A beginner’s guide to prepping for a road race

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This is part three of a series on preparing for races of different disciplines. Previous columns  covered prepping for criteriums and time trials.

Road races. They can be long, short, hilly, flat, hot, cold, wet, dry, windy. But no matter what kind of race, the principles for preparing for a road race are the same.

Road races are very different to your weekend bunch ride. Even if you ride in a fast bunch that likes to race each other, the formal elements of a road race make for a completely different experience. Tactics, closed roads and prize money all come into play to make it a very exciting experience.

If you are new to road racing, it is a good idea to practice some bike handling skills, talk to experienced racers or attend a club run skills session to get some more experience before racing. This will not only give you the added confidence to take the next step to racing, and it will also make you much safer in the bunch.

I’m sure I came last in my very first road race, which was my local club championships. I had no idea what was going on, but at least I was prepared and organised – thanks to my coach. I took in as much advice as I could pre-race, and then I just winged it on the day, making sure to be alert to my surroundings and try and take in as much as I could.  Of course, I had a ball doing it and was immediately addicted!

Like all races, you need to be organised before you take the plunge.

Make a checklist and tick it off. Have you got your shoes, helmet, Garmin, food, sunglasses, trainer, gloves, kit, race licence… It all may seem obvious, but it is the worst feeling when you arrive at a race and realise you have forgotten something important! Make a list and tick it off as your pack your race bag.

Have you got enough food? Everyone is different in what they need to eat in a race, so you want to have enough for your nutritional needs. I wouldn’t be trying anything new on race day, so eat what you know and what you train with!

| Related: Race day nutrition

Do your homework. This involves studying the course, knowing the distance and elevation, knowing where all the important hazards, turns, climbs, sprints and of course, where the finish is. You should also study the entry list – make sure you know who your competition is, who would be a good wheel to follow, etc. Pro tip: Write yourself out a sticker for your top tube with all the important race information – QOMs, Sprints, hazards, important turns etc.

Set up your trainer. Some people like to warm up on the road, some people not at all. I like to spin my legs for 30 minutes on the trainer to get warm. This will mean that your legs are raring to go from the gun and ready to respond if the pace is on from the start.

Fill your bidons. Make sure you have enough water. Is it hot? Do you need to carry an extra one in your pocket or maybe drink some electrolytes? Make sure you are aware of the temperature and cater for this in your preparation.

Zen out. Go into the race relaxed. Take a deep breath and loosen your body. Tension can cause accidents. Know that you have every right to be racing, and you can do this.

Pro tips:

  1. Bring baby wipes for your post race Belgium shower. If it is a hard race, you will be thankful of freshening up before the drive home.
  2. Use Goanna oil to rub your legs down pre race – this is mostly for aesthetics and for warming up the muscles, especially in winter.
  3. Put your race number plate on like a pro, using a fixed race number holder.
  4. Use more than four pins per race number to flatten it out on your jersey (aero is everything remember). Bring a pair of scissors so that you can cut the excess off your cable ties for fixing your timing transponder.
  5. A clean bike is a fast bike, never race with a dirty bike. No excuses!

What just happened?! Until you have gained more experience, you will constantly be wondering what is going on. Why are they attacking? Why are they chasing? Why are they pulling turns? Why are they sitting on?

Relax. You will learn the answers with time and experience. The more you race, the greater you will be at reading the race and learning about race dynamics. One thing about racing, especially when racing as an individual, is that there are a lot going on. In time and with practice and by talking to other riders, you will learn the answers to the questions.

As long as you have done your training, you will be fine. Remember there is a requisite level of fitness required for racing, but as long as you sit in, ride safely with your bunch, you will be fine. My parting note, never give up in a road race. You never know, you may just get yourself back onto the bunch if you are dropped!

| Related: Golden Rules of Road Racing

Is there anything that I have missed? What do you do to prepare for a road race? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below. 


About the author

The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.

She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.

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