How to get into road racing, an A-Z guide- Edit #2

Michael Guilford Coaching, library

Why race?

Humans have been competitive for years, whether its a game of skill, intelligence, fitness, or a mix of these, like road racing…

  • Fun
  • Fitness
  • Life skills- discipline, self-control, emotional awareness
  • Social

What do we mean by road racing?

Races on open or closed roads, which are regulated by national or international bodies.

The governing bodies ensure races are consistent between events, which allows riders to progress over a season of racing.

In the UK there are a few competitive cycling organisations for road disciplines:

  • CTT- Time trials
  • British Cycling (BC)
  • TLI
  • LVRC

This article focuses mainly on BC racing

Initial Requirements

Contact the organisation to find out what is required before turning up at a race, for BC races you will need to attain membership and a race license.

For some British Cycling road races (e.g Surrey league and SERRL) you are now required to complete coaching sessions before racing as a 4th cat.


This is one area which can be extremely confusing and where riders will make mistakes, at every level. Race officials will apply a level of discretion to the rules, which can make rules appear flexible, but follow the rules rigidly to reduce the risk of being disqualified, fined or even banned from racing.

Different races, leagues organisations, will have different rules, read the organisation’s rulebook and check with an official if unsure.

Race Smart

Race smart is a BC initiative to improve the safety and image of road racing, following several serious accidents in UK road races. Road racing is also becoming more difficult to organise to due to high traffic loads on roads, and police/council opposition to races organisers. Therefore follow the racesmart guidelines, regardless of what other racers do.


At whatever level you are competing you must follow anti-doping rules see WADA and UKAD for more information


There are often many rules for what you need to wear and the equipment you are allowed to use. The key ones for British Cycling road races, are that you need to be riding a drop bar bike, with a freewheel and two brakes, wear a helmet, be suitably covered (no vest tops) and be wearing at least a club jersey if you are racing for a registered club. A typical, £500 low-mid range road bike, will meet these requirements, but you may need to remove unnecessary accessories, bags, mudguards, lights etc.

Disc brakes are not generally allowed for road racing.

However, you must read the rules in great detail to make sure you meet the requirements

Entry and Organisation

Paper entries are fast becoming obsolete, the main methods are now British Cycling entries, riderHQ and entry on the line.

You need to plan races in advance, typically weekend road races have to be entered 1-3months in advance. BC races are done on a selection basis by the race organiser, RiderHQ is done on a first come first served basis. Some mid-week races are entry on the line only, whilst some still require advance entry.

You need to turn up to the race with plenty of time. For a pre-entry race, there is often a reserves list, where no show’s places will be given out 15mins-30mins before the race. So aim to be there 1-2hrs before the start time.

Preparation and training

The most important element to this is to make sure you are mentally and technically prepared for the event.

Group racing skills

Find a coaching session which covers bunch racing skills, not just bunch riding. A road or track session would be suitable.

Doing a club run is great for practising pacing and learning to follow a wheel, but compared with road racing the complexity of skills required is low. Bunch racing is highly complex, as many techniques are being used simultaneously.

If you don’t take part in some training beforehand you greatly increase the risk of crashing, causing injury to yourself and others.

Now go and race!

What no training? no intervals?

If you have taken part in some challenging group racing focused coaching sessions, and you are able to carry out group racing scenarios in a group of >15riders, then you are ready to do your first race. Don’t worry about your physical ability, you will get a feel for what you need to work on through your first races.


Racing is really expensive, right? race license/membership (£100), entries fees (£20/race), travel club kit (£100), s-works shoes £250, S-works bike £6000, Lamborghini with roof rack (£300,000)…where does it end.

Apart from a few essentials, racing doesn’t have to expensive. For the first 3 years of my racing, while I was a student, I rode a <£500 bike, used second-hand shoes and kit. In my opinion, you don’t need to spend £1000s of pounds on top of the range equipment, to enjoy and even be successful in racing.

If you have the money to spend and you want to make the biggest gains in performance then spending money on training related equipment and professional help will yield the biggest gains.

On the other side, you can spend too little on equipment. When it comes to maintaining your bike/equipment, you should bear in mind the risk of wasting your time, entry fee, travel costs. E.g. If you decide to not change your cleats, chain, cassette, tyres etc, you risk a mechanical incident.


What if I get dropped?

As riders progress through racing and do harder races, it is likely that you will get dropped. Don’t worry about it, try to work out what you can do to avoid getting dropped which is usually to expend less energy.

Where to go from here?

After a few races, you will start to get a feel for what motivates you. The best thing you can do is get some professional help to put these thoughts into goals and get some guidance on how to achieve these goals.

Generally, beginner racers will tend to focus too much on one or two elements of performance, e.g. physical performance (particularly FTP).


Generally, riders will tend to make there most significant gains in physical ability when they first start, and at some point, the ability will plateau. Be wary of setting training goals based on other people’s ability, e.g. I want to b 1st cat so I need to be able to do 350W for 20min. This goal might not be achievable, or even necessary.

Overview of BC progression structure

If you decide that you want to progress your results and standings within the BC structure, then it’s important you do some research into the BC structure.


BC has an age, sex and ability category system. You generally can only enter into races which are aimed at your category, although women may be able to enter men’s races, and Junior riders can usually race senior races. The ability categories apply to Junior riders and older, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, Elite, in order ascending order of ability.

Depending on the category of the race (e.g. Nat A, B, Reg A, B, C, C+ as well as circuit category for each of these), you will score points depending on your placing. These are added up over the season and will go towards your ranking (national, regional, category), and towards your license category. i.e. once you have 50 points you will move from 3rd to 2nd category.

Michael Guilford

Level 3 BC Coach

June 2016