If you’re a road racing rookie, your first start line can be a heart pounding experience. Rubbing shoulders with fifty riding buddies can be nerve-wracking for new racers who are more accustomed to riding alone or in small groups and takes some getting used to. However, like anything on the bike, the more experience you gain, the more relaxed you become and therefore, safer and more fun.
Prepping for road races begins months in advance, if you’re serious about being in shape, but I’ll skip to the preparation process beginning a few days prior to the event.
Make sure your bike is in race shape
First, make sure your bike is safe and functional. Even if your road racing machine seems like it is working OK for training rides, make sure it is dialed for races. The fast pace of races puts more stress on bike parts so it’s better to get a tune-up to ensure that essentials such as shifting and brakes are all in top shape. You don’t want to be in the middle of a race and find out that your chain is worn out and hinders your shifting. Brakes are similarly important – especially in road racing where you’re rubbing shoulders with that aforementioned bunch of riding buddies. You don’t want to be the sketchy rider with worn out brake pads. It’s dangerous for you and everyone around you.
It might sound obvious, but make sure your wheels are on tight when you roll up to the start line. I’ve heard enough horror stories from racers who have rushed to start lines with carelessly closed quick-releases – losing your front wheel in a race, or any ride for that matter, is usually catastrophic.
Check your tire pressure and make sure it’s around 100 psi, although it can vary depending on personal preference. Larger riders may prefer higher tire pressure while smaller people can run lower. And check those tires for wear or cuts – flats are more likely to occur during a race on old, worn-out tires.
In general, your bike should always be well-maintained so you don’t have to stress about these things right before a race. It’s always a better idea to have a professional look it over if you’re not comfortable working on your own bike – our Jans mechanics are always happy to keep you safely rolling on the road. Check out our services on the Jans’ bike tuning section of this website.
Pre-, during, and post-race fueling
While you’re dialing in your bike, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too. Hydrate well in the days leading up to the race. As far as nutrition goes, don’t try anything new. Stay with what you’re used to. Save nutrition experiments for big weekend rides where you can try to duplicate race conditions without risking a race result.
During the race, try to ingest 200-300 calories an hour. I prefer to stick with gels and chews because they are easier to digest and drink straight water or water with an electrolyte tab. For a three hour race, this comes out to at least six gels.
If your event is a stage race, make sure you eat something 15-30 minutes after your race in order to recover properly for the next day’s event. A recovery drink is ideal but anything will work; the most important factor being that you ingest at least a couple hundred calories right after you finish. Eat plenty of carbs and protein for dinner – stage racing is not the time to worry about dropping weight.
Relaxing on the start line
When you’re on the start line itself, remember to relax. If you know other riders in the race, pick someone’s wheel to follow whom you trust. If you know someone is particularly sketchy, don’t start near them! Most rollouts are neutral so no need to go all out from the start; you won’t make any friends that way. Riding behind a reliable bike-handler can make the whole race more fun and less intimidating. Look over their shoulder to see the road ahead as opposed to looking down at their rear wheel.
Most importantly, have fun! You’re riding with a group of buddies who share your love of bikes, so keep it chill, work together with your teammates, and go hard.