Women’s Guide to Racing (Part 2): What do I enter?

Women’s Guide to Racing – Part 2

What do I enter?

So, hopefully you’ve read my first part of my guide to racing and, hopefully, it has helped unravel the category and points system that British Cycling currently use.  In addition, I gave a brief synopsis of the different types of race that you can take part in as a rider.  Which leads to the inevitable question, “which races should I enter?”

1) What do you want to achieve?

Well, let’s start at the beginning.  First of all, you need to decide what your goals are going to be, especially if this is your first season. Goals should always be “SMART” – which stands for:

S – Specific – choose a specific goal – e.g. I want to ride a 10 mile time trial in under 30 minutes or I want to gain enough points to obtain my 3rd category licence (the latter will require a number of additional goals in order to achieve this).

M – Measurable – it is difficult to look at progress unless you pick goals that are measurable – e.g. by time or distance for a time trial, or staying with the bunch for the whole race (easier said than done, sometimes).

A – Adjustable – be flexible – if you find that your goal is easier than you thought (for example, you manage to do 28 minutes for your first 10 mile time trial when you wanted to do 30 minutes), adjust your goal to 27:30, maybe, or in the case of a road or circuit race, if there are only 15 people in the race, you might adjust your goal for the race to be in the top ten.

R – Realistic – the goals you set yourself need to be challenging but achievable – there is no point setting yourself a goal that is too difficult to achieve because you will become disillusioned, disappointed and give up but on the other hand, you don’t want goals that are too easy, as you won’t feel a sense of achievement upon reaching your target which again leads to disappointment.  However, how challenging your goals are also depends on how confident you are – there is no reason why your first goals can’t be easier to help you grow your confidence, with your goals becoming more challenging as your confidence develops.

T – Time-based – have a long-term goal in mind but have short-term goals to help you reach it – there’s no point having a goal of riding a 10 mile time trial in 25 minutes in 5 years’ time, or winning a National Series Road Race by 2016, if you have no short-term goals to get you there.  Having a long-term objective is good, it helps you to remember what you want out of the sport, but 5 years is a long time – it’s much better to have goals that you can see coming up in your calendar in one or two month’s time, as it keeps you focused, enthusiastic and keen.

 

2) I have my goals – what should I look for in a race?

Well, firstly, even if you’ve had a go at racing before, you never know what you’re going to like until you’ve done a few different types of races.  At the beginning, you want to look at races that are maybe near to you, that aren’t too long and aren’t too technically demanding.

This is an important point to make – some of the newer closed circuits are narrow and have tight bends, with a lot of corners, which means that if you aren’t used to racing elbow to elbow with fellow cyclists, they can be a bit intimidating.  In addition, smaller circuits can mean more corners, which can mean you end up sprinting out of every corner – and when they come every 20 metres, it gets tiring very quickly, which means that you can lose concentration if you’re not used to it.  That can then lead to stupid mistakes, which can lead to pointless crashes – I have witnessed that.

Grand Prix des Dames (Blackpool) ©Chris Maher – www.ChrisMaher.co.uk

Having said that, you should also look at the category of riders that can ride in the race.  For example, a race specifically open to 3rd and 4th category female riders may be slightly less physically demanding than a race open to all category women (including elites), as 3rd category riders do not as a whole tend to be as fast as elites and first category riders.  That’s not to say that third category riders don’t know what they’re talking about – you may learn a lot from them, if you are a fourth category rider, and you should never write anybody off on paper.

The positive thing about circuit races is that they are usually on purpose built circuits, closed to traffic, so you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic in the race.  Having said that, as I’ve said above, some circuits can be quite narrow, and you may not be too keen at sprinting out of corners for 40 or 50 minutes.  In which case, you might like to try road racing, which are held on circuits on the open roads, which also mean that they are open to oncoming traffic.

But that isn’t something to necessarily be afraid of – when you go out on your bike with your mates, you ride on the open road, right?  The only thing that you need to remember is that your safety is paramount, which means that your concentration is extremely important.

