A Complete Guide To Preparing For a Cycling Race

A Complete Guide To Preparing For a Cycling Race

How do you make sure you are preparing for a cycling race and will be performing to your best ability on the big day?

Cycling can improve your cardiovascular and mental health. It can also increase your life expectancy, your flexibility, and your posture. It’s a great tool for weight management and can even improve your brain function when done regularly.

However, despite cycling having so many long terms benefits, many people struggle to make it a habit. If this story sounds familiar to you then you should consider signing yourself up for a cycling race. Knowing you are going to have to complete the race great motivation to get you on the road and training every day.

If you are wondering how you should go about signing up for and training for a cycling race, then you have come to the right place. In this article, you will find a complete guide to nailing your next cycling race.

Different Types Of Cycle Racing

Different Types Of Cycle Racing

The first choice you need to make when starting your cycling journey is what type of racing you want to do. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to one type if multiple disciplines sound interesting to you. However, when you first start training, you may find it easier to focus your efforts.

Road Racing

Fitness level: Any

Perfect for: Beginners, Intermediate, Experts

Distances: Short, Medium, Long, Extreme

Bike: Road Bike

Road cycling is by far the most popular type of cycling. As you only need a Road Bike and a road it can be done anywhere in the world and it can be done in nearly every weather.

Most people have done some road cycling in their lives. We do it when we commute on our bikes or while going for a long ride on a Sunday. Road cycling is simply any type of cycling done on paved roads.

This is the perfect discipline of cycling for anyone, whether you learned to ride a bike yesterday or have been riding every day for 20 years. Road races range from being very short to extreme lengths, so you will not struggle to find a race to suit your personal abilities.

If you want to race regularly then you might want to consider road cycling as there are frequent races held over many distances all over the world.

You don’t need any special conditions to practice your road racing. However, when you are practicing you must be aware of other vehicles on the road.

Cyclocross Racing

Fitness level: high

Perfect for: Intermediate, Experts

Distances: Short

Bike: Mountain or BMX

If the idea of racing on the roads for hours on end sounds too boring for you then you might want to try Cyclo-cross.

Cyclo-cross is what happens when you mix BMXing with an obstacle course – it’s hard work, it’s muddy, but it is also so much fun. When taking part in a Cyclo-cross race you will have to do some off-road racing and then carry your bike through an obstacle course.

Cyclo-cross forces you to train in multiple disciplines and you will find that you are working out parts of your body that you never would have if you were just cycling. You will have to work on your agility, your balance, your cycling, and your strength to complete a Cyclo-cross race.

If you are looking for a form of training that is going to help you improve your fitness level then Cyclo-cross could be the sport for you. If you want to be a Cyclo-cross athlete then you will need to be prepared to get very muddy. However, if you are not very fit yet then you might want to start with another type of racing to build up your endurance and strength before trying Cyclo-cross.

Track Racing

Fitness level: Medium-High

Perfect for: Intermediate, Experts

Distances: Short

Bike: Indoor track bike

Track cycling is a form of indoor cycling that is particularly popular in Europe and Japan.

Track races usually take place inside a velodrome, which is a cycling racing track with steep sides and high walls. The tracks are usually made from wood, although they can be made from sporting foam. These materials help the cyclists build up the speed they need to succeed in the track races.

There are multiple types of track races. You can take part in individual races, pairs races, or team races. Then there a sprint races or endurance races.

Sprint Races:

  • Sprint
  • Team sprint
  • Keirin
  • Track time trial

Endurance Races:

  • Individual pursuit
  • Team pursuit
  • Scratch race
  • Points race
  • Madison
  • Omnium

If you are trying to decide which type of track race to take part in, you should look up clips of the races from the World Championships or the Olympics – see which type of race gets you the most excited.

We recommend track racing to experienced cyclists, as the races require a lot of technical skill to complete, the track bikes can be quite difficult to ride, and the races take place at very high speeds.

Mountain Bike Racing

Fitness level: Medium-High 

Perfect for: Beginners, Intermediate, Experts

Distances: Short, Medium

Bike: Off-road, mountain bike

Mountain biking is a broad term that covers the majority of off-road cycling. It does not have to be limited to cycling up and down hills, however, the off-road spaces that are available tend to be quite hilly.

