First Ever Road Bike Race: Tips, Advise, and Tapering

I have my first ever 36 mile road race coming up that I am more than excited about. I feel ready and overall pretty sharp. I am one week out and did a mock race yesterday to test out nutrition, gear, and to see where my fitness is at. I was satisfied with the result and feel ready. I averaged 20 mph on a pancake flat test course which seems like a pretty decent pace for the 36 miles. With 7 days until the actual race, I see myself performing one or perhaps two more hard workouts to sharpen the fitness so to speak. I would appreciate some advise on how to approach the taper week and would also love some advise on how to approach a race for the first time in general. I have never ridden with other riders let alone in a group or peloton. Thanks!

Find a group ride if possible. I wouldn’t advise having your first experience riding in a group being at a race that is a goal of any particular type (less so for Tuesday night worlds type races, at least here they have beginner fields for those). Also practicing bike handling drills would help (picking up and putting down a bottle on the ground, for example, which would fit easily into a taper)

The race isn’t likely to be a steady speed; much more likely is that it’ll surge and then slow. The average speed may be 20 mph for 36 miles (or 22-24, who knows) but it’s the half mile at 30 mph after a corner that will spit people out of the back.

As far as how to approach it; have some attainable process goals which aren’t winning the race. My suggestion would be 1. Staying upright, 2. Finishing with the group 3. Starting to developing proficiency w/ drafting (starting with tail-gunning is the easiest technically, though not especially efficient, depending on fitness / confidence you may end up tail-gunning whether you want to or not).


I don’t mean to be rude, but the second quote completely contradicts the first! Assuming it’s a road race where you ride in a group, then if you’ve never ridden in a group then you’re not ready for the race. Which isn’t just a concern for how you perform in the race, but also for your safety and that of others if you don’t know how to ride safely in close proximity to other people. What race is it, how many entries are there and what’s the course like?

Look at it this way. The average watts you needed to do 20mph solo will likely translate to an average speed closer to 25mph when you add in the drafting advantage of a decent sized group of riders. And there will be times when the speed is much higher than that as people attack. So everything will be coming at you much faster than you’re used to, your view of what’s coming will be impeded by riders in front of you, your ability to react to what’s coming will be impeded by riders to the side of you, and all this will be happening while you go repeatedly deep into the red zone to respond to accelerations, plus with a big dose of adrenaline from being in your first race, so your ability to think clearly will also be impeded.

Don’t want to discourage anybody from getting into racing, but depending on the race I do think there is a case for holding off a bit longer and getting some good group riding practice before making your debut. And if you do race you should absolutely go in with your eyes open about your lack of experience and do your best to mitigate it and get ready. Ideally find a group ride you can join this week and at least get used to following wheels, having other riders around you, faster speeds from the draft, etc. Failing that then watch some race videos like the Trainerroad race analysis ( Race Analysis - YouTube) to get a better idea of what you’re in for. And on the day itself try and stay relaxed, keep your head up, be aware of what’s going on around you and try to observe and learn from other riders. I wouldn’t go in with any goals other than enjoying the race and getting round safely, if you do find yourself in a position and with the legs to attack, get in a break, etc then that’s a bonus!

Racing bikes is a life long learning process. Everyone has a first race and this one is yours. Have fun! Ideally you’d have several group rides under your belt but, you’re here now so run what you brought.

The main thing you need to understand is that because of the drafting effect (it is very real) a group of cyclists is a completely different animal than a solo cyclist. And, this impacts almost everything that happens during a bike race.

If you can ride 20mph solo, you can go 23mph with the same effort if you are drafting. BUT, and its a huge but, as soon as you lose that draft, 23 gets way harder. So, you’ll want to stay close to the rider in front of you and not let any gaps open up as it gets progressively harder to close even a small gap as the speed rises. Of course, that’s easier said than done because the riders around you are all trying to do the same thing. Just stay safe (see below) and stick with the group as long as you can. Stay upright and finish even if you end up riding alone.

You’ll probably get 50 tips on how to ride in a group but just keep this one in mind and it will get you through this first ride - The most basic rule of riding in a group is make sure your front wheel does not contact any other bikes and, you do this by making sure your front wheel is not overlapped with any wheels in front of you such that if either of you swerve, there would be contact. If your front wheel touches another bike or wheel, is an almost guaranteed crash. You want to be fully behind someone or next to them so your bodies will hit, not your wheels. Any other relative positions are dangerous and should be avoided until you get some serious pack skills.

So, try and stay with the pack as long as you can. That might be 60 seconds or it might be the whole race. Once you get dropped (and you probably will - no shame there), ride the rest of the race to the finish then go home and sign up for your next one!

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I do one hard but shorter than usual workout a few days out and then nothing but easy peasy spinning and not nearly the volume you normally do before the race. Since you have no group riding experience, I would try to hang on the back of the group as much as possible. That means letting people slot in front of you so you don’t progress to the front of the group because frankly you don’t have any experience. The benefit to this is you should never be in the wind and if you can hang on you will likely exceed your pacing expectations. 36 miles is probably not enough to really warrant strict tapering and probably not enough to require a complex nutrition strategy, but make sure you have some nutrition. For you, probably best that it be calories in your bottle in the form of a drink mix so you don’t have to fuss with reaching into pockets etc. Pay attention to the wheel in front of you and listen for folks calling out rough road, holes, etc. You are used to seeing everything in front of you, but if you are on the back of a group you will have to rely on the riders in front of you to avoid any road hazards.

And be sure to call out hazards you see for those behind you

true, but if he’s on the back like I suggest, there will be no one behind him.

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Through some internet sleuthing (the only race on bike reg that lands on Labor day) it looks like the lehigh donut derby?

Doesn’t look like too serious of a race, not a USAC category race, so go have fun, last year’s winner ate 22 donuts… which took over an hour off his time.

Have fun, be carefully around other riders, I assume the donut stations are going to be a shit show, so be extra careful in those.

Find a group ride to do next year and sign up for some category racing and really suffer!

Yes but it’s a good habit to get into so then you don’t need to also be worrying about watching if you’re lay or not.

I dunno, IMO, it’s a good habit to get into.