So You Want to Be a Bike Racer
Breaking into bike racing can seem like a formidable task. Unlike foot races, which really only require a pair of sneakers and an entry fee, newbie bike racers are forced to navigate the often murky world of buying a bike, obtaining a race license, and conquering any fears they may have about riding in close quarters. Fortunately, as more and more women decide to take their love of riding to the next level, the number of resources available to them is also increasing.
The Century Road Club Association (CRCA), a Manhattan-based bike-racing club, is one organization helping to groom the next generation. This past Saturday nearly 40 women pedaled into Central Park to take part in the club's Women’s Racing Clinic. Held annually, the event is designed to be a non-intimidating environment where wannabe roadies can learn more about competitive cycling. In fact, it's the place where Olympic hopeful Evelyn Stevens got her start four years ago.
First lesson? Get used to waking up early.
The day kicked off with a pre-race talk at 5:30 AM where CRCA coach Tara Parsons shared some safety rules and tactical advice (read her tips below). The women then lined up their bikes and set off on a three-lap, 18-mile simulated race around Central Park. Parsons, along with experienced riders from Radical Media and Rockstar Games women’s racing teams—both of which helped organize the event—rode alongside the racers to provide instruction, assistance, and encouragement.
Here’s what the race looked like from the inside.
After a neutral rollout up and over Harlem Hill, Connecticut-native Jacqui Parker pushed the pace, making a couple of thwarted attacks before she finally got away on the last lap and soloed in clear ahead of the field for the win.
Afterward, the women collected their prizes and goodie bags and met with Parsons once again for a Q&A session. A post-race report from one of the first-time racers summed up the spirit of the day:
“Wow what a wonderful sensation it was to be able to reach within and pull out strength that translates to my wheels as I propel forward in relation to the rider next to me. The pain escalated towards the finish line but slowly got replaced with a great sense of accomplishment! Seventeen and a half miles at an average speed of 20 mph, and I still got to experience it all! Feeling the rush of racing, knowing how to strategize during a race, and getting to see that this is not crazy after all.”
”Bike racing is not only a measure of strength and fitness, but is also a measure of tactics and strategy,” says Parsons. “This is what can really make racing fun and set it apart from other endurance sports such as running and age-group triathlons.” Here, a list of things to keep in mind as a beginner bike racer.
- Do not overlap wheels.
- Hold your line.
- No sudden braking—feather your brakes or stop pedaling briefly to modulate your speed.
- No sudden lateral moves—look before you move left or right.
- Keep your eyes up, scanning the group and the road ahead. Don't focus just on the wheel in front of you.
- Look where you want to go—especially while descending and cornering. Your bike will follow your eyes.
- Relax your shoulders, arms, and fingers. This will help keep your front wheel steady.
- HAVE FUN!
- Be active rather than passive in the race. The experience will be more enjoyable and you’ll improve your fitness, skills, and ability more quickly.
- Bike racing is about crossing the line first. You can try to do that against the entire field, or you can try to go off the front (attack) and do that from a smaller group (a break).
- If you are not in the front group, form a race within a race. Create a group with other racers near you to work together to chase. If you reach the finish line without catching the front group, sprint! You can race within the group you are in. Don't give up!
- Know that when you are suffering that others are suffering too. Try to push through it as usually the pace will ease up a bit and there will be time to recover.
- At the finish line, no matter what group you are in, get out of your saddle and sprint! Remember to not make any sudden lateral moves, but when you see the opening to make a sudden forward move SPRINT (out-of-saddle, hands in drops!). Go all the way until you pass the line, even if you think you have it (you don't want to get passed right on the line).
Bitten by the bike-racing bug? Visit usacycling.com to find a club near you. Many, like the CRCA, offer free coaching sessions for their members. Keep in mind: “On-the-bike coaching is more important for a new racer than coaching that just offers a training plan,” says Parsons. Once you’re ready, you can sign up for races at bikereg.com. See you on the road!
Special thanks to Marco Quezada and our friends at Sixcycle-RK&O for the great pictures.
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