Race Tactics – it’s more than just a lead out

The growth of women’s cycling over the last few years has since a big increase in numbers attending events. Whilst this is obviously a positive for our sport, it also means that there are more challenges in races, as many riders (from junior to veteran) have been brought up racing in smaller numbers, where the best sprinter invariably would win. However, times are changing, and with that comes the need to understand race tactics in more depth.  Admittedly, this is quite a large topic, so I will keep it relatively brief in the first instance.  Here goes…

Bunch sprints don’t work for anybody other than those prepared to sprint

So if you’re not prepared to get your elbows out in the sprint finish, or you don’t fancy sprinting, you need to rethink your options. Which could be any one, or a selection of the following:

  • attack off the front, on your own
  • attack off the front, with other riders (not necessarily your own team mates)
  • slim the numbers in the bunch down by making it hard
  • use the circuit to your advantage

All seem relatively straightforward, don’t they? But hardly anybody uses these tools to their advantage.

(c) Chris Maher 2016

Offence is the best form of defence

Not something you probably hear much within cycling circles – it stems more from American Football, but it is also true in road racing – go on the offensive and you are at an advantage straightaway. This doesn’t mean that you swear and curse at your fellow riders (the beauty of the English language); instead it means that you stay near the front and off the front, so that riders come to you.  And guess what? It really is easier, as you don’t have to keep chasing people down, because they come to you. This lesson is especially important when you are riding in a bunch of over 60 – on the continent, races can have up to 200 riders and you can’t ride from the back to the front if 200 riders are stretched out, so you have to be near the front. I always look out for riders who are happy to sit at the back of the bunch, as the chances are that they are biding their time and conserving their energy for the sprint at the end. But if they’re at the back, that means it’s harder to stay on wheels as the less confident riders tend to drift to the back and they run the risk of getting dropped if the pace goes up.

A race is just that, a race

Which means that it shouldn’t be easy. It’s called “competition” so if you are finding that everybody in the bunch is chatting away, chances are you’re going to end up with a mass bunch sprint at the end of the race. If you know your stuff, you will know that once it comes down to a bunch sprint, you are much less likely to be in control of your own destiny and are at the whim of others. So if the bunch is having a chinwag riding along and you need a result, you need to do as much as possible to ensure that the chatting stops, the pace goes up and your competition start to find it a bit harder, because that is how you slim the numbers down and swing the finishing result in your favour.

MuleBar Tour of Northumberland 2016 | Stage One

Know your competition

This is two-fold: you want to know who to avoid (for example, riders you know who struggle with corners, or brake excessively) and you also want to know who probably knows what they’re talking about, who’s up for a race, and who you would want in a breakaway with you. If you’re not sure who that should be, look at the list of riders entered and see who’s good at time trialling, as chances are they will be pretty strong. At the same time, remember that anybody who knows what they’re doing, regardless of what they look like or how old they are, will know which wheel to follow and how to sit in. The rule is, don’t underestimate your competition.

When an attack isn’t an attack

There is a time and a place to attack.  You can also attack more than once in a race, but if you’re going to do so, make sure that your early attacks are feints rather than full on attacks.  The idea with this is that you are seeing who is up for the race and who isn’t on form.  Make sure you attack in different places, but choose the timing.  For example, most attacks happen either just after the brow of a hill or a corner when, in actual fact, the attacks which have the most effect tend to be when people least expect it.

Keeping the pace high

I’ve been in races when a discussion has been had pre-race that we would try to keep the pace high to slim the field down.  The only problem is that you have that discussion with riders and then they don’t necessarily understand that it just means you do through and off at the front of the race at a fairly high speed; instead when it’s their turn to come through they attack. This tactic doesn’t usually work if you’re trying to keep the pace high. And regardless of what you may think, it’s generally a good idea to keep the pace high because the race is then safer and you don’t end up with people riding into the space underneath your armpit and encroaching on your dance space.

