So you've joined Bath Cycling Club, been out on the club runs, but want to try you hand at racing. How do you go about getting started?
Two avenues exist, road racing and timetrialling:
For timetrialling it is surprisingly simple, as long as you are a member of a club affiliated to Cycling Time Trails (such as Bath Cycling Club) - you are eligble to race a timetrial. Timetrials are a race between you and the time it takes you to ride a course. Competitors start at one minute intervals, and each rider is timed over the course.
The easiest events to ride are Club time trials put on by clubs for the benefit of their own riders. Events cost just a few pounds to enter, and you can enter on the line. Almost any standard bike can be used (but not recubants, or anything too wacky). Ride an event for a few weeks, and see if you can improve your time.
The more successful riders will go on ride in open events. These pull in the best riders from the area (and wider afield for the popular courses). The events cost more to enter (~£8), and there are prizes for the best riders. Then events must be entered in advance (about 2 weeks before the event), and on specific forms (avaialble from the CTT web site). Often in the search for greater speed, bikes will become more specialised. Specific timetrial bikes, which allow the rider to be in a more areodynamic possition, are used. A solid rear disk wheel, and deep section front wheel, allow still greater improvements in aerodynamics. Tight fitting skinsuits are also used.
The Club organises three Open Time Trials each year. These are open to all members of cycle clubs affiliated to the CTT. April brings a 10 mile timetrial, now on the U47 course. This course is probably the fastest '10' in the west! In September is the 25 mile open. In October there will be an Open Hill climb with a youth category (12-15). This is part of the West DC hill climb weekend - one weekend, 4 hill climbs.
Bath Cycling Club has an increasingly active and enthusiastic group of members who compete in local Regional A and Regional B races, with several seasoned 3rd Cats, new and upcoming 4th Cat riders, along with the odd 2nd Cat rider. With the new Cycle Circuit up at Odd Down, now is a great time to start your racing career with Bath CC, or maybe just come along and help - marshals are always needed!
If, however, none of the above makes any sense to you, but you'd like to have a go at road racing, then hopefully the notes below will go some way to helping you. If after reading them, you have any further questions, then come along to the Saturday morning chaingang ride and ask around; there is bound to be someone who has experience of road racing, and you can always contact the Road Racing Secretary for further help and information here: RoadRace(at)bathcc.net
Road racing is run under the rules of British Cycling, who ensure that races are well organised and run safely. Races are one of two types; either multiple laps of a short course - these races are called criteriums or crits - or a road race, which is multiple laps of a circuit on the highway.
The crits have laps ranging from 1-2 miles in length with the race running from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the standard of the riders and the race. Crits take place on closed roads, often on military bases (Ludgershall) or race tracks (Castle Combe). Each race has a limit of either 60 or 80 riders, and usually these types of races are entered on the line, i.e. you just turn up an hour before the race starts and sign on, pin on your race number, and then race.
A Road Race might be between 4 and 8 laps of a much larger lap, such that the race lasts for 2 hours or more, again depending on the rider standard, and will be on roads open to traffic with motorcycle escorts to help clear the way for riders. Road races have to be entered before the closing date which is usually weeks before the day of the race. Entries are limited to 60 or 80 riders, and organisers may chose who they would like to ride, so there might be a limit on the number of riders from a particular club for example.
To enter a cycle race you need a licence, which among other things, provides insurance for yourself. You can buy a day licence for £10 if you maybe want to try a single criterium, but you won't get any points for getting a place in the top ten. If you want to know why you need to worry about that, then see below about categories. If you want to have a proper go at racing (which you probably will once you've tried it), then it's best to get a Full Racing Licence for the whole year. The full racing licence runs from the start to the end of the year and costs £34 for 2013, but if you get one in July onwards then you'll only pay for half of the year. You can't just buy the licence though, you'll also need to have either Silver (£38) or Gold (£66) British Cycling membership.
To make the races more fun and with a more level playing field, riders are categorised according to their ability. This is a bit like the old football divisions. A new racer will start as a Cat 4 and if they manage to get 10 points within a single season then they are promoted to 3rd Cat. Once you're a 3rd Cat you can't be demoted. To get a 2nd Cat licence you'll need to get 40 points whilst holding a 3rd Cat licence, and to keep it you'll need to get 25 points in the season. Cat 1 requires yet more points and the top level of Elite yet more. If you get to that point you'll know lots about racing so I won't write about it here!
If you look at a race listing, it will say which level or rider is eligible to ride in that race. As a beginner you will start as a 4th Cat, so you might be able to find a 4th Cat only race early on in the season, this will likely be a 30 minute crit. Quite often the 4th Cats are lumped in with the 3rds so you'll see 3/4 in the listing. 3/4 races will extend from crits into the world of the road race which is about 45 miles or 2 hours long. Beyond that level, races are usually either 2/3/4 or E/1/2/3 which are much harder.
You need to be up to a reasonable fitness level, and comfortable at riding in a tightly packed group. If you've not been on a club run yet, then I strongly recommend you do this a few times first before even thinking about racing. You need to be able to ride in a safe and predictable way in the middle of a large pack, and a race is not the place to learn this. Unfortunately lots of people don't follow this advice and dive straight in, which leads to a few crashes in the lower category races. Please come along on a Sunday club run, and ideally on the Saturday chain gang to get a feel for what to expect. Races up at Castle Combe will average around 23mph for an hour in the 3/4 race, so make sure you can keep up with that, but remember sitting in the group is a lot easier than being on the front!
You'll certainly need a proper racing bike (no mudguards), a licence and a helmet. If you want the full rules, check the British Cycling Rulebook.
Finding events to enter is getting easier now that they appear on the British Cycling Calendar. This link will show you all the events in the South region which is the region that Bath is in. A good place to start if you don't mind the cold is the Ludgershall winter series, as it's a short circuit with no hills, and only 30 minutes long for the 4th Cats, or you could wait for things to warm up and head off to Castle Combe on Thursday nights over the summer. We'd recommend starting with a crit before stepping up to a road race, but the choice is yours.
Also have a look on the (private) Road Racing section of this forum, to see a list of local races which members are entering and join in the discussion regarding tactics etc.
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Bath Cycling Club, Est. 1880