I guess?!!

Distance 38km

Time 1 hour

Speed 38kmh

Strava activity

Joining a club

Once you’ve decided that this is going to be your hobby you’ll probably want to join a club, and I recommend you do. You’ll learn more riding and chatting with like minded people than you will reading interweb blog posts like this! A lot of people, even though they want to, for whatever reason, put off joining a club. Don’t put it off and don’t be put off, if you find the right club they will take you under their collective wing and teach you the ways of club riding. You’ll progress a lot faster with the guidance of experienced cyclists.

When I was thinking about joining a club it did feel very intimidating, will I be able to keep up etc… I shouldn’t have worried though, everyone I’ve ended up riding with have all been perfectly nice people, cyclists tend to be very amicable. But instead of jumping straight in to cycle club culture I started riding with the Bromley Cyclists, who are a group whose main aim is to get people into cycling. I joined them for their Wednesday Weekly Wander rides, which were perfect as there’d be a lengthy stop at a pub. Bromley Cyclists are affiliated to Bigfoot Cycle Club, which is the club I ended up joining.

There are lots of cycling clubs all over the country, try searching the interweb or you could see if there is one registered on the British Cycling website club finder that is near you.

Some clubs welcome beginners and some are just for racers so aren’t set up for taking on novices. Their web site should give a fairly good indication of the sort of rides they do and what sort of level of rider they are tailored to. Message them and see if they welcome cyclists of your level of expertise/experience. If they’re not the club for you they should be able to point you in the right direction. Most clubs will let you join them for one or more tester rides before they expect you to pay up to join. Membership fees are normally pretty low, eg £10 or £20 a year, but I suspect there are some higher entry fees to some more exclusive clubs? Some clubs will expect you to buy their kit, some might subsidise this. Some clubs require you to join British Cycling too. I have even heard of clubs that pay their members. Club cycling is a very grass roots type of affair, so you should expect to pitch in with helping at events from time to time, but this shouldn’t be compulsory so don’t be put off if you’re worried you wont have the time to give.

Tips!

If you’ve had no response when you attempted to contact the club then it might be worth just turning up. If the meeting time and place is detailed on the clubs website then they probably expect people to see this and just turn up. I have done this and never been turned away.

On your first club ride you will probably be nervous and a bit green, but you needn’t be if you’re prepared. Check out my dos and don’ts blog.

 

 

Dos and Dont’s

So you’re going for a big ride, your first club run, a sportive or maybe a race. Learn from my mistakes and be prepared!

Dos

Do leave your home with plenty of time to spare, I’m bad at mornings, so I tend to leave late. It helps to get your kit ready the night before and check your bike over, pump up the tires, clean/lube the chain if it needs it, check the brakes are good etc… You don’t want to have to rush in the morning, arriving a panting sweaty mess, and you want to have time to…

Do …introduce yourself, if you’re new then don’t be afraid to say “Hi I’m new, mind if I ride with you?”

Do – bring enough food and water. Minimum on a cool spring day 1 bottle of water and a banana, on a summers day two bottles of water, ideally bring a bit more food like some flapjack or energy bar. Maybe a gel just in case you push yourself too much and run out of steam.

Do – bring a spare inner tube, ideally bring 2. You also need all the tools you need to fix basic mechanicals. At very least tyre levers and a pump or CO2. I’d recommend CO2 over a pump – its much quicker to inflate a tyre, and you don’t want to keep everyone waiting. In my saddle bag I have 2 tubes, 3 CO2 cannisters and a valve, 2 tyre levers, a multitool, a chain quick link and some patches.

Do – bring a phone with plenty of charge. Put your ICE number in, ICE stands for In Case of Emergency.

Do – bring some money just in case you stop at a café.

Do – bring ID with emergency contact (ICE) details. You probably wont crash, but you should always carry this if you ride on your own or with people you don’t know.

Do – wear a helmet, expect to be turned away from organised rides if you don’t have one.

Do – fit mudguards to your bike if its wet. Some clubs will turn you away if its a wet day and you don’t have them.

Do – make yourself familiar with the hand signals and calls a group might use. These are mostly pointing out pot holes, parked cars and cars approaching from the front or rear.

Do – make sure your bike is in good working order, turning up to a club run with brakes that don’t work is going to make you very unpopular. And if your gears are jumping about or noisy you’ll feel pretty embarrassed. At least give your bike a clean.

