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Women's cycling: Progressing to the next level

Women's cycling: Progressing to the next level

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Taking part in a race is a brilliant way to put your skills and fitness to the test, while also giving you something tangible to train for in the first place. And while races will give you a hard workout, they are also a great opportunity to meet other female riders nearby and broaden your cycling experience.

Most of the advice below relates to road and circuit racing, but clubs, venues (for track and BMX) and forums are great places to find out more about other disciplines.


How do I know when I am race-ready?

One of the best ways to learn about the demands of racing is to go and watch a race. A great way to do this is to volunteer at a local race, either through your club or by contacting your regional event officer to ask how you can help. As well as being able to see what racing involves, it will give you the chance to speak to women who are already racing nearby. They will all have been in your position at some point and will be able to share their experience.

Many women who race will be members of local clubs or teams, so they may be able to put you in touch with groups who run local club rides and ‘chaingangs’ that can help prepare you for racing on the road. You can also check the British Cycling website or your local league/club’s website for coached sessions designed to introduce riders to racing skills and tactics.

Felix Young - Event Organiser and Team Manager

Step 2

 

Where to find a race and how classifications work

If you are new to road racing, the ideal first step is to enter a race at your local closed circuit. These races are separated by ability using classifications and, for beginners, the entry level classification to be looking out for is 4th Cat only, Regional C (non-ranking).

Women-only circuit races will be the best option, as the circuits offer a supportive, safe environment in which to gain experience in a racing situation. Once you have gained enough experience and have a few circuit races up your sleeve, it may be time to try a women-only road race.

If you prefer off-road cycling, races are split into age categories with opportunities to enter women-only or girl-only races within cyclo-cross, MTB and BMX.

The British Cycling team in the South East have put together some brilliant guidance on finding an event, supporting organisers and joining a club, plus there is a London version with a focus on each of the circuits in and around London and how to travel with your bike.

[WOMEN’S RACE LICENCE HOLDER GUIDE - UK]

[WOMEN’S RACE LICENCE HOLDER GUIDE - LONDON]

Getting a race licence and how to enter races

You can enter lower level races without being a full British Cycling member, simply by paying extra on the day (beyond the entry fee) for a day membership and racing licence. It is more economical however to purchase a Race membership, and included in that is a provisional race licence.

Once you decide you want to race more frequently, you will want to purchase a full race licence so that you can be awarded British Cycling ranking points and enter races ahead of time online. You will need to upload a photo of yourself for your race licence and bring the card itself to every race you do. 

You can enter most British Cycling races online using the British Cycling event management system. The classification of the event and entry requirements will be listed on the events page.

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

Step 3

 

Will I be fast enough?

If you ride your bike regularly, the chances are you’re good enough and fast enough to race. Most women’s races are fairly steady (after the first couple of miles) and you should find that there are riders at a similar level to you.

Don’t be put off by average race speeds, as you will go a lot faster than a normal ride when riding in a bunch. You will probably find that it’s not the speed that is the challenge, but instead the punchy and surging nature of the race – with many accelerations followed by moments of freewheeling, and yet another hard acceleration out of a corner or as someone on the front attacks.

As you do more races, you will find that you get better at responding to the constant changes in pace and your mental skills of anticipation and tactics will be sharpened. Your confidence will improve, as will your fitness and skill level – and it becomes a bit easier. In a way though, races don’t tend to get easier: you just go faster (as Le Tour de France winner Greg Lemond used to say) – or finish higher up in the results!

Heather Bamforth – Rider, influencer and team manager of The Racing Chance Foundation

 

How early should I arrive at race HQ?

I aim to arrive 90 minutes before the race starts, to give myself time to sign on, change, recce the course and finish line (sometimes in the car for a road race, or riding laps of a circuit) and warm-up thoroughly. There’s nothing worse than being rushed before a race, so give yourself enough time so that you aren’t stressed; you will be nervous enough as it is!

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

What do I need to do when I get there?

When you arrive to the race HQ, go and sign on (taking your licence with you). Here you will collect your race numbers (and transponder – if they are being used). Pin the numbers onto your jersey as directed by the signing-on officials and make mental a note of when and where the briefing is.