For your first road race, if possible, pick a race that isn’t too long in distance.  There’s a big jump between riding a race around a closed circuit for between 40 and 50 minutes and riding a 45 or 50 mile road race, which could last as long as 3 hours.  The CDNW women’s road race league events have been chosen as they are a good distance between the circuit race events and the Team Series events and National Road Race Series events, with the shortest event being 32 miles and the longest about 40 miles (see later).  Also, if possible, try and pick an event that is open to lower category riders, as the speed will not be as high as an event open to elites and first category riders; however, this is not always possible, but remember that any race is not only a learning curve, it is also training (remember my point about setting goals).

The final point about road races is that there will be marshals on the circuit, usually positioned at junctions and “pinch points” for traffic.  A marshal’s job is to warn traffic of the race that is approaching, not to tell you which way to go – it is your job as a rider to know the course.  The marshal cannot stop traffic either, however some road races have the addition of motorbike marshals, called the National Escort Group (“NEG”), who help with the control of traffic (and do a marvellous job too!)

 

3) So what events can I enter?

Remember that you can enter any event open to your category – so, if you are a fourth category female rider, you can enter any events with a “W4” category, which unfortunately means that you can’t enter any National Series Road Races, but again I revert you to my point about goals above.  As a third category female rider (“W3”), you can enter any events with a “W3” category, and so on, and so on.

Circuit Races

There are a number of events for 3rd and 4th category ladies only being held at the Cyclopark in Kent, under the “Winter in the Park Series”. These events are 32 miles long and you set off with the female elites, first and second category riders (possibly a few seconds after them) BUT it will be a separate race.  If you’re based down South, that’s definitely one I would check out.  There are events being held at the new Odd Down Circuit in Bath and there have also been a series at Preston Park in Brighton.

Further north, in the Midlands, there are quite a few circuits, including Shrewsbury Sports Village, Stourport and Tudor Grange in Solihull. Over the hill into Derbyshire and there are a number of races that are being held for women at the Darley Moor Circuit near Ashbourne. 

In North Wales, there will be a variety of events at Marsh Tracks, Rhyl, which is a great circuit for developing confidence.

Over in Yorkshire, there are loads of events being held at the new York Sport circuit (yes, you’ve guessed it) in York, with a few also at Richard Dunne, Bradford and possibly some at Dishforth in North Yorkshire.

In the North West, there are races planned for Salt Ayre, Lancaster as well as Palatine, Blackpool and some evening events at Tameside, Ashton-under-Lyne.

All of these events also have races for the men, so your other half/club mates/etc can also race which makes it a fun day out.  As I have mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list, just some races that caught my eye.

 

 

Road Races

My choice for road races would be the Cycling Development North West (“CDNW”) Women’s Road Race League.  This is a league of seven events which were piloted in the North West last year, as stepping stone events between circuit races and the longer road races that you get with National Series Road Races (such as the Cheshire Classic) and Team Series events (such as the Bedford 3 Day).  The first event is on 1 March 2014, at 12:00pm at Pimbo Industrial Estate, Skelmersdale, over 32 miles.  This circuit is about 2 miles long, is one way (so no oncoming traffic), has wide sweeping bends and has wide roads.  A perfect circuit for your first road race, in my opinion.  It is also only open to 2nd, 3rd and 4th category women riders, making it top of my list of races for first time road racers.  See www.cdnw.org for further information and how to enter.  In addition, British Cycling’s Yorkshire Region have also joined the #partyontheroad and have launched the first Yorkshire Women’s Road Race Series, targeted at the same level of rider for 2014.  The first event is the Sheffrec CC Spring Road Race on 13 April 2014.

These events are supported by the motorbike NEG marshals, for extra protection.

