The racing season is fast approaching, which means a tidal wave of new riders looking to tackle their first events is making its way to your nearest criterium circuit.
If you’re one of them, then we’ve got plenty of advice to help you get started. The best nugget of insight we can give, however, is just to get out there and ride – ideally with a local club chaingang, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn from more experienced riders and pick up technique tips as well as gaining fitness.
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Checking out the British Cycling ‘RideSmart’ tips around keeping safe and sensible in a bunch is a good idea, too – but experienced club mates will be able to pass all this on and more.
That’s the golden ‘to do’ – but what not to do?
Feel like you need all the gear
You don’t. Plenty of riders do well on entry level aluminium road bikes and basic wheels. You can upgrade as you go, and at this point the greatest gains can probably be made by following the right wheels during the race.
Tell everyone it’s your first race
People respond to nerves differently – but there are two broad groups: those who go very quiet, and internalise their worries, and those who yammer on like a toddler that’s downed three espressos and a packet of Haribo. If you fall into the second group, resist the urge to tell every single person, individually, that this is your first race.
Relax, don’t put pressure on yourself; just listen to what the commissaire has to say, watch, and learn.
Run out of time to warm up
Arriving around an hour before your race, it can feel like you’ve got forever. But throw in a last minute puncture and a queue for the toilets and suddenly the start time is all too close. Give yourself a proper schedule to ensure at least 20 minutes to warm up.
Crit races can start out pretty fast – so be ready. You could make yourself feel like a pro and warm up on a set of rollers but if the circuit is free it’s worth getting a couple of laps in so you know how to track flows.
Pin your number on to your base layer
Do wear a base layer, because it adds an extra layer of fabric between your kit and your skin. But be sure not to attach your number to do it. Ideally, put the number on before you put your kit on, stretching your jersey over your knees.
Fail to turn the number 13 upside down
If you ride with the number 13 the right way up, the ghost of Fausto Coppi will appear on the bell lap, tackle you to the ground and steal your bike away, whilst a black cat crosses your path and every mirror in the nearest bathroom shatters with immediate effect. You’ll have to drag your cleated feet under a ladder to get back to the HQ, too.
Or so they say.
Forget your glasses
Nothing worse than being surrounded by 30 life-like versions of RoboCop whilst you stand there blinking the sun/rain-and-soon-to-be-grit out of your eyes. Pack cycling glasses.
Miss the pedal
Crit races usually start fast – so the moments after the whistle/bell/gun are crucial. Start with your clipped-in foot at the 3 o’clock position, push off with force and if your other foot doesn’t go in straight away, rest it on the pedal and try again as you ride.
Clipping in quickly will become natural eventually. If that statement turns out to be a lie for you, check out Speedplays.
Slam on the brakes
If you’re following a rider round a corner, and they get round it without braking, there’s no reason you can’t get round it at the same speed. Hopefully. Whatever you do, don’t enter a corner at ‘hare pace’ and try to slow down to ‘tortoise pace’ half way through. Cornering is definitely something worth practising on club runs and chaingangs in advance.
Sit on the front
Extended turns on the front are reserved for 1) riders so strong they could time trial the race distance on their own and still complete the course faster than everyone else put together, or 2) riders who don’t mind being dive-bombed at the end and coming last.
Hang off the back
Unless you enjoy chasing back on after every bend or change in pace, avoid the back of the race. Aim to stay in the top third.
Miss the memo about the last corner
Chances are there’s a corner near the finish line. If it’s coming down to a sprint finish, that corner is crucial. You’ve probably got many, many laps to practice ensuring you come out of it near the front during the race – so give it a go.