For a small number of races the HQ is in a different place to the start, so make sure you know these details and where to park before you arrive. This will typically be sent out in your race info pack a few days before the event. You may need to leave enough time to travel between the HQ and start line or riders may be asked to gather at the HQ for a group ride to the start.

Once signed on, warm up and make sure you are back and ready to race at least 10 minutes before the official start time.

Sarah Lewis – Rider

Step 4

How do I warm up?

A good warm up can make all the difference and take the edge off a fast start, so plan what you will be doing in advance. Many people will use rollers or a turbo, or if they are ‘old school’, ride on the road.

If you will be taking a turbo trainer or rollers, you can follow the British Cycling 20 minute warm up – used by the Great Britain Cycling Team.

When you sign on, you can ask the organisers or commissaires if there will be an opportunity to ride the circuit (if there’s a race before yours). I like to ride a lap of the road race course if possible (depending on the distance), so I can make mental notes about the course like hills, potholes, sharp corners. Failing that, a ride around the vicinity of the race is usually enough for a warm up, but dress for the weather rather than going out in race kit so that you aren’t starting cold. 

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

Can friends/family come?

Family and friends are welcome to spectate, but make sure they know to respect the surroundings, obey the commissaires and organisers and stay out of the way when the riders are coming through.

It can be useful to have someone take your jacket or hold a drink for you near the start at the last minute or hand up a bottle during the race (warning: this is an advanced skill, so practice first!).  Usually the race organisers will welcome some help on the course, either marshalling or maybe helping record rider placings at the finish. Keep an eye out on the event’s social media or in the pre-race info pack for calls for volunteering help.

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

Step 5

What to expect

Everyone feels apprehensive before they race; it’s natural, so don’t worry if you feel really nervous. Warming up can help settle your nerves. When on the start line, expect everyone to try and get on the front row as that’s the best place to start. Races generally start on the ‘B’ of ‘bang’ and everyone sprints off straight away, so be prepared to set off quickly. But don’t worry, the nervous energy runs out after a lap or so and the race will then settle down.

During the race, a few people will generally try to keep the speed up and, if you are feeling confident, you can be involved in this (but don’t feel like you have to). People will try to launch attacks from various places within the bunch of riders (off the front, from the back) and the pace will go up as other riders try to chase them down. This can happen a few times or not too often, depending on the riders and the course.

Towards the end of the race, be prepared for the speed to increase as riders get ready for the finish. If you are still with the bunch, be sure to maintain your line (no unexpected manoeuvres) and keep your head up and look forward. Before you know it, the race will be over.

Heather Bamforth - Rider, influencer and team manager of The Racing Chance Foundation

What if I get dropped/lapped/come last

Racing is all about your own development and combining training with technique to keep improving. Everyone gets dropped!

If you find yourself out the back of the race, soldier on and do your best not to DNF (did not finish) even if you’re having an off-day – unless you’re injured or ill. Quitting the race can easily become a bad habit. Instead, remember that you paid your money and spent your time to come and race, so rather than go home early, make it count as a training day.

Being lapped or coming last is nothing to be ashamed of; try to take home some lessons learned and come back to do better next time.

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

Step 6

What if I have a mechanical or puncture?

Don’t suddenly stop if you can avoid it. Instead, raise an arm (if you have control), shout ‘mechanical’ and the riders close to you will know to move around you. When it is safe to do so, move to the left side of the road so that the race can pass safely.

If there is a service car in the road race, they will stop for you when they see you at the side of the road and offer assistance. If there is no service car, find the nearest marshal or official or walk back to the start. In a circuit race, make your way around to the start/finish line in the direction of the race and inform the commissaire.  If you can resolve the issue quickly, the commissaire may allow you to re-join the race if not, you may be required to retire from the race.

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

What if I think I have placed?

‘Placing’ implies finishing in the scoring positions (typically the top 10), as only those riders will get licence points for their finishing place. At circuit races, you can usually check with the line judge or commissaire shortly after all the riders finish the race to confirm your place. At road races, the result will not be sorted out at the finish line but rather at the race HQ afterwards. In any case, politely approach those working out the results to ask where you finished, or to help confirm your placing if they are not sure.

Maryka Sennema - Racer and commissaire

Step 7