(c) Martin Holden Photography

If you find that you like road racing, you might like to try a stage race.  Stage races can last anything from two stages (for example a circuit race followed by a road race), to a number of days – for domestic riders, the Irish Ras na mBan is probably one of the longest stage races that women can ride, with six stages over the course of five days.

A good event to try would be the stage race being promoted by David Williams of Holme Valley Wheelers on 6 & 7 June 2013 – it’s run in conjunction with a men’s two day stage race, both of which start on the Friday evening.

Time Trials

These events are slightly different from road races – British Cycling events usually have a closing date of 21 days, although this has reduced for some events where you can enter online – in addition you can enter “on the line” at some British Cycling events, which means that you can just turn up and enter on the day.  However, with time trials, the system is slightly different – there is a good guide on the Cycling Time Trials website –  http://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/Beginners/EnteringTimeTrials/tabid/635/Default.aspx  You will also need to be a member of an affiliated club, which the above link should also take you to.

 

MDLCA – TIME TRIALS FOR WOMEN – THE ORIGINAL GIRL POWER

In Summary

So, hopefully this section of my Women’s Guide to Racing has shown you that you should have an idea in mind before entering anything about what you want to achieve, which shouldn’t be too challenging to start off with.  Many women have been put off by the concept that they think they aren’t good enough, when in actual fact they are fit or fast enough, but they just don’t have the confidence in themselves to take that step into the unknown.  Women’s cycling is growing at the moment – you will find that there are plenty of people to provide encouragement.  There are no “standards” to find out whether you are fast enough – the only way to find that out is to  have a go.  There are plenty of different types of races to have a go at – some people might be better suited to circuit races, whereas others might prefer to go it alone against the clock in a time trial, and other people might prefer longer road races.

I guess that there are a few things to take from this article: set realistic goals, you can enter whatever race you like (category dependent) and you may be better suited to some events than others, but if you don’t try you will never know.  Have the confidence to give it a go and you never know, you might find that it’s really enjoyable!

Next week…

You’ve decided on what events you are going to enter and now need to know what type of training to do.  I’ll have some tips to try as well as a brief synopsis of current thinking, to help you be prepared for your race.

In the meantime, enjoy riding your bikes and stay safe!

 

Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
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

Tour de Taiwan

This is my first blog for a while and I think it comes at an appropriate time of my season. My last blog took us up to the end of our second team training camp. This point marked the end of my winter training and the beginning of my 2012 racing season. I had already spent 3-4 weeks away with my new team mates and as the start of the season drew closer, the exciting talks of racing were growing evermore common. Personally I couldn’t wait to take off the legwarmers and get stuck in.

My season started relatively quietly with a local 25 mile TT. A very cold Sunday morning in Sussex marked my first race, where I was entitled to proudly pull on my Rapha Condor Sharp skinsuit for the first time. Although the TT itself was hugely uncomfortable and not particularly quick, it felt good to lay down a definitive marker and I can now monitor my improvement as the year progresses. More importantly it meant the season had now officially started.

My first big race for the team was the UCI 2.1 classified Tour de Taiwan. But before I jetted off to the other side of the globe, I was looking to fit in a few more races to help ease the always painful transition from training to racing. I was lucky enough to be given the offer to stay up North with my team mate Rich Handley – I got to know Rich quite well after sharing a room with for the duration of our first training camp in Lanzarote. It appears I didn’t annoy him too much first time round, so he was willing to accommodate me at his home for a weekend of training and racing. Along with a few of our other team mates, we raced in the Eddie Soens Memorial and CDNW Pimbo circuit races. I was pleasantly surprised with how I felt in the season openers and picked up 6th on the Saturday and 9th on the Sunday.

Tuesday afternoon I was dropped off at Manchester Airport to meet the members of the team I was travelling to Asia with; Luke (Mellor), Andy (Tennant) and Pete (Taylor). You can always sense the disappointment of the person behind the check-in desk at the airport who has to deal with us and this time was no exception as we had quite a large entourage of baggage to stow away on the plane; 7 bike bags, 8 suitcases and 1 very lanky rider. Our flight plan would add a few more pins into the chart on my wall with the journey taking us from Manchester to Amsterdam to Bangkok and finally to Taipei.