Lead out trains only work from the front

If half of your team is sat near the back of the bunch, it’s not going to work is it? You need rider numbers, speed, nerves of steel and lots of confidence to effect a successful lead out, so if you think your team mates are going to be hanging around the back of the bunch, pick another tactic to win your race.

Use the circuit to pick your moment

Watch your competition as they go through the finish line – if the finish is slightly uphill and people are struggling, knock it into your little ring and roll up and see whether you can ride past people as you go through the finish. When it’s not the final lap, nobody will notice that you’re watching other riders. If the finish isn’t your ideal finish, pick somewhere else to make your move – it may be a tight corner that you’re better than others at riding, or there may be a descent when you can press home your advantage – look at areas as you go around and work out what will work best for you.

Tour Of The Reservoir 2016 | Elite Spring Cup & Women's Road Ser

Don’t be a sheep – negative racing is literally the WORST

Don’t follow every single attack that goes up the road, unless there is somebody in it who you want to be in a break with (the potential race winner, perhaps?). Also, don’t just mark people because you don’t want them to win. It makes a race really really boring. If you’ve got the ability to chase somebody down why not continue and do a real attack?

MuleBar Tour of Northumberland 2016 | Stage TwoIf you’re there for the photographs, you really need to be off the front

Why do you think professional riders launch random solo attacks 200km from the finish? Not because they’re mental (necessarily) but because it gives your team/sponsor(s) exposure. So if you’re in a sponsored team, do your sponsors a favour and attempt some attacks, because sponsors want exposure of the positive kind. Thanking you in advance!

Enjoy yourself

Funnily enough, if you want to be there, you will probably surprise yourself. Don’t pressurise yourself into getting a result, just enjoy it for what it is – a bike race.


Check out Heathers previous guides:

Womens Cycling Planning Ahead


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


Cycling Santa’s Christmas Shopping Guide 2015

Cycling Shorts unleashes Santa’s Little Helpers.
Yes the panic is setting in, so much to get organised and so little time, so we’ve all got together to give you a list of gift ideas that won’t disappoint the fussiest cyclist or cycling fan in your life.

We’ve split our choices into four perfect price packages, click on the images to be taken to the retailers website.

Wishing you a Merry Festivemas from all at CyclingShorts.cc!


Secret Santa – under £30


Santa’s Little Helper – under £100



Something Beneath The Tree – under £500


Santa Baby – money is no object!

Press Release – Racing Chance Foundation and Team 22 – 2017 and beyond

The Racing Chance Foundation and Team 22 are very pleased to announce a joint venture that will enhance the opportunities available to Under 23 and Junior Women riders within the UK.

A true pathway for success

From 2017, Team 22 will act as the Under 23 and Junior development squad for The Racing Chance Foundation (“Racing Chance”). This will allow Racing Chance to offer a complete development pathway for riders. This pathway will cover and support progression for riders from novice-focused intro- to-racing days and race skills development sessions for more advanced riders, through to a development squad (Team 22). Then beyond that, there will be the opportunity to race overseas through organised racing trips, as introduced and run by Racing Chance in 2015.


(c) Dan Monaghan Photography

(c) Dan Monaghan Photography

Talent identification and development

Within this partnership structure, Team 22 will continue to operate as a separate team and will be supported as it is now through commercial sponsorship, thus ensuring that there is no drain on existing Racing Chance funds. Riders joining Team 22 will be supported through its existing structure of coaching and financial support, but will also have access to the additional opportunities available from Racing Chance. Both Racing Chance and Team 22 are already putting in place a scouting network that will allow us to identify and offer places to some of the brightest young bike racing talent in the UK, providing opportunities to riders not on an existing development pathway.


(c) Dan Monaghan Photography

(c) Dan Monaghan Photography

What does this mean?

Team 22 owner Colin Batchelor says: “This is an amazing opportunity for everyone involved in this partnership. For us, it’ll be great to be part of a true development pathway and the level of support and opportunity we will be able to offer riders is something everyone involved in Team 22 is very excited about.”