If you are an adrenaline seeker and the idea of cycling on the road just sounds too dull for you, then get yourself a mountain bike. Off-road cycling gives you a chance to experience and enjoy nature in a new way. Beware – you will get covered in mud, even at the height of summer.

Off-road biking is a great option for cyclists of all skill levels – you can change the difficulty of the ride by choosing the right course for you. When you first start mountain biking you may want to go to a group (non-competitive) event where you can learn the basics without putting yourself at risk.

In mountain biking races, everyone runs the same course. All the competitors are then ranked by time. This can be a lonely type of racing – however, if you are looking for a bit of peace and quiet, it could be perfect for you.

BMX Racing

Fitness level: Any 

Perfect for: Beginners, Intermediate, Experts

Distances: Short

Bike: BMX bike

The typical BMX race is a sprint race across an obstacle course with 2-40 other competitors. These races can seem chaotic to the casual watcher but BMX racing is an incredibly tactical sport. If you want to test your brain as well as your body then you should look into BMX racing.

This is a great type of cycling for people of any skill level. BMX requires speed, stability, and strength. You can train by practicing on the road as well as on a BMX track. Having good endurance will benefit you greatly in a tight race.

BMX racing is definitely best suited to the adrenaline junkies amongst us. You will have to be prepared for a little pushing and shoving, as well as mud, high jumps, and maybe even a few tricks.

Find A Race That’s Right For You

Find A Race That’s Right For You

Once you have decided on the type of race that you want to take part in -it’s now time to pick and sign up for a specific race. Signing up for the race gives you a concrete date that you can build your training routine around and use to keep up your motivation.

Research Local Upcoming Races

When picking out a race you want to think about a few things:

  • How fit are you right now?
  • How much training would you have to do to get fit enough to take part in this race?
  • Do you have the right equipment?
  • How long will it take you to get hold of the right equipment?
  • What time of year is best suited for your cycling discipline?
  • Do you have enough time in your schedule to train for an upcoming race?

Answering those questions will give you a good idea of when you should be looking to take part in a race.

If you are relatively fit and have a lot of time to train then you could take part in a race that is happening soon. However, if you need to do quite a bit of training then you might want to look at races that are happening in 6-9 months.

Investigate The Event Details

When you have found the right time period for your event to happen, it is time to start narrowing down the events.

You want to make sure that the race you choose is happening somewhere where you can easily travel to and it is happening somewhere that you can afford to travel to. You may have to book a hotel nearby to stay overnight.

You will want to make sure that it is happening in the right season for your cycling discipline (i.e. you will want to avoid road races in the really icy months). Disciplines like track cycling can take place all year round because they happen inside.

You will want to discover how many people are going to be taking part in the event, as well as, what time the race starts. Some races might have staggered start times for different skill groups or because the race is so big.

Check Your Ability – Is This Race Right For Me?

Now you will want to make sure that the race is right for you. Just because a race is happening at the right time, doesn’t mean you have to take part in it. Particularly for your first race, you should be very selective about what you sign yourself up for.

You do not want to sign yourself up for an ultra-endurance race if you have never done a road race before. You wouldn’t run a marathon without running a 5K first. Pushing yourself too far for your first race could lead to injury.

You also want to make sure that you have signed yourself up for an amateur race (or a race at your own skill level if you are not an amateur anymore). This is extra important if you want to do a mountain bike race, as you want to make sure that the course is not too advanced for you.

A race will work for you if:

  • It is happening at the right time of year
  • It is designed for people at your skill level
  • It is the right length for you
  • You can get to the race without traveling for too long or spending too much money

Register Into The Race!

We have now reached the final stage of this section, all you have left to do is to sign up for the race.

Depending on the type of race you may be able to do this a few weeks beforehand or over a year in advance. Some races are so popular that they do sell out the day the booking opens – so be aware of this.

You will have to fill out a set of forms and possibly sign a health and safety waiver. You will also have to pay the race fee.

Don’t forget to pick up your racing license (see next section) to get access to exclusive races and discounts on race fees. If you plan to race in multiple countries you may have to pick up multiple licenses.

Preparing For A Cycling Race: Get The Gear

Get The Gear

Once you have signed yourself up for a race you will need to make sure that you have all the equipment you need.

You can start training without having all of the equipment, but the longer you can train with it, the better chance you will have on race day.

