A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 7

Circuit Racing

Following on from my guides to racing that I first wrote back in 2013, I thought it would be useful to develop these a bit further.  This guide is on circuit racing and what to expect, as it is this type of race that you will tend to do as a novice first, before venturing out on to the open road in road races.

Licences

These races tend (on the whole) to be run under British Cycling regulations.  This means that you will have to have a racing licence to participate in the event, but you don’t need to have a licence in advance to race for circuit races (unless it is a National Series event, in which case you won’t be able to ride as a novice).  However, you will be required to purchase a day licence for the event, so that you are covered by the requisite insurance. A day licence costs around £10 and will be in addition to your entry fee.  You can find out more about the racing licence position here.

What is involved?

A circuit race can also be called a criterium.  They are held usually on a circuit of 1 mile or less, with the newer circuits averaging around 1km in length.  More often than not, the race distance will be described in terms of minutes rather than laps, with many races being a certain amount of time plus a number of laps.  Generally, the commissaires will know how long a lap takes and will tell you in advance that they expect the race to be however many laps but they will put the lap board up with a certain number of laps to go (usually 10, although this depends on the length of the circuit).

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Who can enter?

This tends to depend on the organiser.  There are many events which are labelled as E/1/2/3/4 and will therefore be band 4 races (this doesn’t mean that Laura Trott or Dani King is going to turn up – they could, but it doesn’t happen very often), however if categories are dropped and the race only caters for lower categories (e.g. 2/3/4 or 3/4) the race will become a band 5, meaning that there are less licence points available for the top 10 finishers.  There has also been a tendency in the past to hold women’s races alongside a fourth category men’s race.  This can be a bit scary, for many reasons, so if you are looking at doing your first event, check to see whether it is a standalone women’s event or whether the women’s event will be on the track at the same time as the fourth category men’s event, as even though they are listed as separate events on the British Cycling events listing, they may have the same or similar start times, which will mean that you are racing at the same time as the men.

Warming up

The nature of circuit races mean that they tend to start extremely quickly, and you therefore need to make sure that you warm up properly before the event.  Most riders nowadays tend to take their rollers or turbo trainer to the race so that they can do some efforts before the race – the key to the warm up is that you need to get your heart rate up to where it will probably be in the race when you warm up, so you will usually need around 20 to 30 mins warm up, although this depends on the rider.  You should be looking to finish your warm up around 10 minutes before you are due to start to give you time to get the final pieces ready, so make sure you have put your number on in advance of warming up.  It also helps to warm up in a separate T-shirt to that which you are going to race in, so make sure you take a couple of T-shirts in your race bag with you.

Before you get on the start line

The riders will all line up on the start line, so if possible try and do a couple of laps of the circuit before the race is due to start.  During these laps, look at the corners, see whether there are any damp patches or pot holes which you may want to avoid, and ride around any particularly tricky sections a couple of times before the race so that there are no hidden horrors which you might encounter.  Check which way the wind is blowing – is it a head wind up the finishing straight or is it a tail wind or a cross wind, as this will give you an idea where riders will be likely to put an attack in (most are less likely to attack in a head wind because it’s too hard on their own).

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The race itself

Remember that the more experienced riders will always go off hard and keep the pace high for a couple of laps.  Keep calm during the first few laps, even though your head might be trying to tell you other things, as the pace always eases off after the first 5 to 10 minutes.  Many riders will try and attack in these early laps as they test each other out, but most of these attacks won’t stay away as they’re more like feints – it’s like a game of poker as the more experienced riders see who’s up for a race and who isn’t.

Corners are either your friend or your enemy

Most riders don’t like cornering and will brake excessively.  Most crashes tend to happen coming out of corners in circuit races, so give yourself room but don’t ease off too much.  Make sure you change into an easier gear going into the corner as it’s easier to change pace on a lower gear and therefore easier to sprint out of the bend.  Don’t make the mistake of staying in the same gear as it will just tire you out.  Hold your line around a corner and don’t “divebomb” other riders (cut up the rider behind you).  Become a rider who loves corners and you will do well.

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You will get dropped

Every rider will get left behind by the first few riders (the term is to “get dropped”) in their first few races.  No matter what you think as you prepare for your first race, 99% of riders struggle with the fluctuating pace and it is only a matter of time before the elastic eventually snaps and you get dropped.  But don’t worry, it is all part of the learning curve, and the next time you come back you will have a better idea of what happens and what to expect.

Don’t give up

Bike racing can be an extremely demoralising experience but don’t worry, everybody goes through that learning curve.  Make sure you set yourself targets (finish the race, finish in the bunch, finish in the top 10) and you will find that it can be an exciting experience!

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

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