First Race: What Not to Do?

So my first race is next weekend. It’s a dirt crit. And I have questions.

All the Googling I’ve done has yielded lots of info on tactics and training and how to win, but I’m not concerned with winning this race. I want to learn how to ride a race safely and according to however a racer is expected to ride.

I’ve done group rides and fondos and so forth, but those have been very chill and not very bunched. I’m assuming races are less chill and more bunched.

What (non-winning-related) advice do y’all have for a noob?

you’re not concerned about winning, perfect. Concern yourself with finishing.
you dont have to close things down, you dont have to try and outsprint people. just follow wheels to the extent you can, for as long as you can. this is all about watching what people do and learning. you’ll see the surges, you’ll see the lulls, you’ll see people wind things up and break from the group. watch, learn, absorb.
races are usually all ON or all OFF, especially crits. there never seems to be a happy medium like a group ride.

1 Like

Thanx for the reply. Now give me moar! :grinning:

I’m not even concerned about finishing; it’s a local Cat 5, and I’m confident I can at least hang on (Cat 4+ is a different race).

Take this question, for example: suppose I’m smack in the middle of the bunch, and I want out (for whatever reason). Am I just stuck there? Do I have to wait for a hole to open up in front or beside me? Do I make a hole? On a casual group ride, I’m fine with waiting for some space to open up because I’m not in a hurry. Or I can just motion or ask for a hole, and peeps will let me out. I’m guessing this is not so in a race.

Whattabout line choice through corners? If I brake too much or take a slower line, will that piss off the peeps behind me or be dangerous? Again, casual rides aren’t so bunched and on fire through corners.

These are the kinda questions I need help with.

Clarification: Yes, I know jamming the binders can cause a pileup.

I meant “If I go slower than the guy behind me wants me to go…”

I’ve never raced a ‘dirt crit’, but my personal experience of racing, specifically crits is that no one will be there to give you anything. You’ll have to make things happen. If you want out of the middle of a pack, you’ll have work your way out, unless you shout ‘mechanical or puncture’. You could be about to launch a break and no one is going to give you that opportunity.

Be prepared for other riders to be vocal. You might be there for the experience but others might be there for points and it will matter to them.

Key pointers would be: don’t half wheel, pick your line into corners and use your warm up laps to learn where you can and can’t pedal and feather the brakes or you’ll be sprinting for the entire race.

Racing is great fun but do keep in mind that others might not be as chilled as you seem to be. Good luck and enjoy yourself.

1 Like

Don’t know about dirt crits, but best advice I got for crits in general was not to be tempted to sit around at the back. You’re more at risk of getting stuck behind crashes and increased bursts to cope with the concertina effect through corners.

1 Like

That happened on a fondo. I was at the front with a bunch that compressed itself nicely through a corner. I tapped the brakes lightly as we squished end to end, and the carbon brake track said “SQUEEEE!” A rider behind me immediately went “AAARGH!” There was no crash or contact anywhere, and I’m still wondering what the yell was about.

I only seem chill at the moment because I’m more concerned with learning than winning this first race. But I worry and I ask because I’m inclined to be more aggressive and less afraid of bumping elbows as others seem to be. And if being polite and dainty is just the way things be, I need that gentle reminder.

I agree.

If I have the legs, I’d prefer to be off the front, less for winning and more for the room to move about. Geeze, even on Zwift, I like the sight of empty road more than a hundred butts.

As to the dirt crit, it’s a normal crit, but on the miles of dirt and doubletrack we have encircling vineyards and farmland here. The organizer calls it “Crit Cross.” I prefer “Cyclocrit.” Either way, it’s drop bars and knobblies on private roads with no traffic, and I’m excited to try it.

That sounds like a really cool kind of race!

Not sure if this applies to Dirt Crits, but on tarmac it’s really important to hold your line in corners if you’re in the bunch. I’ve seen a few folk try and go wide-apex-wide and it didn’t end well.

1 Like

Regarding moving around in the pack; you make your own space. If you want out and forward you’re going to have to squeeze through. If you want out and back you simply let a gap open and someone will fill it guaranteed. Sometimes it’s easier to go back, out and forward than moving up but it all comes with skill. Ultimately you are responsible for your own wheel so don’t put yourself in a dicey spot.

It’s all well and good when people say “go off the front” but you really learn nothing about pack riding by doing this. If they’re coordinated you’re coming back and spitting you out. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Regarding line choice; just be consistent and hold your line. I don’t care if you go wide and inside or inside and wide. Just hold your line and don’t be erratic. The accidents happen when riders are unpredictable. If I don’t like your line choice that’s on me to go around you.


I think @RONDAL described the line choice thing better than me.

This is what I was looking for: what’s my responsibility and what’s not. I’ll likely take the wrong line being a noob, but I’m not going to take the wrong line and then switch to another line mid-corner; the wrong arc is still faster and smoother than an impromptu chicane.

Another answer I was looking for. I had considered the squeezing forward, but the back, out, and up never occurred to me.

Thank you so much. This is the kinda info I just couldn’t find on the Google. :+1:

I understand there’s difficulty and expense involved in closing public roads for bike racing, so I’m more than happy to trade asphalt for dry packed clay. (High desert soil around here compresses nicely. Of course, that compression can also lead to hard grooves and hard washboards.)

1 Like

I’m not a racer so more experienced people can correct me but from watching bike races you very rarely see people coming through the middle of the bunch unless it’s coming to a sprint and they are near enough anyway.

In my experience Crits tend to be short and fast. Expect it to be frantic from the off. I suspect that it won’t be much of a bunch, and will get strung out very quickly. There will be lots of shouting during the race, don’t get upset about it. Safest place in any race is near the front. With it being a race, people will be there to win, not to finish. Be confident without being aggressive. Watch those around you. You’re resposible for your own front wheel. Don’t be braking suddenly in a bunch or changing lines through a corner. Try not to brake in a corner. Don’t look at your Garmin until the race is over - focus on what’s going on in the bunch. Definately don’t try and slingshot up the inside and brake late into a corner as it won’t end well.

Most of all though, enjoy it. Crit racing can be a real rush and will improve your bike handling no end.

1 Like

Sounds like something stupid I may have considered had you not told me. Thank you. I’ll put it on my “Don’t Do This” list. :+1:t2:

More good info. So it seems moving up only happens around the sides. Thanx. :slight_smile: