By Angela Johnson
Writen for the June 18, 2005 Women’s Clinic
Before the start of the race, remove everything from your bike-fender, saddle bag, and pump. All of these things could fall off your bike during a race. Check that your brakes and shifting are in working order. Double-check your skewers to make sure they are tight and that the wheels are secure.
Show up at the starting line a few minutes before the scheduled start of the race. This will give you plenty of time to get relaxed and become associated with the women you are about to be racing with. Remember, it is okay to be nervous. Everyone is nervous! Try to relax and breathe. Find any friends or acquaintances in the group or introduce yourself to someone. Sometimes a little pre-race chit-chat is just what you need to return to your normal state of mind.
It is also important to get your bicycle into the gear of your choice on your way to the line. Choose a gear that is easy enough that your legs won’t be bogged down when you start, but not too easy, because you will need to pick up speed fast. Be prepared to shift gears quickly. Also, be ready to clip into your pedals fast, and without swerving into others around you. This is something that everybody struggles with, even with years of experience!
Just before the race starts, the official will tell racers about any hazards on the road, such as potholes, cones, and barricades, and he or she will also confirm race distance and point out which pace vehicle is yours. At the blow of the whistle or a verbal cue from the official, you are off.
The Start of the Race
From the start, usually a few riders will take the lead of the group and set the pace. Try to find a nice steady rider to ride behind and settle into the pace as quickly as possible. Riding on a wheel allows you to conserve energy. This is how a group of cyclists can go faster than one person.
During the Race
Riding in a peloton, or pack of cyclists, can be unpredictable and intimidating. It is very important to remain calm and alert at all times. Relax your arms and shoulders. Breathe! If you feel uncomfortable in the middle of the group, stay to the sides of the field. This will give you an immediate "out" if one is needed. However, stay close enough to get the benefit of the draft. You save a considerable amount of energy by riding behind others, and if the riders at the front accelerate, you can more easily stay with them by riding in their slipstream.
It is your responsibility to protect yourself and the others around you from danger. Ride smart. The most important thing is to "hold your line," which means not to veer from right to left, and to hold the same position in the field relative to the people in front of you. Do not take risks that could result in a crash. This will require you to think ahead as much as possible. Don’t zone out and stare at the wheel right in front of you. If you see people in the group who look dangerous, stay away from them, preferably ahead of them.
Your front wheel is the most unstable part of your bike. If it touches a wheel, you could fall down. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure your front wheel is out of danger at all times. If you are behind a bike, make sure if that bike were to make an abrupt move from side to side, there is no way it could come in contact with your front wheel. If you get close to another rider and you are coming up on their side, make yourself known. Say "on your right" or "on your left." This will let people know to hold their line for you to pass. Do not be afraid to communicate with the people around you. You may be competing with these girls, but you also have to cooperate with them so everybody finishes the race safe and sound.
If you have any questions about technique or safe following distance, do not hesitate to ask one of the women putting on the clinic. We are only here to help you. Remember, we have all been first timers in a peloton. Every single one of us has asked all of the same questions that are running through your head.
If part of your body, such as your shoulders, comes in contact with another cyclist, remain calm, keep pedaling, and don’t make any abrupt swerving. Hold yourself upright and ride it out. If you freak out and swerve, you are putting yourself and the others around you in more danger. People bump in races all the time.
If you have the strength, try to ride as close to the front of the group as possible. This way you can watch the race as it unfolds. We will be explaining as much as we can as to what is going on.
More than likely, the race will split up according to the fitness level of the individual riders. This often happens in races, making it a race within a race. If you are in a group that has become separated from the lead bunch, you can use your collective strength to try to catch back on. This will require some organization among you and a cooperative effort at the front of the group to "bring it back together." We will also explain all of this while it is happening.
It takes a lot of experience to ride in a group comfortably. If you find yourself not being able to keep up with the group, there are a few things to remember. It may just be a surge in effort. In other words, for a few minutes the pace will pick up, feeling like it is pushing you over the edge. Hang with this feeling as long as you can without giving up. Remember, everyone is hurting. Hopefully it will soon return to a pace you find more comfortable. If you get dropped from the field, that is okay, too. There is no shame in not being able to stay with the race; it just means you need more practice and more fitness. (I have been racing for three years and the race still leaves me in the dust sometimes.) We will try our hardest to make sure everyone has someone to ride with, if you should get left behind, keep going. You may catch up with other girls who also came off the back.
The End of the Race
Two laps into the race, you will hear the bell. This is the start of the "bell lap" or the last lap. As soon as you hear this bell, it is time to start preparing yourself for the finish. Again, remain calm. Everyone is thinking the same thing: "How am I going to win?" If you aren’t thinking that, you should! This is usually the lap with the most spice. The pace usually picks up and everyone is in a mad dash for the finish. Stay out of the wind as much as possible, conserving as much energy for the final sprint as possible. As you are coming around the bottom of the park and are approaching the Boathouse, anticipation is high. Stay on a wheel. Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you must be ready to give it everything you have to get across the finish line. Do not give up until you are across the line. Sometimes you can catch people right on the finish line and get a better placing.
Good luck, ladies. Have fun. Relax. Get hooked on the feeling of racing, and we will see you at the starting line soon.