Do – check out the route beforehand if its published on the club or organisers website. Check you’ll be comfortable with all the hills, some club runs can be very hilly.

Do – I’d recommend getting clipless pedals, and some lycra before joining a club. This isn’t 100% necessary though, so don’t be put off by this or feel you have to. If you’re a beginner don’t feel you have to do things like this. However, if you want to show that you’re a dedicated cyclist and already a member of the clan, then shave those legs. :-p

Don’ts

Don’t – ride in a group with earphones in.

Don’t – spit or clear your nose when you’re riding in front of others in a group.

Don’t – choose to ride in a group that you’re not strong enough to keep up with. If there are several groups then chose one you think you’ll be comfortable with on your first ride.

Don’t – boast or try to impress your new friends, let your legs do the talking and be humble. If someone gives you a push say thanks!

Don’t – overdo it in the first half of the ride only to bonk and suffer all the way back. Don’t be afraid of sitting in the stronger riders draft all the way. Some groups will be taking it easy for the first half of the ride, and the fast stuff generally happens on the homeward leg of the journey.

Don’t – skip breakfast. Make sure you’re well fuelled.

Don’t – have 10 pints and a late night before a club run. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. Similarly…

…Don’t decide that midnight the night before a club run (or any sort of event) is a good time to take your headset to bits or take your cranks out. These should be 10 minute jobs, but things always seem to go wrong at this time of the night. So for this reason I’d recommend giving your bike a once over as early in the day as possible and not just before you are going to bed.

 

Getting into racing

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.

Points.

I suggest reading the British Cycling website for details about how the points system works.

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.

Racing itself.

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.

More reading

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:

Taking The Plunge

Bigfoot CC racing intro – little bit out of date, but some more info there

British Cyclings racing article

Advice for you beginners

If you’re new to all this road cycling malarkey then hopefully I can come up with something here to help you save time, money, pride etc… most of this stuff I learnt the hard way. So in order to save you some hassle – do as I say, not as I do.

You need cycle specific kit. Don’t skimp on the cycle kit. Sports Direct stuff is cheap for a reason, don’t bother. Decathlon, some good (jerseys), some not so good (shorts). Halfords have some decent stuff, and if you sign up to British Cycling you’ll get 10% off. I’ve heard there are good deals in Aldi and Lidl too.  If you’re like me (NOT minted nor a pro) then you might want to save some cash by getting the cheap stuff, but this can be a false economy. Buy right, buy once – certainly this is true of cycle kit. Don’t skimp on padded shorts. You NEED padded shorts, and you need DECENT ones. I’d recommend buying some decent bibshorts for £30+, something like DHB Aeron Race from Wiggle would be a good starting point. In my anecdotal experience I found more expensive bibshorts out last cheaper ones, and look better and, of course, are more comfortable. Ideally you’ll want lots of kit, if you only have one of everything you’ll wear it out in no time at all. For commuting you can get the cheaper (but still good quality) stuff, and get a set for each day of the week that you commute on, for longer rides/club riding/sportives/racing spend a bit more on something nice.

Wash your kit using special sports wash detergent. Do it yourself, don’t trust your partner to do it right. Regular detergent will trash your kit.

Don’t be scared, get clipless pedals ASAP. Every now and again I ride without being clipped in and it feels so alien to me now. You *might* have a moment of stupidity when you forget to unclip, but you’ll learn quick – unclip before you need to and remember which side you’ve unclipped. Shimano SPD-SL are popular and what I use. If I had enough money to replace my shoes and pedals I would probably try a different system though. Don’t waste your time, money, pride on buying MTB pedals / shoes. Sure, they work, and you can walk a lot better in them, but thats not what you’re buying these things for. So many people make this mistake and then end up getting proper road shoes and pedals anyway, including me, so now you don’t have to.

Shave your legs. Do it. Do it. Do it.

Wear a helmet, but make sure its a road helmet if you’re riding a road bike. Make sure its on properly, and the chin strap is tight (but not strangling you, obvs). Take it off as soon as you get to where you’re going to avoid looking like a dork.

When you socialise with more experienced cyclists its easy to be excited and to want to make a good impression, but its best to keep your mouth shut and learn.

