We cycle for fun and to keep fit—and it’s extremely rewarding. But sometimes we want to take it to the next level and be competitive.
Whether a seasoned “racer” or a newbie, preparation can be a little daunting. Figuring out what to do and when to do it, can fill you with dread. Trust me, I know what it feels like.
Knowing how to prepare for a cycling race will give you an advantage over your competitors, even before the race itself begins. That’s why I have put together this article. It will tell you how to prepare properly, both fitness and practicality-wise.
Hopefully, you are already putting some miles in every week. But for the race itself, look to start your preparation training two months before the event.
Initially, you need to look at building up your endurance. This means that you should be hitting the road four to five times a week, for at least a couple of hours per session. Try to ride for at least a similar time as the race duration, at a constant base speed.
In summer this is easy, but if it is winter, it can be a little tougher.
Sometimes, inclement weather can prevent you from getting on the road. If that’s the case, I always suggest using an indoor machine, to ensure that you do not miss out on vital training.
Include Short Sharp Bursts
After one week of base speed training, start to include high tempo bursts in the middle of your daily sessions. Begin with a 10-minute spurt. This should be enough to raise breathing levels, but not lead to exhaustion.
Every week, increase the length of the bursts by five minutes. By the end of the two months, you should be able to achieve around 35 minutes of high tempo spurts.
It may be tempting to ride every day, but this can be counterproductive.
If the muscles are not allowed to repair and recover, future sessions will provide little benefit, and can lead to injury and pain.
Aim to rest for at least two days per week. Studies have shown that rest days are essential for a training program. If you really do need to get back on the bike, have one day of leisurely “fun” cycling.
Try Riding With Others
If you have never raced before, cycling alongside other riders can be a little overwhelming. This is why I always recommend experiencing it before the race itself.
If you are already part of a cycling club, you will be familiar with it. If not, consider joining one.
It could be that there are no clubs in your immediate vicinity. If that’s the case, encourage family and friends to join you on the road, so you can experience the feeling.
Always check your equipment before the race itself. Not only will this ensure a safe race, but will also avoid embarrassment on race morning. I would suggest this is done two to three days before the race—allowing time to resolve any issues.
Checking the Cycle
- Ensure the brake pads are not worn and are properly adjusted to push on the rims.
- Examine the tires for wear or cuts. Any cut larger than one-eighth of an inch means a new tire.
- Spin the wheels to see if they are running “true”. If there is visible lateral movement, they need adjusting.
- Check that the handlebars, seat and brakes are all tightened.
Here is a great video which explains the best way to check your bike before the important race day.
Collate Emergency Equipment
It’s not just a case of having backup equipment with you in the race. Ensure that you know how to use it before race day.
At the very least, you should have:
- Tire levers.
- Inner tubes.
- Multi-tool, including hex wrenches.
- Inflator with CO2 canisters.
- Torch (if riding at night).
Prepare Your Food and Water
Depending on the style and support included in the race, you may have to carry your own sustenance.
Either way, you should prepare your food and water prior to the race—either to be distributed to you or packed onto your bike or body.
Look to include such items as:
- Energy bars or gels.
- Dried fruit.
- Sports drinks.
Many cycling jerseys and shorts contain compartments to hold small bars or gels. If you don’t have these, a fanny pack can be a useful option.
The Night Before
Try to relax. Naturally, your thoughts will be on the race, but do not overthink it. Here are my top tips for the night before.
- Check the time of the race, especially when and where to register—after all the hard work you don’t want to miss out.
- If you need an ID or a racing license, make sure it is packed.
- Double check your repair kit, spares and tools.
- Ensure your food and water is prepared and packed.
- Have a good carbohydrate-based dinner—known for being an important energy source for exercise.
- Give the cycle a simple visual inspection—unless there is a major issue, do not tamper with it.
- Check what the weather is going to be like—pack appropriate clothing.
- Get an early night and avoid alcohol.
Following the above steps will mean that you are perfectly prepared for every eventuality. This applies to fitness, equipment, sustenance and being ready for the unexpected.
As a brief overview, here’s a quick checklist to remind you of your key preparation objectives.
- Start serious training at least two months prior to the start of the race.
- Include base speed training, which incorporates tempo bursts.
- Always take a day or two off during the week.
- Ride with others for the road race “experience”.
- Check cycle, emergency equipment, food and water.
- Get a good night’s sleep before the race, and double-check everything is packed.
I hope that you have enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Or, at the very least, let me know how you performed in the race.