With no apparent signs of jet lag on arrival, the few days we had before the start of the race flew by. A few short rides, lots of Starbucks coffee, birthday cake purchasing, press conferences and probably too much twitter were what filled my time. After receiving our race programme it quickly became apparent that we weren’t going to be waking up any later than 6am at any point during the race. I generally don’t have a problem with early starts and here was no different but I did find myself struggling to stay awake past 9:30 most evenings.

Stage 1 was a short, very wet 55km crit around the centre of Taipei city. The short distance, bad weather and tight corners suited my style of riding quite a lot. I was pretty nervous before the start – as John picked up on when I couldn’t stop fidgeting – as I didn’t really have any idea how I was going to compare to the highest ranked field I’d ever raced against. I was fortunate enough to be given a nice initiation into this level of racing with a fast but comfortable first stage where I picked up 4th in the bunch sprint, which was good enough for 10th on the stage. However, the following few stages weren’t as kind.

The next 3 days involved me suffering, wheel sucking and trying my best not to get dropped from the main group too early. Even after a nice first stage, in my head I knew I was going to take a bit of a kicking. Last year whilst stage racing, although I experienced some good stages I also experienced a lot of bad days where I was struggling from the start to the very end of the stage. Naturally, taking a step up from the racing I did last year I expected it to be harder, so I think not underestimating how hard it was going to be was what helped me get through those first few days. I wasn’t panicking about my performances at night and wasn’t dreading getting up for the race in the morning – quite the contrary as although I wasn’t performing as well as the rest of the team, I was still loving the racing.

After a tough 5 days and my personal goal of reaching the finish of the race nearly complete, I was given the opportunity of trying to get in the days break away. Stage 6 was my best chance, when the break was let go within the first couple of km’s. This marked for me, personally my worst day of the tour. Sitting in the bunch steadily riding along knowing I could’ve been in the break wasn’t a nice feeling and to top off a very long drawn out day, I got burnt to a crisp by the sudden heat wave shortly after the start – 35 degree sun and pale Irish skin without any suncream is a terrible combination. After the disappointment of not capitalizing on my role of getting in the early break-away on stage 6, I was determined to rectify that on stage 7 and must’ve followed over 10 attacks within the first hour but to no avail. The not too shabby average speed of 49 km/h probably had something to do with that. The end of the race was tarred with an unfortunate event. A fast technical finish looked to be the perfect end to our tour, with Deano [Dean Downing] and Ben (Grenda) both up well within the top 10 with 500m to go but some bad dangerous riding from another rider saw Ben being taken down and bouncing down the tarmac on his ass. Not a nice end to Ben’s tour, especially after his solid performances taking a 5th and a 6th.

Looking back now I am pretty satisfied that I got through the race. I loved the experience and it felt great to finally get involved in some racing after months of excitedly anticipating lining up with my new team mates. International stage racing has definitely become one of my most favourite aspects of the sport in the last few years. I relish the way the team comes together throughout the race to help each other achieve the best results possible and to get each other through the lows as well as the highs is something that I haven’t yet experienced anywhere else. Although in the Tour de Taiwan I was at times disappointed that I wasn’t able to help my team mates more, I think the experience gained there will stand be in good stead for the rest of the season.

From this moment I have quite a busy 4 weeks ahead of me. This Saturday (24th March) I’m racing for the first time since Taiwan in a short hilly circuit race in East London. I then move to my next race with the team the following Sunday – the Dengie Marsh classic premier calendar. After that I fly to Belfast for the 4 day stage race: the Tour of the North. Finally, I fly out to Holland to compete in the ZLM U23 Nations Cup event, where I will be riding my first race of 2012 for the Irish National team. A busy, but very exciting few weeks ahead and I can’t wait to get racing again.

 
 
 
 

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