Thinking of pinning on a number? Your first races can seem daunting - but getting stuck into the racing scene is a great way to give your cycling a goal, and massively increase your social circle and pool of riding buddies.
There's a lot to learn as you dip your toe into the racing world - so we've collected some tips from London Women's Racing League (LWR), an organisation that encourages women to race by creating a local league where they can aim for recognition racing their peers from neighboring clubs and teams.
Here are the London Women's Racing Top Ten Tips for aspiring racers...
Words: LWR Secretary Beth Hodge and Chair Charmaine Rees
Join a club
Joining a club with a good women’s section will mean that you can meet others who want to race and you have an immediate friendly community of likeminded people who were all novices once. Many good clubs now will hold their own race training, post about races for lift sharing and will also mean that you can race in a team kit- a great feeling. It also gives you an opportunity to answer those niggling questions that have been playing on your mind…
Go and Watch a race
If you have never raced before, turning up to one just to watch will take the pressure off. It will give you time to see how everything works including sign on, race numbers, the start of the race, the duration and the finish. You will also feel a lot more relaxed when you turn up for your own first race because you will have seen how everything taking place. It’s great if you have someone to go and support- so find a mate or club member who is racing and offer to help them out for that day.
Don’t forget the formalities
You will need a BC licence to race – this means buying a Silver or Gold membership, and a race license. We've explained this here on TWC and there are also details on the London Women’s Racing website.
As an entry level racer, you will automatically be a category 4 rider - then as you gather points you'll move up the ranks - read more about this here.
Choose a friendly first race
The great news for women getting into racing now is that there is lots of choice compared to what there was just a couple of years ago. The calendar is busy and lots of race organisers and promoters are starting to recognise the demand for separate women’s races.
BUT you may need to compromise. An ideal first race would be on a circuit close to home, with a separate novice women’s race (look out for a cat 2/3/4 or a cat 3/4 race). You will need to do your research, but ask others around you. Join the conversations in your area in your club or in a Facebook group for example.
You'll probably start with criterium or crit races - these are usually around an hour long and run over a closed circuit. Crits are shorts, fast, and courses vary dramatically - choose one that's not too technical if you're nervous, local riders and club mates should be able to advise but for example in London Hillingdon is probably the most beginner friendly course, though this does mean the bunch often stays together which means the group is bigger.
Make sure your bike is #raceready
You will be in a race environment so make sure your bike is prepared. You don’t need a brand new carbon race machine with shiny wheels (although that would be nice!). Just make sure the bike you ride is safe.
We suggest making sure you have reasonably new tyres and checking them for any stones or flint. Remember you are racing in close proximity to others so you have a responsibility to make sure you don’t cause a crash due to poor bike maintenance. In addition, the last thing you want is a puncture!
Make sure your wheels are securely tightened with the quick releases, especially if you have taken them off to put in the car to drive to a race and ensure the tyres are at the right pressure. For example, are you cycling in dry or wet conditions? If you’re not sure about tyre pressures- ask others around you. And are your brakes in good order?
Other things to think about are what you can strip off your bike- you don’t need your puncture repair kit on for a one hour crit, but you will want to carry spares for a longer road race (if you’re a few races off having a team car that is). Strip off anything unnecessary.
Finally - a clean bike will make you feel more confident- have a clean bike. Proven to make you go faster (we say).
Make sure you are #raceready
If you haven’t raced before, a training day is a perfect opportunity to make sure you understand race etiquette. London Women's Racing offer these, but so do other leagues if you're elsewhere in the country.
We asked British Cycling Level 3 road & time trial coach Huw Williams, who runs race preparation sessions all around the UK, what his sessions involve:
“Good race training days for inexperienced or novice racers are not about physical training as much as learning the techniques and tactics of what’s needed when you do the race. You’re not going to get fit enough to race following one or two sessions with a coach, that’s up to the rider to do in their own time.
"These sessions are about learning the techniques and skills needed to race. A good session should help you identify all the key elements you’re likely to encounter in your first race, give you a chance to experience them in a realistic, race-sized group on a safe, closed road circuit, and most importantly make it clear how you can take what you’ve learned at the session away and practice in your own time so you’re race ready on the day.
"These techniques are very race specific and cover all aspects of things like cornering, group riding, communication with other riders, working in large or small numbers of other riders in breaks and chase groups and finishing strategies like last lap positioning for the final sprint. Cadence and gear choice is a huge determining factor depending on what kind of race you’re doing (criterium vs hilly road circuit for example). Taking a drink in the middle of a fast moving bunch of riders is a pretty essential race skill and might sound really basic but you’d be amazed at how many riders, even experienced ones, can’t do it without taking their eyes off what’s happening on the road and looking down at their bottle cages, endangering themselves and everyone around them.
"As well as that the session should cover a lot of pre and post race best practice. Things like preparation ahead of the day, – licenses, what kit to pack etc, on the day preparation, like sign-on and warm up, and post race warm down, performance analysis and so on. All these things combine to make you get the most out of your early race experiences and the more you get right on the day, the more you’ll enjoy the experience, the better you’ll perform and chances are you’ll keep coming back."
Turn up with plenty of time to spare
You want to make sure you have time to sign on, get your race number, warm up and have time to relax before the race (and of course take that #raceready picture for your Instagram feed). Often people are rushing to the start line which means they are not in the right frame of mind. Turning up early also means you have the opportunity to watch any racing that is going on before yours, or indeed have the time to do a couple of laps of the circuit to note the tricky bends and places to make good moves.
Fuel for the engine
"Nutrition and hydration can be the difference between placing, winning or being dropped".
This often comes down to personal preference but you will need to work out how long the race is and what you need. For example, for a 45 minute race you may only need a carb drink or gel but for a 3-4 hour road race, you will need more.
A lot of this is trial and error- but ask your mates and also practice your nutrition on training rides. The golden rule is never to try something new on a race day- stick to the tried and tested! Jen George, Pro rider for Drops Cycling Team tells us:“nutrition and hydration can be the difference between placing, winning or being dropped" - so take it seriously!
Don’t forget your p’s and q’s
We know racing is nerve wracking- especially starting out. Safety takes priority, and for that communication is key. Be confident and communicate clearly with the group you are racing with. A good maxim is ‘assertive NOT aggressive'. Keep an eye on the riders in front of you, watch the moves and watch yourself-no crossing wheels and no heavy braking. You’ll often hear the phrase 'hold your line’- do exactly that, especially around corners. Only make a move when it is safe to do so. Stay focused but most importantly of all, have fun!
Every day is a school day
Learn from your experience – and learn from others! Take away the good bits and learn from the bad bits, and work out what you could do better next time. Don’t forget to share your experiences with others too- the more women we can encourage to race the better the system will be for us all in the long run.
London Women’s Racing is a voluntary collective, that seeks to give more structure and a voice for grassroots women’s racing. LWR runs women’s racing forums, and also racing leagues. Check them out @LDNwomensracing or www.londonwomensracing.co.uk.