Racing Chance Foundation Chair Heather Bamforth says “By creating an alternative road based pathway, we hope to be able to encourage Youth A riders to continue racing once they leave that age category by easing the transition into road racing with the junior and senior women. This development can only be seen as a positive for all people who are keen to see numbers participating increasing, and the Foundation hopes to offer training opportunities for all young women in the junior and under-23 categories regardless of whether they go on to race for Team 22.”


Team 22 smll-43

(c) Dan Monaghan Photography


About RacingChanceFoundation.com

The Racing Chance Foundation is a charity registered in England and Wales which was set up in April 2014 to provide an alternative pathway for women in competitive cycling.  They focus on road-based events, providing training and racing opportunities from novice through to elite level.

Racing Chance have membership opportunities available, where you can join for £5.  They will have a membership area up and running on their website shortly, but in the meantime, they are affiliated with British Cycling, you can sign up here.  Not only will you be supporting a charity dedicated to women’s cycling, but the Foundation is also affiliated to Cycling Time Trials and the Manchester & District Ladies Cycling Association for those of you who want to have a go at time trialling but are not sure about what it is all about.  So, whether you are already a member of a club or are currently riding on your own, why not sign up today?  Men are welcome as much as women! In return you get exclusive access to their members and coaching area on the website (launching shortly), a discount off all purchases in the Racing Chance Shop for the duration of your membership (more benefits to be announced soon). You can also book and attend the charity’s heavily subscribed training events, for details of the latest events click here or why not visit the Racing Chance Foundation shop to purchase some stylish race kit, all profits from sales are put straight back in to the charity to provide more cycling opportunities for members. Even the smallest donation make a huge difference.

The Racing Chance Foundation is a not for profit registered charity: 1156835.

Women’s Cycling – Planning Ahead

Now that the Women’s National Road Series is over for another year, many people will be thinking about what team they want to be riding for next season, so given that the better teams tend to be sorted by August, I thought it would be helpful to give those of you who might not have gone through the process before some guidance.

Where do I start?

Firstly, a good starting point is to think about what you actually want to achieve next season and whether you have all the “tools” available to you to be able to do so.  For example, it might be something relatively simple like a need to improve on your base fitness over winter to help you be more competitive in the higher level races, or it might be something more difficult, like a lack of time and/or money.

Many people (male and female) make the mistake of applying a scatter gun approach to racing at the start of the season (a large factor being a plethora of races, on the most part circuit races, at the beginning of the season, which peter out later in the year), which doesn’t necessarily help with your fitness or your bank balance!

British Cycling National Road Race Championships 2015

BC National Road Race Championships 2015 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

So, what do you need to think about?

Time you have available

If you are at school, college, work or have kids, you will have other commitments other than riding your bike.  That also means that you are likely to have a finite number of holidays available too – so think about what you intend to do in those holidays, and how many you are prepared to spend at bike races (everybody needs a break from work otherwise you get burn out).

You also need to think about how many hours a week you can dedicate to riding a bike – if you have a training plan that involves 20 hours a week on the bike, is it reasonable to think that you can achieve that?  Or is 6 hours a week more likely?  You can still achieve results on the latter, you just have to make sure that you are doing quality training.

Matrix Fitness GP 2015 | Motherwell - Round 2

Matrix Fitness GP 2015 | Motherwell – Round 2 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

Cost of racing

Every time you race, you pay an entry fee.  If you are keen to do more road races than anything else, these tend to be more expensive due to the nature of the infrastructure required for the race to go ahead.  If you are likely to be tight on cash (which most people are), and you have to cover the costs of your own entry fee, decide in advance which races  you intend to target (the cost of races disappears once the event has happened but if you earmark £30 for each National Series event, and £20 – £25 for every other event, you won’t be far off), how much you will need to spend to get there (including travelling, accommodation and food) and make those events your “target events”, you will go some way to making sure you budget for them accordingly.

Once you’ve earmarked how much it is going to cost you to get to the most important events in your calendar, then work backwards based on how much cash you think you are going to have available and look at local events first, then further afield.  Remember, you don’t have to enter all women’s races if there isn’t one available.  You can enter men’s events, but you have to be pretty quick because they fill up rather fast.

