A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 6
Finally, we have come to the last in our series of racing guides, and you’ve woken up, opened the curtains and race day has dawned. I could go on for hours about this topic, but I will refrain from boring you all too much. Instead, I will endeavour to explain some of the jargon that you will come across, with the help of a British Cycling Commissaire. I will also try to guide you through what to expect at the race headquarters (“HQ”) and I have also enlisted the help of a couple of top female riders to give you their tips on what to do when you get to the event. So, without further ado…
When you arrive at the HQ, the first thing you have to do is “sign on” – this is regardless of whether you have entered a road race, time trial or any other event – and (in the case of British Cycling events) it is here that you will have to hand over your racing licence. You then get to pick up your number (make sure it is the same number that your name is allocated on the signing on sheet). If you remember, in one of my previous guides I mentioned about safety pins – this is when you will undoubtedly need them, unless you are going to have a flapping number (which is NOT cool)!
In order to perform to your best ability, you should ensure that you warm up properly. Some people take rollers or a turbo with them to warm up on, others content themselves with a ride around the circuit or a 10 minute spin up the road (don’t go too far though!). Keep warm and drink fluids (but not too much that you’ll end up needing the toilet half way through the race). Some people also put embrocation on their legs to warm them up, which can help especially early season, BUT bear in mind that embrocation tends to stay on your hands unless you wash it off PROPERLY (with soap and water).
Cycling has a lot of jargon and one of the main words that you may come across in your racing careers will be “commissaire”. A commissaire is the race referee and there is usually a chief commissaire and an assistant commissaire on most road events. The chief commissaire will be in the second car behind the bunch at a road race, with the assistant commissaire in the vehicle immediately behind the main bunch (some events also have commissaires on motor bikes, called “Moto Commissaires”). Before the start of the race, the Chief Commissaire will give a rider briefing, which all riders have to attend.
The Start of the Race
In events which are held on a closed circuit, the start will be on the finish line, with everyone setting off once the flag is waved or the Chief Commissaire tells you to go. However, on road races, it is quite normal for the HQ to be away from the actual circuit, which means that you have to ride out as a bunch from the HQ until an appropriate point on the circuit. This section of the race (from the HQ to the circuit) is often “neutralised”. This means that the racing does not start until the race is “de-neutralised”. Cycling uses a number of flags to communicate things to riders, and the neutralised flag (a red and white checked flag) is held out of the assistant commissaire’s car until the race proper. Having said that, it can be difficult to determine at what point the race actually starts if you are in the middle of the bunch, but a rule of thumb is that riders will generally ride close to the commissaire’s car (who usually does around 20 mph in the neutralised section) during the neutralised section but will accelerate quickly away once the race starts.
The “Race Convoy”
That sounds very grand, doesn’t it? But yes, in every road race (as opposed to closed circuit race) there is a race convoy. This includes a lead car, which usually maintains a distance of around 1 minute to the lead riders, to warn the marshals on the circuit that the race is coming.
Next is the Assistant Commissaire. This official is the eyes at the front of the race to ensure the riders are racing to the rules of the road as well as the rules of road racing under British Cycling ( if it’s a BC event). This vehicle will slot in behind any break away that reaches over 1 minute gap. They will also move forwards again if this gap is closed so as not to interfere with a chasing group, so be aware that they may pass you again. A simple ‘toot’ of the horn repeated rhythmically will warn riders that they are coming past. Normally on the right hand side of the riders but may also pass on the left if the riders and road allow.
The third vehicle will be the Chief Commissaire, who is essentially the overall ‘manager’ of the race. This person is in radio contact with all vehicles and is in charge of their movements. They keep the timing of break aways, with the assistant commissaire calling time check points that are landmarks on the route. This is also the person who has the authority to impose penalties for any racing infringement.
The next vehicle will be neutral service, if it is being provided (usually only at bigger events), who will offer a wheel if you puncture – but beware that the neutral service will generally follow the lead riders if the race splits, so if you puncture and you’re at the back of the race, it may be the end of your race.
The final vehicle will be the first aid provision.
There is also the National Escort Group (“NEG”) on some road races, who are the outriders (on motorbikes) that guard side roads and assist in making the roads safe for you to ride and will, if asked, act on the commissaire’s behalf to supply riders with information such as time gaps or even disqualifications.