Purchase A Racing Licence

Many people are confused by racing licenses. You can race without one, however, you will get access to better races if you purchase one. Racing licenses are more similar to a membership program than they are to an actual license.

If you are looking to take part in multiple races throughout the year then you should invest in one of these. 

Bike

As you have picked the type of race that you want to take part in, you will have a good idea about the kind of bike you will need to get to compete in the race.

Most races have specific requirements about the type of bike you are allowed to use in the race. These can include the type of bike, the weight of the bike, and the size of the wheels.

You do not have to practice on your race bike, but the more familiar you can get with that bike the better.

Helmet

Helmets are life-saving in the sport of cycling – no matter how good you are, you need to wear a helmet, as you are not always in control of what the people and vehicles around you are doing.

You may want to invest in a more streamlined racing helmet for road, mountain, and BMX racing. Track racing requires a completely different type of helmet.

Race Attire – (for outdoor races)

There are 6 items that anyone taking part in an outdoor race will need on the day of the event.

Jersey

Cycling jerseys are designed specifically for outdoor races. They are designed to keep your muscles warm but to stop you from overheating.

Some races may provide you with a jersey, while others will ask you to bring your own. 

Shorts/bibs with chamois

Cycling shorts or bibs (bibs have shoulder straps that prevent the waist band from sinking) come with extra padding on the bottom – this helps to prevent saddle sores.

Warmers

Warmers can refer to extra and detachable sleeves or trouser legs that cyclists wear during bad weather.

Warms are used to help prevent cramps. 

Jacket or rain jacket

If you are cycling in the cold or the wet then keeping your muscles warm will be your top priority – a good coat will go a long way in helping you stave off cramps.

Socks

Cycling socks should be made of cotton (to help prevent athlete’s foot) and come up to the mid-shin.

Gloves and hat

On particularly cold days you may find yourself wanting to wear a hat under your helmet. The hat will help you keep your head try and your ears warm.

You may also want to invest in a pair of cycling gloves.

Body Armour  – (for mountain biking and BMX events)

 Most BMX and mountain bike races will require you to wear some kind of body armor to prevent you from getting seriously injured. The equipment requirement list for the race will let you know exactly what you need to wear.

Shoes

The type of race you are taking part in will also affect the type of shoes that you need to purchase.

There are some types of races (endurance and sprint races) that require you to have shoes that clip into the pedals. These shoes make it easier to ride the bike for longer periods of time and to pedal harder.

When you are taking part in BMX and mountain biking races you do not want clip-on shoes – as they could cause injuries if you fall off your bike.

Eye Protection

Eye protection is essential for all types of cycling races. Many indoor cycling helmets will come with built-in eye protection. While other helmets will require you to wear goggles or sunglasses while you ride.

You want your eye protection to be able to protect you from projectiles that have been knocked into the air by the bikes or vehicles in front of you. You also will want to make sure that you are protected from debris if there is a crash.

Food and Drinks

For short and indoor races you will not want to carry any food or water with you. This is because you will want to keep as light as possible and you will not be riding for long enough to justify needing food or water. Any extra weight can slow you down.

However, if you are taking part in an endurance race then you are going to want to make sure that you are traveling with water, food, and some kind of energy gel. These will help you to keep your hydration and energy levels stable throughout the race, no matter how long it is.

Tool Kit

You will need a set of tools so that you can repair your bike during training and so that you can tune up your bike before the start of the race.

When preparing for a race you should learn how your bike works and how to prepare it. As well as how to get the best performance out of it.

Preparing For A Cycling Race: Create A Training Plan

Create A Training Plan

You start preparing for a cycling race by sitting down and thinking about what your goals for the race are. Do you want to finish in a certain position or in a certain time? Or is just finishing your first race at all enough of an achievement for you?

Keep these goals in your mind as you put your training plan together.

Create A Fitness Plan

Your goal for the race day will inform how hard you train – a fitness plan for someone just looking to finish and someone looking to finish in the top 5 will look very different.

Include interval training, weight training, pace training, try different terrains, try cycling in different weather conditions

A successful training program is one that keeps you interested and inspired from the day you start to the day of the race. To do this, you will have to make it as varied as your time schedule will allow.

You will want to include weight training to build up your strength, interval training to improve your endurance, and pace training to help you work out your race-day speed.