Women's Tour De Yorkshire 2015 - ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

Women’s Tour De Yorkshire 2015 – ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

Your Location

If you live in a region where there isn’t much racing available for women, you have two choices: you either do something about it (by persuading organisers of men’s events to host a women’s race at the same time) or you have to travel.  Most people have to travel at some point because races tend to be in the middle of nowhere.  If you don’t have access to a car, the likelihood is that you will struggle to get to races unless you team up with someone else to get there or you get there using public transport, which might involve a stay over.  If you’re not overly keen on those two options, you will need to look at the racing on offer in your locality and amend your season’s objectives accordingly.

Cheshire Classic 2015 - BC Women's Road Series Rnd 2

Cheshire Classic 2015 – BC Women’s Road Series Rnd2 – Image ©www.chrismaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

Do you need to be on a team?

The short answer is “no”.  However, some riders prefer to be on a team, so it’s each to their own.  But, having said that, if you do want to be on a sponsored team, and you are considering applying to teams, make sure that you are honest with yourself about what you can give.  Being on a team is a privileged position to be in, especially those where it includes the provision of clothing and equipment.  You need to ensure that you can do justice to yourself and your potential sponsors before applying.  You also need to think about the commitment level (see above) as if you’re limited on the number of holidays that you have, only you will know whether riding every Tour Series or driving the length of the country for National Series races is the best use of your time.

Notwithstanding the above, Tanya Griffiths wrote an article for us last year about applying for a team place, which you can access here.

Alexandra Women's Tour Of The Reservoir 2015 - Women's Tour Seri

Alexandra Women’s Tour Of The Reservoir 2015 – Image ©www.ChrisMaher.co.uk / CyclingShorts.cc

Perspective is important

Ultimately, the majority of racing cyclists in this country participate because it’s their hobby.  That means it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable (although it is hard work too).  Focus on what you want to achieve, make sure your objectives or goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) and just enjoy riding your bike.

If you do decide to go ahead with applying to sponsored teams next season, we wish you the very best of luck and hope that everything works out for you.


Check out Heathers previous guides:

Race Tactics – It’s More Than Just A Lead Out


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


Four Years On…

Over the last four years, one of the major regrets that I have had is the sport’s inability to retain female riders.  I’ve seen some really promising talent appear for half a season, never to be seen again, some have been around for even less than that.  Many find the sport hard, or just want to have a go to try it out only to disappear a week later.  But if we want women’s cycling to grow, everybody has to stick at it, so with that in mind, I thought I would share my reasons for competing with you, in the hope that if somebody like me can do it, maybe you can too.

A bit of background

It’s been four years since I started competing again.  Back then, I was working restricted hours, suffering from chronic fatigue, which meant that I had no energy to train after work and, even after the 45 minute circuit race, I fell asleep on the way home as I was so tired.

A Woman’s Guide to Racing (Part 1)

Time trialling on V718 in 2012

Following the 2011 season, I swapped medication under the guidance of my consultant neurologist.  I have epilepsy, which is controlled, but my new consultant wouldn’t let me come off medication whilst I wanted to ride my bike and do all the things that most people take for granted.  After being on sodium valproate for 15 years, I swapped to levetiracetam, which was a relatively new drug.

By March 2012, I had lost over two and half stone and for the first time in longer than I care remember, I could think much more clearly.  I was still tired (I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue in December 2010) but the cognitive behaviour therapy that I had had to undergo as the treatment for the chronic fatigue had helped me to manage things much more effectively.

A slow start

The first few races I did in 2012, I got dropped the first time, had a woman shout at me because she didn’t think I knew what I was doing (I did, I was just shattered), and all I could physically manage to do was ride in 9 events, three of which were men’s road races, with the rest being closed circuit races.

A Woman’s Guide to Racing (Part 3): What training should I do?

