Not before time British Cycling is to look at the category system for road racing. After an unprecedented spate of crashes among fourth-cat riders the BC membership voted for an investigation at last weekend’s AGM.

Current thinking is that riders can move up too quickly from the lowest ranking, with just one win enough to make it to third category. Racers are certainly fit enough but don’t necessarily have the skill set to match. Conversely, being trapped on the bottom rung with no obvious way up isn’t too appealing. The plan is to get more people racing, not put them off.

So what’s to be done? BC needs to train its membership. It used to be done by cycling clubs, but now many riders skip to a couple of sportives at best before taking out a race licence.

Training races have to be the solution. Many riding skills are intuitive but obviously not all, judging by the number of spills this season. It’s a mistake to take things for granted and we forget that we were all once novices.

It takes practice to take a corner at speed, to bump shoulders and stay upright. Unless we show the next generation of riders how it’s done, how else are they going to learn?

Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly magazine

  • Harold Bridge

    We used learn to ride on club runs. Now athletes on wheels start racing with little experience.
    Perhaps a move to team time trials would foster better group riding practices?

  • Alan Schietzsch

    The situation is no different overseas. Here in Canada, we have identified clubs as the key too. The model is that clubs, just as riders, must jump to the next level. The way to do this is a club hires a coach (part-time, or shared amongst several clubs) to teach. This gives new riders a reason to join: the club offers something to them. People are happy to pay if they see value, so that way the coach gets paid and the club makes a small profit. The riders improve, the club quality improves, it’s the way to go.

  • Sam

    Perhaps if BC stopped giving out new licenses to individuals who are non club members it would encourage them to join the local club rather than just tip up and race. This should stop the cross over from Sportive riders and Tri straight into bunch racing.

  • anthony bowles

    I would urge british cycling to encourage new licence holders to join a club appropriate to the competition intended. The advice offered within the clubs is extremely wide and knowlegable giving confidence to the aspiring competitor. As a track league member of a good few years at Manchester, the riders we fear most are those straight from ‘accreditation’ to racing. The track league is a whole different ball game to ‘clinical’ well drilled line riding.

  • Martin

    The best place to learn racing is cyclo-cross, you frequently bump shoulders, touch wheels and learn how to ride your bike through off cambers, banks, and learn how to correct a front-wheel slipping away. You begin the race bunched in an almighty sprint which is when you experience racing at proximity at its most frantic.

    There are crashes in ‘cross and most riders will take a tumble a number of times through the season, but the overall speed is lower and the landing much less painful than on tarmac.

  • Howard

    Its not just 4th Cat races that are the issue, there are issues in 3rd Cat races and 2nd Cat races. I even had a frame snapped in a crash this year in a 2/3 road event due to basic stupidity within the pack.

  • Nick Wood

    The Manchester Velodrome runs SQT (structured quality training) which are an excellent way of gaining experience of the track.
    I’m not sure how it could work but a series of organised training races, similar to the series of club road races that are run, seems to have some merit.
    My own view is that such a scheme could attract many people who are a bit daunted at the prospect of their first road race and as a result never actually do it.
    It may attract more people to the sport.

  • Tom

    I agree that it’s too easy to move up to 3rd cat, I’ve seen first hand how bad some of the 4th cats are (having moved up myself this year). Riding with a club is good advice, but club runs won’t teach you the handling skills and discipline needed for racing, that comes with racing experience. “Go ride” racing gives you the opportunity to race in a novice environment and is available at a number of tracks, including Hog Hill and Milton Keynes, to name just two.

    The issue not raised by this article is that expanding the time you spend as a 4th cat will not reduce the number of crashs occuring in 4th cat races, which at places like Hillingdon is still an issue. Most crashes happen in the final sprint, and the answer is to put a hill in at Hillingdon, sap the legs and kill the competitive urge of the less fit / experienced who are most likely to be the ones crashing.

  • Mick Condon

    I have just finished reading that article on Novice racing. And i totally agree, although if i was in my first race i would actually listen to a rider that has been a 4th Cat for a couple of years. Because even though they might not have the legs they will have have far more experience than myself.

  • Dave Binks

    The problem, as has already been spotted, is that riders won’t join their local club AND GO OUT WITH THEM. It’s on the clubrun, riding beside experienced riders who have “been there and done it” that they will learn far more than they ever can by just reading the cycling press.
    How and when to change to gear and not change gear, how to get out of the saddle safely without causing the guy behind to crash, how to corner, how to descend fast but safely, how to eat and what to eat, when to eat and not to eat and drink, bike maintenance, clothing, how to enter races, and do well in them, how to train, etc, etc.


  • Alex Murray

    I’ve blogged about this at length: with proposed solutions and my view on why some of the views on why it’s happening are wrong.

  • Craig Brophy

    Training races sound like a good idea, but I think more emphasis needs to be placed on training through the clubs. Unfortiunately this is not the case. I used to ride with Reading Cycling Club and to be honest most of the races on their schedule were all time trials. Maybe one or two road races. Then there were weekend club rides. Now, the only options offered were fast or brisk. Very few rides were offered for beginners, etc. So forget those that are trying to get into it! This ultimately left you high and dry and having to do solo rides just to get the fitness in.

    However, some of the best training I had when I was younger (ie. early ’90s) was on the velodrome. Here there was no worry of cars and bunch riding became very exciting. You got taught how to stay up, how to bump shoulders. Basically, how to ride a bike. Invaluable lessons that were easily transferred onto the road.

    If clubs could offer training rides, where the more experienced riders could show others how it’s done, then this could help reduce the number of crashes and incidents. British Cycling should incentivise the clubs to do this. It may even help BC increase their membership numbers?

  • mick condon

    its certainly something i would welcome. As at the moment getting a licence and jumping into my first race is a bit daunting.