Keep your bike clean. Its fine to have a beaten up old piece of crap for commuting or riding to the pub, but the bike you take out on the weekends must be pristine. Buy a degreaser. WD40, GT85, petrol or white spirit will do the job, but a proper degreaser will make your life a lot easier and get the bike properly clean. Having said that I’m currently going through a GT85 phase…

Keep spares of bike consumables at home, i.e.: chain, cassette, brake blocks, tyres, inner tubes, brake and gear cables. You don’t want to miss out on a ride, or have to take the train to work, because you don’t have a spare brake cable at home.

First upgrade should (probably) be your wheels. Most bikes come with pony wheels. Its the best upgrade you will make, light wheels with good bearings will transform your bike and will probably shed half a kilo of your bikes overall weight. Keep the pony wheels for trashing in the wet winter months. Don’t go for the very lightest wheels you can afford, especially if you’re not as light as you could be yourself – go for the best you can afford. Worth knowing – depending on the amount and type of riding you do, your wheels might last as little as one year. Buy a new cassette for the new wheels, and buy a new chain for the new cassette. Also buy new tyres – basically you don’t want to have to take part worn stuff off your old wheels in order to put it on your nice new wheels.

Buy a cassette removal tool and chain whip. You’ll be replacing your chain and cassette relatively regularly, so best that you can do it yourself. In fact…

…Do all your own bike maintenance. If you don’t have a tool then buy the tool. There are plenty of places on the interweb where you can watch videos or find diagrams telling you how to do the work.

Buy a bike computer. Using an app on your phone is all well and good, but never mount the damn thing on your bike unless you want people to talk bad about you behind your back. A bike specific computer is the way to go, and get an out the front mount so you can actually read what its saying. I’d recommend getting a heart rate monitor to go with it, and if you’re loaded then get a power meter. If you do, however, beware of being cliché “all the gear and no idea”.

When you first get into cycling I’d recommend the Strava app as a motivational tool. For the sake of Pete, don’t risk your life going for PRs or KOMs. For me Strava really helps me push myself much harder than I otherwise would have. And its a great way of keeping in touch with people you’ve ridden with. Dish out the kudos and you’ll make lots of friends, and its all free.

Get a CO2 valve and canisters instead of a small pump for taking on rides with you. Small pumps are rubbish. I tend to pack 2 spare tubes and 3 canisters and valve, plus tyre levers, multitool, chain link and patches in a saddle bag.

Learn how to ride. In particular learn how to pedal and how to take corners. Look it up. Practice. Don’t grip the handlebars too tightly. Don’t pedal and lean too much into corners.

Learn how to change a punctured tube quickly if you’re going to be riding with other people. Practice at home in the warm before you have to do it in the wet/cold/dark.

Ride up lots of hills. When you first get into cycling you may well enjoy the descents, but the more you cycle you’ll learn that to become faster you must ride up lots of hills. Eddy Merckx said “don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades” and he was right. If you do insist on blasting down the biggest steepest hill, as with KOM hunting, for Pete’s sake be careful. Only go full throttle downhill if you know the road, the conditions are good (at speed the slightest bit of side wind can have a big effect) and there are no side roads that other road users might be waiting to turn in/out of – they wont see you coming. Don’t be brave/stupid – crashing from 50mph into the back of a parked car can be fatal. Cycle helmets aren’t that good.

If you’re going out for a ride the next morning, get everything ready and make sure the bike is good to go the night before. And don’t wait until bedtime to check it, or you’ll be up at midnight hitting stuff with a hammer, stuff that shouldn’t be hit with a hammer.

Camelback Podium water bottles (called bidons) are the ones you should get. And Elite water bottle cages are the way you should attach these bidons to your bike.

Read up / watch videos about saddle height and bike fit. Keep making small adjustments to your bike in order to make it comfy. If you’re loaded you could get a professional bike fit, but I have heard both good and bad stories. I figured it all out myself easily enough. Don’t set your saddle too high is probably the most important rule – you can do some damage down there. As soon as you experience any sort of discomfort after a ride, i.e. knees, groin, back – even if you think its because it was a longer than normal ride, see if you can improve your saddle position. Also, remember, that as you lose weight and get fitter your position will change on the bike, so adjust accordingly.

Read the rules. Some great tips and humour in there. Enjoy!