Racing at Salt Ayre in 2012

One of the problems, I came to realise, with losing 20% of my own bodyweight, was the loss in power and strength that came with it.  We went to Majorca in September 2012, and we had to change the chainring to a 36 because I wasn’t strong enough to use the 39. The longest ride I could manage was about 60 miles, which was to and from Sa Calobra, not only because I wasn’t particularly fit, but also because of the remnants of the chronic fatigue.  Looking back at it now, that holiday helped my recovery as it kick started my winter training block, and reminded me that I could actually ride a bike!

Development, development, development

One of the good things about being involved in cycling in years gone by is that it meant that turning up to races, you knew what you were talking about.  However, I soon found that if it hadn’t happened on Facebook and Twitter, it hadn’t happened.  At this point, I was only a third category rider, so if I suggested something to anybody else, I always got the response “what do you know?” which got on my nerves no end.  So, I paid my entrance fee and qualified as a coach through the Association of British Cycling Coaches, as I couldn’t afford the pathway through British Cycling and there was no funding available for me as I live in a region where there’s a plethora of BC coaches.

By the end of 2012, we were getting a women’s road race league set up for 2013 as well as a development team for women in the North West, both of which are different stories, but it became obvious that the development pathway in women’s cycling was missing, and is something which we have hopefully started to build on now for the rest of the UK.

Coaching with Huw and Carley

Coaching with Huw and Carley

National Series and National Championships

In 2013, I took part in a few National Series races, but it became increasingly obvious to me that there were limits to what I was physically capable of achieving.  I was working over 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, and with the additional work that I was doing trying to develop women’s cycling in the evenings (mainly articles, meetings and phone calls about the best way to improve the women’s scene with various people) and the odd bit of coaching and mentoring, it meant that I was doing probably around 60 hours a week, including my day job.  I still struggled to do any mid week training and racing in the evenings was an absolute no-go, so I was basically stuck with a small amount of time, which meant that I couldn’t do enough quality training to keep up with the better riders.

In 2014, there seemed to be a change in start times too, which saw many of the events with a 9:30 am start time.  One of the problems with epilepsy is that seizures occur as a result of triggers.  One of my triggers is tiredness and I find it extremely difficult to get up early to go and ride my bike (not even racing) as it takes my brain longer to wake up than most.  So it came to pass that I couldn’t afford to do all of the National Series events, for three reasons – I couldn’t afford it financially (I am self-funded and therefore it becomes expensive staying over before each event), I couldn’t afford the time off work (I only have a finite amount of holidays available) and I couldn’t afford it physically (in the event that the worst happened and I had a bad reaction to the early start), which is also a massive mental obstacle for me to get over.

But it isn’t only road race events that this affects – I can’t enter any time trials on Sundays because they all start too early, which also means that (on the whole), I can’t enter National Championship events either, or the RTTC Classic events.

(c) Ellen Isherwood

(c) Ellen Isherwood

What training do I do?

My training is pretty limited, as I have to keep an eye on my energy levels.  I don’t get home until six o’clock and I generally have admin to do with regards to the Racing Chance Foundation (from sorting the management accounts, to writing/updating the website, to trying to organise races), so mid week it’s generally limited to 40 minutes, three or four evenings a week.  At the weekend, if I’m racing, I’ll generally do a two hour ride on the Saturday (if I’m racing on the Sunday) or a three hour ride on Sunday (if I’m racing on a Saturday).  If I get to do more than 120 miles or 8 hours in a week, that’s a big week for me.  During winter, I tend to aim for 150 miles a week, but again that’s based on the majority of my riding being at the weekend (usually about 7 hours a weekend).

Racing at Tameside 2015

Racing at Tameside 2015

Why do I race?

It has since become apparent that the chronic fatigue that I suffered from between 2006 and 2012 was a side effect of taking sodium valproate.  After coming off that drug, I was like a different person, mentally and physically.  That being said, that drug was 40 years old and we knew what the majority of the side effects were (which is why I don’t have any children of my own).  The new drug only came into existence about 10 to 15 years ago, so it’s relatively new in the grand scheme of things.  I don’t know what the long term side effects of this drug are, but I intend to remain as fit as possible in order to keep any horrible side effects at bay (one side effect of taking anti-convulsants is a tendency for depression) and, unfortunately, I don’t know what I’ll be able to do when I get older as I don’t know what the long term effects will be on my kidneys and liver.

