My first road race - school me on top tips

Relatively long post so if TLDR then skip to the bottom where my actual questions are laid out.

So I’ve (perhaps stupidly? :thinking:) signed up for my first road race. It’s a local race to my area (Southern part of the UK).

Summary below to give some context to my questions:

It takes place in late May this year and I will be racing the 4th category (uk) group.

The race is 41 miles using a circa 7 mile circuit, on open roads but with marshals and support / outrider vehicles to help protect the riders, on an anti-clockwise circuit so all turns are ‘left’ turns to avoid crossing traffic; in a relatively quiet area and is undulating with no long climbs but a few short steep ‘kickers’ and a couple of steady 3 to 4 minute 6% slogs in there.

I know the route very well including the state of the road (good and bad) in various locations as well as where I can save energy / optimise drafting / need to push / hold back etc.

I’m told based on feedback from local club members that it is likely to be fiercely contested in all categories and there will be organised teams (of up to 6 riders maximum) competing as a ‘unit’.

I understand that field size will be circa 40 riders maximum in each category.

I am currently entered as a single rider albeit I hope to press a couple of similar level fitness and age group cycling buddies to enter and join me as a ‘team’ but this is far from certain so at this stage I’m assuming I’m flying solo.

Ref my experience / fitness (again for context):

TR plan wise I’m currently working through plan builder (set as Climbing Road Race low volume) with my original target A event being in late April - a trip to Majorca with a goal of climbing some mountains below my personal target times.

This fits well with this newly entered event - giving me around 4 weeks (3 weeks training plus 1 week recovery and taper) to build upon my previous plan and dial in those hard repeat efforts holding threshold / high sweet spot in between.

If my training goes to plan and the trajectory I’ve set myself, then I reasonably anticipate being around 3.7w/kg by that point (89kg with a projected indoor FTP of around 330watts. For comparison currently 93.5kg and circa 312watts.

I’m an older rider - I will be 49 at the date of the event.

Racing experience wise I’ve only done around 10 races (pre Covid lockdown); all of which were criteriums of varied type (town centre / car park / closed dedicated outdoor concrete velodrome / racing car tracks (Thruxton) ) of between 40 minutes and 1 hour. Placing wise I was previously for the most part mid-pack, only getting top 10 once. My w/kg then was around 3.4 at best (mostly because I was much heavier - circa 97kg). Also done a few 10 mile TTs but I think that experience is less relevant?

Power curve wise I have relatively poor to average peak power, relatively decent / strong 1 minute to 2 min power and distinctly average elsewhere.

My goals for this event are:

Outcomes:
My minimum goal is to not finish last in my category (of the riders who actually finish the full race). My reasonable stretch goal is to finish in the top 60%. My super-lofty (unrealistic :thinking:) goal is to finish in the top third.

Process:

  • Hold on to a ‘break’ or group that I feel I can live with and then stick with it to the end
  • Avoid being at the front
  • focus on consciously optimising aero / relaxing / minimising effort / drafting as much as possible
  • don’t get caught out with excitement and adrenaline and blow up; when holding back instead will mean lasting the course at a better average speed / time
  • eat / drink and fuel optimally

I’ve watched a ton of race tactics videos on YouTube and searched this forum a few times for any bits of race craft knowledge that would be reasonably translatable into my specific circumstances and expectations.

My conclusion is to just focus primarily on the few simple basics and not be too concerned about the smaller nuanced or complex things that will only apply with any materiality if I were to be contesting a top 10 position (unlikely and unrealistic).

Principally I want to have fun, enjoy the experience and come away feeling I gave it my best effort and learnt something about myself / the process of a road race.

My actual questions are:

  • what are the main differences (compared to a hard paced 1 hour criterium) that I ought to expect to find and therefore prioritise bearing in mind and either working on or looking to upskill / mitigate

  • any ‘top tips’ for a lone rider who will be in the mix with some clear ‘teams’ of people

  • fuelling wise my experience from criteriums and any hard longer outdoor rides I’ve done tells me I’ll need at least 400 calories an hour on the bike which I plan to achieve as follows: 1 x 500 and 1 x 750ml bottle with Beta fuel sachets. 2 x SiS energy gels. 2 x Beta fuel gel blocks. I banana (at the start). I’d welcome any feedback on whether this ought to be supplemented / cut back / altered?

:smiley:

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Short of a direct answer, there is some great advice in some existing topics that are worth a look:

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Thanks @mcneese.chad, I’ve seen a few of these threads already and all are super helpful. :+1:t2::+1:t2::+1:t2:

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Course profile might be a big difference. The crits I race are all pan flat. road races are usually rolling hills. If that is the case for you as well, figure out where the main selection point are and make sure you are in a decent position at those points.

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In 4th cat nobody will be racing as a team. They might not chase a team mate down if they’re up the road, but they won’t ride as a team.

Your ambitions are great, first target just finish.

Riding in the bunch is something that takes a bit of getting used to but given you’ve raced a few crits, you should be fine. Depending on the courses crits are probably going to be a bit more hectic then RR’s.

My top tip is at the start of the race be as close to the lead car as possible, this is when the race will go mad and all hell breaks loose. Get stuck behind someone not paying attention and all of a sudden your race is done after 30 seconds. I’ve fallen foul of this more than once (more fool me) if you have to be a d**k, do so.

If you want to finish high up in the pack stay up towards the top 3rd wherever possible, if you want to make a break you need to be up there.

You might drop back a bit if the pace is high on any climbs, get near the front towards the bottom and don’t get disheartened if you slide back.

Just my two pence but for a RR that short (sub 2 hours) 2 bottles of beta fuel should be enough. Gels/blocks etc just give you somthing else to think about. Lessen the cognitive load.

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Your 330 watt FTP is likely to be toward the pointy end of the field, but your 3.7 w/kg will not be. If you get dropped it will be on those 3 to 4 minute 6% climbs.

  • Position yourself to sag climb those hills. Be toward the front at the start so you can fall back during the climb, hopefully without dropping off the back. Drafting will definitely help on a 6% climb so use it.
  • The riders with 4+ w/kg (they will be there) will likely have lower absolute FTPs than you. Put the hurt on them on the flats. Use your strong 1-2 minute power to try to break away and make them chase you. When they catch you ease up immediately and fall back into the draft. Repeat. Ideally you’ll exhaust them so when they hit the climb they’ll want to use it to recover and they won’t attack you back.

Have fun!

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Super helpful - thanks for taking the time to write a response :+1:t2::+1:t2:

A good point - I’ll rethink my approach :+1:t2: