Sooner or later, there comes a time in every sporty cyclist’s life when we wonder whether or not we would be any good at bike racing. Instead of whizzing around the countryside at the weekends, we want to know if we can compete in local criteriums, road races or even stage races or cyclocross events. But how do you go about it? And what do you need?
The first thing you must do is join a local club. In the Netherlands, most races are organised by the national bike racing association KNWU and you need one of their licences in order to enter their races. Mostly, you have to be a member of a KNWU affiliated club to enter official races. You will also need a Mylaps timing transponder.
During club races and training rides you’ll learn how to ride in a group, and quickly pick up the dos and don’ts of group riding. At the club, you also learn the skills required to ride with the peleton, catch a break, attempt a solo and suffer the humiliation of getting “dropped”. (This is when you simply can’t keep up with the group, even while slipstreaming, and you fly off the back.)
The club is also where you learn about how other riders ride. The beasts who can ride ridiculously fast, the b*stards who never work hard but win anyway, the talented and the talentless: the good, the bad and the ugly. Plus, you get to ride in cool club clothing. You’re a club rider now – not just a weekend warrior.
It is best to have a mentor to keep an eye on you during your first race. A veteran who will ride alongside you and give tips, make comments, and generally make you feel like you’ll never make it. If he’s a good mentor, that is. The strange thing about bike racing is that while being a highly individualistic sport, it is most enjoyable to race in big groups.
My mentor’s top tip during my first criterium: “You are allowed to use the sides of the tyres in the corners, you know!”
During my first race, I was ordered to keep my finger resting on my brake lever, and to pedal hard through every corner of the twisty circuit. But, and it’s a big but, not when the bike is cranked over deep in the bend. Everyone in the peleton knows the sound of a pedal-grind. It is often followed by “that noise”. The noise of aluminium and carbon fibre crunching into tarmac, often followed by shouts and groans of pain.
First big crash
I’m sorry to have to tell you, but this is going to happen. And it will not be pleasant. Hopefully you will avoid serious injury. Mostly we see more crashes than we are involved in. But at some point it will happen to you. My first big one was my fault and I was the biggest victim: six weeks off the bike and two weeks with a leg in plaster. Torn knee ligaments. Best method of recovery according to the doctor? Cycling. Yay! The most frustrating thing? Not being able to ride my bike. Lesson learned? Ride the course at least once before the race starts!
So rare, so sweet. Like orchid nectar. One day, this will happen to you too. A win. Whichever way it happens, it is the greatest sensation ever. You will be Eddy Merckx, Anna van der Breggen, Tom Dumoulin, and Marianne Vos all rolled into one. It will feel wonderful. Unless you are a real talent, this may only happen once or twice a season if you’re lucky (welcome to my world) but, boy, it’s a great feeling. Good luck!