What to expect at your first collegiate road race
By Vicky Sama, HSU Cycling Coach
Competitive collegiate cycling requires preparation. You should show up to a race with proper training and understanding of race events. I’ll talk about those issues in separate tip sheets, but here’s what you can expect on race weekend.
Before you go
- At HSU Cycling, we carpool to races. We don’t have team vans. We use our own cars and drive an average of seven hours just to get to a bike race. If you’re driving, you must complete the university’s online driver’s quiz to receive a card that qualifies you to drive. You can be reimbursed for gas only if you take other riders in your car. Pay for gas with a credit card and bring your receipts to the next club meeting.
- Pack on Wednesday night rather than the night before you leave. Pack light but bring extra socks, pants and a jacket. Bring a towel and maybe a pillow. Pack your checkbook to pay for race fees. Don’t forget pajamas. You cannot sleep in your chamois.
- Pack drinks, food and snacks for the car ride. We make only a few stops.
- We share hotel rooms. Guys in one. Ladies in another. Be kind to each other. Respect hotel property. Do not use the hotel towels to clean your bike. Bring your own tools and stuff.
- Hydrate. No matter where we race, it’s always drier than Humboldt.
- Rise and shine early and eat breakfast at least three hours before your race. If you race at 8:00 a.m., that means you eat at 5:00 a.m. Don’t eat too much or you’ll puke during the race. Oatmeal with nuts and berries is a good choice. Bring your own food. Bring snacks such as bananas, oranges, cliff bars and rice cakes that you can nibble on later. You have about an hour to cook, eat and get dressed. There is no time to go out to breakfast before the race. Bring what you need with you and cook it in the hotel room microwave or bring a camp stove. Hydrate.
- Before you leave the hotel, dress in as much of your kit as possible so you don’t waste time later. I typically put on my jersey but wear pants or a skirt in the car and throw my cycling shorts on at the race site after I register.
- Arrive at the race course location two hours before your race start. Don’t forget you must leave the hotel as early as the earliest racer in your car needs to be there. If your race is at 10 o’clock but the person in your car races at 8, you’re leaving earlier than you expected.
- Register as soon as you arrive at the race site. If we are allowed to do “team pay” (which is when our team is billed later), you will not have to write a check for your race fee. You will still need to sign a waiver, get a race number and may have to pay for a day license if you don’t already have a USA Cycling collegiate license. Registration lines are always longer closer to race time. Don’t put yourself in a panic. Register early. You may be allowed to register online in the days prior to the race. If so, do that. Reduce the workload on race day by getting all those details completed ASAP. Pick up pins at the registration table and ask what side your number must be worn on so that you can pin your number to the correct side of your jersey. The number should rest on your side so that the officials can clearly read it, like the number in the photo.
- Put your bike together. Get on your bike and spin around the parking lot. Make sure your gears are shifting properly, your tires are inflated enough and that everything is in working order.
- Get completely dressed in your HSU kit.
Warming Up for the Race
- One hour to race time: Ride around the course for 15 minutes. Ride past the start and through the finish line. Make sure you know where the start and finish line are. They may be in different locations.
- Forty-five minutes to race time: Get on your trainer. Warm up for at least 30 minutes. Start spinning for 8 minutes in small ring. After that, ride one minute at fast cadence. Then ride one minute a bit slower. Shift into big ring and do another minute at fast cadence and another minute slower. Don’t wear your legs out by using really hard gears. The point is to warm up, not wear out. Do one minute fast then one slower spin, then another minute fast and another slower spin. Do one minute fast and immediately 15 seconds hard and fast! Then another minute slower. Bring your heart rate up during these intervals. Do two more one minutes than another 15 second hard interval. Then spin in small ring for another 2 to 4 minutes.
- Ten minutes to race time: You should be at the start line or staging area. The race officials will read instructions. They may take attendance to make sure you are there.
- The race officials will give you alerts to the start time. Breathe! They may give you one minute warning, or tell you :30 seconds until race starts. Breathe! They will probably say, “Ten seconds until start.” And then they will blow a whistle. As soon as you hear that whistle, go! Start pedaling. Look forward and don’t look down! If you look down at your feet, you’re going to hit someone. Look forward! Breathe!
- Stay calm. Ride smoothly. Sure, you’re nervous, and this seems impossible, but relax. You need to keep pedaling and stay with the pack, but relax your shoulders. Breathe. Relax your arms. Breathe. Pay attention to the race. Breathe. Be aware of your breath.
- Be patient. If it seems like the race is too easy, then enjoy it. Be patient. If you’re going to attack, make it a smart move. Every move you make should count. Be patient.
- When you see a hill, understand that it’s going to hurt everyone not just you. So make it hurt them more. If you get dropped, don’t panic. Keep spinning. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. What if everyone in front of you bonks, flats or crashes? Never give up. As we say at HSU, ride it out!
After the race
- When your race is over, spin out your legs. Do a short recovery ride for 15 minutes in the small ring either on the road or on your trainer.
- Drink fluids. Best if you have a recovery drink. Eat real food within an hour after your race. Remember, you packed food.
- Check results. There is a protest period, usually 15 minutes, when you can protest the results. If you think there was a mistake, make sure you talk to the chief official ASAP. Corrections will not be made after the protest period.
- Get out of your chamois and wet clothes. Put on warm, dry clothes even on warmer days, especially if you sweat and lost a lot of calories during a hot race day. Avoid getting chills. Hydrate.
- Before you leave the race site, make sure everything is packed up well in your car. Make sure bikes are locked tightly on any bike rack. Thank the race team organizers and officials for making it a good race weekend, even if you had a lousy race result.
That was Saturday. On Sunday, you’ll do it all again! Most importantly, have fun.
Vicky Sama is a former professional cyclist who competed in mountain biking and road cycling including Olympic Trials. She has been coaching HSU cyclists since 2009 and now races cyclocross for fun.