We also recommend that you try and practice in all weather conditions. You don’t want your first rainy day ride to be the day of the race.

Keep track of your workout intensity and increase each week

Progressive Overload is generally considered to be the best way to build strength, stamina, and to see the kind of fitness results you are looking for.

Progressive Overload involves testing where your limits are at the very start of your training and then slowly working to improve them. You may cycle for one mile a day on your first week and move on to 1.25 miles a day in your second week – with the aim of eventually working up to 5 miles a day.

Keep track of your progress, this will help you stay motivated and it will be useful information when you put together your training plan for your next race.

Categorize your training (rest days, HIIT days, etc.)

Experts recommend that we do not do the same exercises every day of the week. You will not see results if you do this.

Instead, they recommend you have 3 HIIT (high intensity interval training) days, 2 LIS (low intensity and sustained) days, and 2 rest days per week.

On your HIIT days, you will be working on your strength and power. On your LIS days, you will be working on your endurance. And your rest days will allow you to recover and build muscle.

Create A Nutrition Plan

How and what you eat is just as important as how you train. You will not be able to get the most out of your training sessions if you do not properly fuel your body.

You need to make sure that your diet is high in protein and low in fat. If you are exercising a lot then you can up your sugar intake.

Stay hydrated

Not having enough water can make you very unwell when you are not training for a race. When you are regularly training, the side effects of dehydration can be more potent – these include headaches and being more likely to pull a muscle.

On the days that you are training, you should try to drink at least 2L of water, but if you are thirsty then you should drink more.

No additional calories are to be consumed if your workout is less than 60 minutes if you are trying to lose weight

There is a rumor that you need to eat extra calories if you are exercising, this may be true in certain situations. However, if you are trying to lose weight then you should only consume extra calories if your workout goes on for more than 60 minutes.

By this, we mean 60 minutes of total exercise, not 30 minutes of exercise, and 30 minutes of waiting to use the next machine.

Stick to a daily calorie count

As you start exercising more, you will probably notice that you are starting to get hungry more often. You will want to eat more, but you should make sure that you are eating the right food.

Low-calorie foods will allow you to eat in larger quantities ( i.e. brown rice, leafy greens, and lentils.) without pushing you over your daily calorie count.

Pack hydrating drinks (water or ETA filled drinks) and small, protein-filled snacks

When you are out on the road, at the track, or are training at the velodrome you are going to want to make sure that you have brought the right fuel with you.

Make sure that you always have water on hand when training, as well as protein-dense snacks, and some energy drinks or gels.

Focus On Your Goals

Finally, one of the most important things about preparing for a cycling race and to make sure you have a great race day is to stay focused on your goals.

You do not want to have 2 good weeks of training, then take 6 months off before starting to train again 2 weeks before the race. You could do much more if you trained for the whole 7 months.

Always stay motivated

Here are some tips on how to stay motivated while preparing for a cycling race and throughout your training process:

  • Visualize yourself being successful
  • Mix up your training routine
  • Plan your workouts in advance every week
  • Find an accountability partner
  • Set yourself mini-goals that will come together to support your overall goal
  • Reward yourself when you achieve one of these goals
  • Write out your goals every day
  • Do one thing every day that will move you forward

Keep the race in your mind

When you are putting together your training plan it is important to keep the race and your goals for your performance in the race at the front of your mind.

When you put together each individual workout, think about how it will make the race day easier for you. When you are planning your meals, think about the race. It is easy to make good choices when you understand why you are making them.

Keep a balanced life

While it can be tempting to give your training 100%, you must remember that if you want to keep to your routine in the long run then you will need to go easy on yourself and try and live a balanced but healthy lifestyle.

If you want to go out drinking with your friend once in a blue moon or eat a hamburger at a meal out then you shouldn’t stop yourself. You can enjoy everything you want in moderation.

Summary

Cycling Racer

Developing a cycling habit is amazing for both your physical and mental health – and if you need a little more motivation to build that habit, why not sign yourself up for a cycling race.

You can choose the type and length of the race that best meets your currently cycling level – or you can challenge yourself to something new.

The key to a successful race is properly preparing for a cycling race.  You need to make sure that you are riding with the right gear, that you have put in enough hours of training, and that you have fueled your body correctly. With the guide above you will be able to take on any cycling race with ease.

Last Updated on December 19, 2021 by Matthew Carpenter

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