Learning the ropes of road racing: any tips and tricks?

So I recently got hooked on this road racing thing. I only have two races under my belt so far, but I really, really enjoy it. While both of those races were in less than ideal conditions (lots of rain mostly), I have really enjoyed the experience and the racing community here in Japan. I wanted to ask for advice on how to learn the ropes of racing when it comes to strategy and tactics. I’d like to know which avenues are most fruitful for improvement. According to my power data, I didn’t leave much on the table for my races (IF = 1.05 and best 20 minute/total average power was 97 %/90 % of my FTP at my last race), but I am sure I could have used my power more wisely in some places. I am an avid TR podcast listener and have watched quite a few races. Most of my competitors are much lighter than me (I live in Japan), so I have an advantage on the downhills and a disadvantage on longer, sustained climbs.

A bit of background: I am 38 year-old male, weigh 72-73 kg with a 305 W at the moment (so about 4.18 W/kg), and I started road riding about a year ago (was an avid MTBer before that). Since about 2.5 months I have been using TrainerRoad for structured training, which I enjoy tremendously, too. (My FTP improved from 277 W to 305 in about two months :metal:) I live in Japan, so I am competing in the lowest category, E3. But I am told by people in the know that E3 roughly corresponds to Cat 3 in the US.

Are you referring to road races or criteriums? Your power data suggests a criterium.
Road races tend to be much longer and as a result lower IF.

There is a lot of information in the podcast and this forum about this topic already - I’d definitely recommend you spend a little time digging around.

You have a background in mountain biking so it is likely your handling is on point already - but make sure you’re comfortable taking turns at speed in tight proximity to other racers. One of the biggest energy gains for many lower category races is just figuring out how to be smooth through turns and within the pack.

There are lots of ways to practice this, but for me the best way is to get your reps in. Either in group rides or races - be comfortable being bumped into, or adjusting to the people around you - get out and do that

From a tactics perspective - for me it is all about learning to read a race. I never want to be in a huge group sprint, so I’m always looking to get away from the group - so I want to attack 5 seconds before the group decides to slow down. If you’re an ace sprinter then you want to figure out how to do everything you can do be there in the finish while still having done as little work as possible

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If your IF is that high with that kind of power to weight, you’re just not efficient enough in the pack. Learn to suck wheels. Never be on the front. Get closer to the guy in front of you. Don’t grab brakes going through corners. In most races you should be able to get away with something much closer to a .8, or lower, IF assuming you aren’t trying to animate the race.

Learn to survive before you start trying to win.

Nope, that was a road race, 3 laps of 13.8 km, which took me about 1:10 hour to complete.

At that race, I was definitely in the mood to stir the pot: it had been raining for hours before the race, and most of the racers were timid because they were on bikers with rim brakes and narrow tires. (I had 28 mm tires at low pressure and disc brakes on mine.) Plus, most of my competitors are significantly lighter than me, so I felt I should use the downhills to make up some time. Which worked out great, I made up 10 places in one lap and helped me and others catch up to two groups that had several minutes on us. I know my body well enough to pace so as to not DNF (they have time cut offs per lap) — the races have been only about an hour long, so considerations like fueling do not play a role, fortunately.

That’s a good point. I feel like I got squeezed out of the front pack. With smaller groups, I felt much more comfortable, also because I could take any line I wanted to at the speed I felt comfortable at.

Totally unrelated to your question about the ropes of road racing - but if you maintained an IF of 1.05 for 70 minutes then you likely need to adjust your FTP higher

The issue is more that you need enough gas left in the tank at the end to make a decisive move. If your intensity isn’t steady at a lower level through most of the race you won’t be able to spike hard for that 0:30-5:00 minute effort at the end to actually win the race.

Maybe. I will soon start SSB2 MV, and then I will retest it. After two initial tests, I have bumped up the FTP based on my performance in the TR workouts. But I didn’t just want to enter the FTP that I wish I had and then have a suboptimal response to training.

I had gas left, which I used to overtake the guy in front of my during the last 500 m, who was three, four bike lengths away. I almost caught another guy I hadn’t aimed for, too, but missed him for about 2 seconds in the end. Of course, I wasn’t under any illusion that in the grand scheme of things whether I was 48th, 49th or 50th out of 107 — apart from myself and the training value.

One of the things I always repeat to myself in races is - what is the purpose of what I’m doing?

The answer to that question varies depending on what my goals for the race are - but if I can’t answer it quickly and feel that the answer is one that supports those goals then I change what I’m doing

For instance - if you are consistently being distanced by the field on the uphills and find yourself chasing on the downhills I’d suggest that you need to get ahead of the field before the first climb, or before the amount of climbing becomes too much and you will be dropped.

Therefore - if you’re sitting in the group on the flats before the climb - what is the purpose of that? It is likely that they are going to drop you on the climb, conserving energy on the flats won’t change that and you’ll have a huge waste of energy on the downhill just to catch on again. Better to do everything you can do hit that hill before the group and maybe get a long free recovery in the field on the downhill, or even better crest the climb ahead of them and try to stay ahead

Think about what you’re trying to do and what the best way to do that is. Don’t be afraid to fail. So many riders don’t want to get dropped or pulled or whatever and end up finishing 35th out of 40 with no chance of a good result instead of going all in on a particular strategy and maybe getting a DNF but maybe finishing with a podium or a W.

One of the things that seemed so peculiar to me when I started racing was the amount of guys in the elite fields who would DNF road events. Compared with a lower category race many more elite racers will pull the plug on a one day event having given everything they had in service of a teammate or a strategy that didn’t work out. The more you race the more you realize that each race is a learning opportunity and learning often involves failure


Race a lot. I’m no expert but among my cycling friends who are good tactical racers, they race 20+ races a year and have been doing that for years. Bike racing is not a “train for the big event” kind of sport. It is a sport you need to put yourself in the position to have thousands of learning opportunities (multiple opportunities per race) to learn. Put the same racers on the same course and every race will still be different. (Anyone who does regular local training races can attest to that).

Also, when you do group rides, look for opportunities to treat parts of them like race situations. How long does it take to move up in the pack? Whens a good time, or bad time to attack? Who’s a good, or bad, wheel to be on? etc.

Finally, talk to other cyclists. Always hang out for a while after a race and chat. Those after race or hard group ride BS sessions often can be great learning opportunities. Often you might not even know what happened based on the “fog of war” so just chatting for a bit can fill in the picture of what actually went down. Listen whenever anyone else is talking about what they think went right or wrong.

Make notes in a training log after races of what you learned, good and bad.

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