If you’re like me, you will have already put a circle around November 24 (I presume it’s Nov 24 which is the last Saturday in November), 2018 for the next instalment of the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. It’s one of the biggest events on the annual calendar but you might be surprised at the variety of other races on offer throughout the year.
Racing is one of the best ways to improve as a rider when factored into a well-designed training programme. A lot of people new to the sport put all their eggs into the Taupo basket but they don’t really gain a broad range of skills and race craft because they’re not putting themselves in race situations.
You build a greater understanding of good race craft with each race you do. These skills can be as subtle as knowing when to move up the bunch without wasting energy, to something as basic as eating and drinking at the right times.
For many, the idea of racing sounds intimidating, but it’s really not. Club racing is fun and surprisingly social but you can also get enough competition to push you along. And it provides the opportunity to race regularly without being too taxing. Inexperienced riders new to the sport often get more out of it because their learning curve is that much steeper.
At the Counties Manukau Cycling club, for instance, you rock up, choose what grade you think you might be in and then race (you get two free non-licensed races). There might be 15 or 30 riders in your division and there’s a good cross-section of people from school kids to retirees and the racing is often varied (most club races vary in distance from 30km-80km depending on the grade you race) and course difficulty.
I would suggest putting yourself in one grade lower if you’re unsure of your ability for your first race so you can get a sense of the level. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re just hanging on – you want to be in a position where you’re in the mix, depending on the nature of the course.
Some of the best riding can be found outside of the big centres and you could argue the Auckland scene is a bit sparse given the number of riders in the city. Visit your local bike shop if you don’t know how to find out about races or get in touch with a local coach.
Working with a coach is one of the best ways to make racing less intimidating because a coach can build racing intelligently into your training programme as well as guide you through the process and give you specific things to focus on during the race. It’s not going to replace your training but it will help improve your skills and it adds a good balance. It makes sense to go racing because that’s often what you are training for.
Outside of club races there’s also a multitude of one-day and multi-day events and it’s often a good excuse to travel to parts of the country you wouldn’t normally go to. The great thing about club races and other events is that there is very little downside. If the race goes poorly, you will always learn something from it and you will improve. Racing regularly can also help inoculate you from pre-race nerves in bigger events and expose areas of your riding that might need more work.
You don’t need top-of-the-line equipment. A good mid-line bike is more than adequate when you’re racing and there are ways you can get the most out of your equipment. This is something I will explore more in my next blog.
Some like setting New Year’s resolutions. How about setting one for 2018 to experience a handful of different races around NZ or even abroad?