But in the meantime, I intend to support, help and persuade as many women as possible to take up competitive cycling as it not only keeps you fit, it gives you the self confidence you need to be assertive in every day life, which is where the Racing Chance Foundation comes in.

Every time I get on a start line, it’s an achievement.  I’m not bothered about points – I know that I’m never going to be a world beater because I don’t want to be, I just enjoy taking part.  I do know that it keeps me fit – since 2011, my resting heart rate has dropped my around 30 bpm, which I choose to take as my heart showing me that it’s fitter.  Unfortunately, I need something to keep me motivated and the racing fills that gap, even if a lot of the racing I do is actually training!

If you want to find out more about how to take the next steps in competitive cycling, visit the Racing Chance Foundation for some handy information and help make a difference to women’s cycling.

Anglesey Women’s Team Bid for Island Games Spot

In January this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Annie Glover and Karen Ager from Holyhead Cycling Club.  Both had travelled all of the way from Holyhead in Anglesey to attend our women’s race training session in Tameside, just outside Manchester, which I thought was pretty impressive!  But that was just the start…

Annie, Karen and their club mate, Jasmine Sharp, are all keen cyclists, and are active in North Wales and Anglesey with encouraging younger riders to take up the sport.  All three women are British Cycling coaches but until this year, they have only really participated in their local club time trials and, in Jasmine’s case, Audax events.

This year, for the first time, the women have decided that they want to step up their involvement in competition, and they used the Racing Chance Foundation’s women’s race training to give them the helping hand they needed.  But there was also another reason for starting to race – for the first time this year, Ynys Mon (Anglesey) are fielding a women’s cycling team in the Island Games, which take place in Jersey at the end of June/beginning of July.


So, without further ado, I asked Annie what the Island Games was all about (coming from Manchester, I had no idea).  Here she explains:

“The Island Games were founded in 1985 in Isle of Man and take place every 2 years. It is a friendly competition between small islands from across the world. It creates an opportunity for sports people from smaller communities to compete in international competition.

“The Island Games are a catalyst for sport & cultural exchange and aim to increase youth participation in sport. It presents an opportunity to represent the region & community whilst building links with other regions and promoting Anglesey & UK.

“Ynys Mon Island Games Association (YMIGA) was a Founder member, YMIGA was established in 1985, Island-wide consisting of Voluntary sports association – members are all volunteers. YMIGA promotes participation in Island Games sports”.

As YMIGA is run by volunteers, the each team has to fund its own way.  Knowing from a personal perspective how much it can cost to get to a bike race, I asked Annie to give me some further detail about the costs involved:

“As well as training hard for these events we have to raise our own funds for the travelling, accommodation & logistics of getting the cycling team, their support team and their bikes to Jersey & back,” she explains.

“The team consists of a squad of 11 people, which includes a manager and assistant for logistical support on the road whilst competing and mechanical assistance.  The cycling team needs include transport of 2 bikes per team member to Jersey & back, (via van/ferry), logistics of travel for the team, accommodation, team kit (shorts jerseys, skinsuits). Total costs have been estimated at around £8250.”

Jasmine, Annie and Karen put a lot into developing younger riders, and the hope is, by raising the profile of the Ynys Mon team both on a local level (in Anglesey and North Wales) and by attending the event in Jersey, it will hopefully in future provide the aspiration and motivation for younger riders from the smaller islands to take up cycling competitively.

The team have been busy raising funds, with team member doing a 24 hour sponsored ploughing (yes, you read that right, and it wasn’t the ladies doing it either) but any help that you can give them would be much appreciated.

If you can support the team, please pledge funds via their Go Fund Me page, which you can access by clicking here or if you can assist them with kit, van hire or anything else you can also contact the team via the page.

Jasmine, Karen & Annie MT


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