Top Tips from Top Riders
I have asked a couple of ladies for their top tips for those of you new to racing.
First up is Lydia Boylan, elite category rider for Team CTC, who is the Irish National Track Sprint, 500 metres and scratch race champion:
“My best advice would be to have your race day planned in advance so that you won’t panic before the race has even started. If you know where the HQ is, know when the race starts and what and when to eat, you’ll feel more prepared.”
Second up is Karla Boddy, winner of three stages of the Ras na mBan (stage race for women, held in Ireland every year):
“I started racing 2 years ago this March, I remember turning up for the race and struggled to write my BC number on the sign on form as my hand was shaking so much in fear of what to expect! It’s that unknown part which is, and still can be, quite daunting. I would say my top tips for racing are:
- Always give yourself plenty of time to get ready! If the race is at 1400 then get there for 1300 at the latest. I made the poor mistake of leaving too late for the SE Regional champs last year and almost missed the start! It is not a good way to start your race and leaves you panicked and rushed!
- Always check your tyres for any little flints etc. A lot of punctures are caused by flints already embedded in your tyre already so if you can get them out it lessens the risk of a puncture in a race. In a crit this is not so much of an issue (as you can take a lap out), but in a road race you set yourself up for a harder ride in trying to get back on.
- Be ready to go hard off the line. There will always be someone who goes ballistic off the start (it might even be you!) and it will mean your body needs to be primed and ready for an early intense effort. It is worth having a decent warm up, get out of breath, get warm and be ready to race from the whistle.
- Think about your own food and nutrition; don’t listen to other riders who say ‘you don’t need a bottle for a crit’ or ‘you don’t need a gel the race is too short’….you do exactly as you want until you find what suits you. If you want 2 gels in an hour’s race, you have two gels! Part of starting to race is learning what suits you; not what suits others. There will be a lot of opinions/banter but if you have more confidence in following your own regime with this then do so; confidence is key. No point being on the start line worrying that you haven’t had a gel because someone else has said you didn’t need one. For reference I always have 1 gel in a 1 hr crit and take 1 small bottle….and people still tell me ‘you don’t need a gel!!!!’
- When you have your first race you don’t need to try and be a hero and break in your first race. You may actually benefit from sitting in, watching the wheels, watching for who is strongest etc. Even if you feel stronger than the pace suggests, perhaps hold back and get used to the bunch. I know plenty of people where the excitement of racing has overcome them in the early days, they feel strong, attack, die, blow, out the back. To be fair, this is usually men and us ladies are a tad more sensible! But, it can happen to the less experienced. Just keep it in mind! And if something does pull off then great, but realise if it goes wrong it can back fire!
- Everyone will tell you to keep near the front; it’s safer, there is less surging effect at the front and less chance of getting caught behind someone who leaves gaps you can then not close. However in reality this is not always possible as you yourself may be suffering. If you get dropped then don’t be demoralised. Use it as a time to work with others who may be in your position. And if the bunch lap you, keep out there way, technically you shouldn’t jump back on but I would and just keep at the back out the way!
- Finally, you never stop learning so don’t ever start being complacent about how to race, it requires 110% concentration at all times, ultimately your safety is paramount to yourself and everyone else so keep focused in every race you do. I have been racing for 2 years since March, year one I think I only did about 15 races, and last year I did about 40/50 races. And I still have so much to learn.”
Hopefully you have found my articles of use and hopefully they may have inspired you to have a go at road racing. If you want to try some road races, Cycling Development North West have a women’s road race league, aimed at second, third and fourth category female riders, whose first event is on 1 March 2014. They are aimed at women trying to get in to racing for the first time, and the distances range from 30 to 40 miles. For more information, visit http://www.cdnw.org/road_race_league.html
My thanks also to Ed Rollason, of Ed Rollason Photography (www.edrollasonphotography.co.uk) for the kind donation of photos, Jon Taylor, Lydia Boylan and Karla Boddy. Also my thanks to Huw Williams and Michelle Evans for their contributions on the coaching side of the guides.
Enjoy your season!
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Three – What training should I do?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Five – Are You Ready To Race?
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing