You are strong and want to try racing this year, but don’t know where to start.
Racing can be a very exciting and fulfilling activity. You will develop better handling skills and confidence on a bike. You will find new friends, new places and experiences. Butthere are some things you should know before standing at the start line.
The Basics: The following assumes you have an appropriate road bike that is in good mechanical condition, free from packs, fenders and for mass start road races must have a brake on both wheels. The handlebar ends must be solidly plugged. Aero bars or other attachments that extend forward or upward or that provide support for other than the rider’s hands are only permitted in time trials. Riders are responsible to insure that their bike is in good condition, adequate and safe for use in competition.
There are different types of road races: Road, stage, criterium, and time trial.
- Road race – is a mass start where all the riders start from the same place and at the same time for a designated distance. The distance of each lap should be at least 5 kilometers.
- Criterium (crit) – is like a road race but on a small course usually closed to traffic. The distance of each lap is between 800 meters and 5 kilometers. The minimum width of the course should be 7 meters.
- Stage race – is run on consecutive days with a variety of races (criterium, time trial and road). Overall results are determined by cumulative time or points. The Tour de France is a stage race. Riders must successfully complete each stage to be eligible for the next stage.
- Time trials – can be individual or team. Courses may be out-and-back, around a circuit, or one way. Starting order is determined and each person or team is given a start time. Racers must report to the start before the designated time to ensure you start on time. If you miss the start time, you usually will not be given a new start; you can either ride, knowing you are at a disadvantage or forfeit. Starters usually will be held to start. If a racer catches another racer, drafting is not permitted.
USA Cycling (USAC) issues annual licenses which are used as an identity document indicating name, license number, gender, state, birth date, racing age (based on December 31 of that year), category, and USAC club and team. You must take this license with you to all races, without it, you may not be permitted to race. One day licenses are available to non-licensed racers to enter races open to men’s category 5 or women’s category 4. To test your ability, find a local training race. It is a good place to get the feel of how races work. You can purchase a one day license for $10.00, which if you choose to continue racing, can be applied to the full cost of a license later.
Categories are ability-based designations given to all USA Cycling racers. All riders are assigned to one of the following categories where smaller numbers represent an increasing rider proficiency and ability. Road and track categories for men are 5, 4,3,2,1 and for women 4,3,2,1.
Classes are age-based designations, such as junior, elite or master. The following terms refer to specific age groups for road racing:
Racing Age Class
Under 10 Youth
19-22 Under 23
23-29 Elite (ie senior)
Most promoters list their races on USAC’s website and at BikeReg. To compete in a USAC race, (excerpts from USAC rule book) riders must complete a race registration and present a valid racing license. A rider may race in a category for which s/he has earned. Category 5 men can only race in category 5 or open races and they cannot race in master’s races. All other categories may race in their designated category or in master races. Masters may compete in any races for their age or younger subject to category restrictions but may not enter Under-23 or junior races.
Youth riders may only enter youth races. Under-23 or Juniors may compete in any race for their age or older subject to category restrictions, but may not race in masters races and are subject to gear restrictions no matter what race class they are racing. Juniors with a racing age of 14 or younger may compete in youth road events if there is no race for their specific age. Women may enter any men’s race for which they are eligible by age, category or any performance requirements. Women may enter categorized races for men that are up to one category lower than their women’s category. Category 3 and 4 women who are 35 or older may compete in Masters races for all riders up to 20 years greater than their racing age.
Race fees can add up. Read the race flyer completely. Some promoters assess a late fee for day of registration or a fee for an unattached rider. Unattached means that you are not affiliated with a club or team. Some races do not have day-of registration. BikeReg will assess fees for registering for a race on their site.
Races vary in their length depending on your category or class. Once you have committed to racing you will be concerned with upgrading to higher categories. To do so, you will need to complete qualifying races. To upgrade from a category 5 to a 4, you must complete 10 mass start races. Qualifying road races for Cat 5 must be a minimum of 15 miles and 10 miles for a crit. Refer to the USA Cycling rule book for more information about qualifying races.
All racers must wear a race number. The number should NOT be folded or mutilated in any way including crumbling. It must be visible to the cycling officials; therefore it must be placed properly, hair cannot cover the number. Check with the promoter which side the number must be placed. A good way to ensure the number is placed in the appropriate place is to stretch your jersey over the steering wheel of your car. With the bottom edge of the number placed at the seam of the jersey and above the pocket, pin the number at each corner and each side.
You must wear an approved helmet and a jersey that covers your shoulders. If you belong to a club/team and that club/team has a jersey you must wear that jersey. Gloves are recommended for mass start races to protect the hands in crashes and when bumped.
No race may be started before the time stated in the official race flyer except when all registered riders are at the start line and consent to an earlier start. It is the rider’s responsibility to report at the appointed time and for junior and youth riders to have their bikes “rolled out” prior to the start of their race. The maximum gear ratio for junior riders is 26 feet or a 53×14. The gear limit is to protect growing bones and muscles.
At the start, the chief referee or designee will give you race instructions and announcements, then will use a gun or whistle to start the race. All competitors will finish on the same lap as the winner of the race. The chief referee or designee may request that lapped riders retire from the race, if you are requested to do so, please do it, even if you don’t want to. A bell will be rung to announce sprint laps or the last lap of the race. The chief judge is responsible for determining finish order. Once results are posted, there is a 15-minute protest period. It is the rider’s responsibility to review the results. If you have a protest, approach the chief judge calmly and intelligently to explain what you believe is the issue. Always be kind to your race officials and listen to them. Remember, no profanity!
Keep your expectations low. Racing is not easy, even if you are fit. The learning curve is steep. Take advice from riders who are more experienced. Doing so can make your first experience more fun. Relax. Warm up. Breathe calmly, don’t pant. Good luck and have fun.
More information to come in Road Racing 102.