Road Racing

Road Racing is the most recognised discipline in cycle sport with the Tour de France , the Giro D'italia, Paris-Roubaix and the like being the almost mythical blue-ribband events.

Road racing is beautifully simple in concept but often highly complex in practice. Races are fast paced and provide a real test of physical fitness, bike handling skills, tactical prowess and raw nerve. Road racing in England and Wales is governed by British Cycling.

Road races take place on either open roads or closed circuits (which are referred to as a criteriums). Where the race occurs on an open highway in the UK, road traffic is present, however the race itself takes place within a moving 'safety bubble' with all the action happening between special leading and following cars fitted with special signs and flashing lights.

Riders stay within the left hand carriageway of the road at all times and marshalls direct traffic at any junctions to allow the safe passage of the race. There are also often other vehicles present in the race, for example a neutral support vehicle or motorbike marshalls who move within the race to ensure the integrity at all times. Road races are usually between 25 and 90 miles for all but 'Elite' competitions where the distance may be considerably longer. Terrain can vary greatly depending on location and there are races designed to suit riders with strengths in the different key areas such as climbers, sprinters etc.

Criterium races take place on closed traffic-free circuits that are often specially designed with smooth surfaces free of potholes, gravel and other hazards. They vary greatly in terms of length and difficulty, some are flat, technical (with many tight corners) and short whereas others are longer and hilly. Our local, purpose built closed circuits are at Tameside, Litherland, Lancaster and Blackpool. Criterium races sometimes also take place on motor racing circuits such as Oulton Park or in town and city centres under closed road conditions.

Full details on the road racing, including locations of all seasons' races can be found on the British Cycling website or in the Racing Calendar which is sent to racing members periodically.

How do I get into racing?

To race in British Cycling events, you must have a Racing Licence, which is an option for anyone with full British Cycling membership. If you are renewing your membership for the full year you may wish to consider 'Race Membership' rather than the normal 'Ride Membership'. There are different types of license available and you can decide which one best suits your needs in terms of additional benefits. You can find out more by visiting the British Cycling membership pages of their website

If you're not sure about racing and are thinking about 'dipping your toe' into the sport, you can also acquire a 'Provisional License' which will gain you access to all the available races, however if you finish in a good position, you will not receive the points you would have done if you had a full 'Racing License'.

If you are an adult (18 years or over) and you're new to racing, you'll start as a '4th Category' rider (also known as '4th Cat'). This is a great starting point as many races are 4th Cat only providing an easy means of entry into competition allowing newcomers to get used to road racing with a challenging, but manageable, pace racing against others who will be either new, like you, or are working their way through the 4th Cat ranks trying to win enough points to progress further.

If you finish within the top 10 of most races, you will be awarded points. Come 1st and you'll receive 10 points, 2nd, 9 points and so on with 10th place gaining a single point. As a 4th Cat rider, once you've won 10 points you will receive a letter of congratulations from British Cycling telling you that you've progressed to the next level, earning you a '3rd Cat' License.

Once you've become a 3rd Cat, you will never return to being a 4th Cat. but racing can be tougher as you're competing against riders who have all progressed as well. As a 3rd Cat rider you'll continue to accumulate points for wins and placings, at 40 points you will become a 2nd Cat and so it goes all the way through to 1st Cat and finally 'Elite'.

Elite riders are the top amateurs in the country and it's from these ranks that the top performing riders will be selected by the domestic and international Professional Teams. The famous riders we're all familiar with - Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, David Millar et al, have all made their way through this process.

Women's racing

Most Women's races are incorporated in within the structure of 4th, 3rd, 2nd and Elite races, with a 'race within a race' being the norm from both the prize list and points point of view. There are however a number of Women's only races and series within the Racing Calendar and in a similar way process to the men Elite riders such as Lizzie Armitstead, Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley have all progressed through the ranks.

It's worth noting that at all levels (men, Women and Youth), in all races, prizes are awarded for the top 3 positions and in some cases this can be prize money and/or cycling related gear.

Youth racing

Racing starts at a very early age with riders from the age of 8 competing right across the country. The Categories for youth riders are outlined below and as per senior riders, a full Racing License is always required to enter events:

  • Youth E, 6 upwards Until 31st December of year in which 8th birthday falls
  • Youth D, under 10 From 1st Jan of year in which 9th birthday falls to 31st December of year in which 10th birthday falls
  • Youth C, under 12 From 1st Jan of year in which 11th birthday falls to 31st December of year in which 12th birthday falls
  • Youth B, under 14 From 1st Jan of year in which 13th birthday falls to 31st December of year in which 14th birthday falls (or upgraded from Youth C)
  • Youth A, under 16 From 1st Jan of year in which 15th birthday falls to 31st December of year in which 16th birthday falls (or upgraded from Youth B)
  • Junior From 1st Jan of year in which 17th birthday falls to 31st December of year in which 18th birthday falls

Junior riders must always have their bikes checked by an 'official' before and after a race to ensure that they are riding with correctly restricted gears. There is an excellent article explaining what gears are allowed in each Category and why in this British Cycling document (.pdf)

Most events, especially criteriums and closed circuit races will have races taking place for riders at all ages levels so there's therefore often something for the whole family!

Is road racing for me?

Road Racing is an exciting sport and it can feel great to be part of the whole race organisation, however it can be a daunting experience.

Setting off in a bunch of 40 riders requires confidence and skill. It's important that you feel confident riding in a group situation and a good grounding for that comes from regular club run riding. However, rather than riding in pairs (as you would on a Saturday or Sunday run), you're more likely to be in a bunch with many more riders surrounding you.

The pace will be significantly higher with a 4th Cat. race typically averaging 23 to 25mph over the hour long duration. As you ride through the ranks to 3rd, then 2nd Cat. racing the pace (and acceleration) rises significantly.

You need to be confident cornering at speed, typically pedaling continuously through all but the sharpest corners and an acute awareness of what is going on around you is also essential as you need to react quickly to changes of pace, rider positions and potential 'breaks'.

A cardinal sin in a road race is swerving or changing your line whilst in a bunch as this can be a cause of serious 'incidents'. It is also frowned upon to 'sit' in the bunch, being slip streamed (drafted) by the other riders, only to launch towards the line to take the win from other riders who have been working hard on the front.

A benefit of road racing is the ability to 'recover' from hard efforts within the race by sheltering within the bunch, this suiting the physical characteristics of some riders allowing them to ride hard when needed, then ease off and then ride hard again when the pace requires. However, other riders may find this tactic frustrating.

The techniques and strategies can all be learned through practice simulations out on the road and through regular racing, but base fitness is an absolute necessity for all but the naturally strong.

Find out more

For more information, see the Road Racing threads on the members' forums where you can see what's going on with riders from the club and gat answers to your questions. There are a growing number of riders at all levels who are getting involved with racing and a wealth of experience to tap into.

So go on, if you think road racing might be for you, why not just give it a go?

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