1st race

4th Cat, crits at the park #4 23/05/15

For my 38th birthday I finally took the plunge, bought myself a race licence AND entered a race. I’d read up a fair bit and got some great advice from some club members. So I had a rough idea of what to expect. Leading up to race day I tried to take it easy and eat and drink only good stuff, but illness, family and work commitments meant that I actually had no idea how I was going. On the day though I actually felt good, and wasn’t nervous at all. Upon arrival at the cyclopark I took in my surroundings and saw much of the competition warming up on turbos and their boutique bikes with deep section carbon rims. Whilst my bike isn’t particularly low end (a carbon Felt F5 with Fulcrum 5 wheels) I still felt like I was going to have to work that little bit harder than my peers to keep up. I had actually decided to race with my old Fulcrum wheels as my new Campag rear wheel was slightly out of true, and I took the opportunity to fit them with some nice new Michelin Pro 4 tyres I’d been saving (for over a year) for the occasion. I signed on and went to watch a bit of the 3rd cats. I got chatting to a couple of chaps who were watching the action, one fellow 4th cat and another chap who was watching his mate. The guy watching his friend wasn’t watching his mate though – due to dodgy riding his mate had pulled out! Apparently there had been a fair few crashes and this chaps friend didn’t want to jeopardise his upcoming riding holiday in the Alps. Eek! I decided to go and warm up…

I did a few circuits of the car park, then the circuit. To be honest I had no idea what I was doing, but there were a few other guys doing the same thing so… I pulled up to the start line halfway through the prep talk, right-at-the-back. 53 people were racing, money prizes, blah blah blah, on my whistle… …PEEP!

I had planned to have a gel at the start, but that went out of the window and I didn’t even have time to take off my arm warmers. Pace was quick to begin with, but not horrific. I’d been worried about so many riders of differing abilities (especially me with my limited experience) getting round the first hairpin, but all went OK. It was at the second big breaking zone that someone directly in front of me punctured and lost control – queue lots of shouting, couple of insults, but no crash. Towards the end of the first lap I was concerned that the pace was a bit quicker than I would be comfortable with. I probably hadn’t warmed up sufficiently. But on the incline going up to the finish line the guys at the front sat up and took it easy, I gasped a sigh of relief. So I settled into the race, and after a couple of laps managed to get my arm warmers off. I tried to move up when I was near the back, then take it easy when I got near the front. One of the things that left an impression was the burning smell of many bicycles with carbon rims braking at the two sharpest corners. Another moment that sticks in my memory was rubbing shoulders with another racer at around 60kmh, exciting stuff!

After a few laps I worked out the best place to be in the race track to avoid the headwind, but couldn’t always get to it. I also worked out that on the back straight the tailwind meant, if there was an opening, it was easy to move up a few places. In the second half of the race the pack split a couple of times. Both times I was near the back, but was determined to stay in contention, so put the effort in to bridge the gap. At the 5 laps to go mark I had managed to keep up with the bunch and was wondering how much I had left in the tank. I was worried that the pace was going to pick up and I’d be dropped. Over the next few laps a few people tried to make individual breakaways, but the guys at the front upped the pace and all attempts were quickly reeled in. On the last lap I was feeling good. I put in some effort on the climb out of the hairpin and carried on putting the power down on the back straight, moving up quite a few places. Then there was a mid-effort sprint out of the next slow bend which I made sure to keep in touch with, and a gap formed behind me. I counted that I was about 12th, I could smell my first British Cycling point! Knowing there wasn’t anyone behind me on the next bend I took a wide entry and when I saw the riders in front of me run wide I went up the inside and put some big cranks in, moving up to a points scoring position. I kept position on the last two bends and found a wheel for the sprint. I wanted to go full gas, but was worried that nobody else was going for it yet. Then it all kicked off, I emptied the tank and to my amazement started going past people! I had left it too late though, as my progress was blocked by 4 riders in a row in front of me. When a gap did open up it was all too late – I didn’t have the chance to use it. I rolled over the line without a clue where I’d placed, but knew I was in the points – as it turns out 5th place!!!

Finishing in the bunch sprint was my main goal. To score points, and know that I could have placed higher if I’d pulled the trigger sooner was a big fat cherry on the cake.

Distance : 38km (23.6m)
Speed (avg) : 38.6km/h (24m/h)
Time : 59 mins
Strava link.