Words by Helen McKay (Team Les Filles Queen of the Mountains) on Bike Racing in the UK and how to get into it.
After the ride some of the girls were asking about racing. The first event I did was a low key sportive. There are lots that are very achievable (I'd say start small and then take on more and more challenging ones). My first one was in March in the Chilterns. I loved that someone had taken a photo, and that I got to see how many men on race bikes I got to beat (on my hybrid with flat pedals)!
Then I decided Sportives were fun, but I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to unleash my competitive spirit. I wanted to race.
To race a British Cycling crit (race on a short circuit) or a road race you either need Membership
AND a day license, or Membership (gold or silver) AND a full 1 year license.
I only got a Gold membership when I was going to race abroad a lot during that year, otherwise Silver covers everything.
A day license is the cheapest option, but you don't get to keep any points you gain in that race. I dived straight in and got full licence. It just depends how sure you are you want to keep racing or not versus the cost.
There are some winter series races for Cat 3/4 women (everyone starts as a Cat 4 and then if and when you get points you move up to Category 3, 2, 1 and finally Elite) which would be great introduction to racing. I think it's a good idea to do Cat 234 or E1234 local races to witness and get a feel for tactics from those who've been a round a bit longer. I also recommend starting with crits over road races because its important to learn racing skills, without traffic, before adding that extra element in. Crits tend to be 15-20 miles long (45-60mins) and cost £15-25 per race.
Easiest circuit is Hilllingdon in West London - trains from Paddington to Southall - or ride. No hill, not too technical. Favoured by sprinters.
Also Velopark - East London - bit of a turn which is mildly technical and hill which can help make the race more challenging.
Cyclopark - Kent but trains stop 3 miles? away. Flat, windy, more technical than Hillingdon.
Hog Hill - has a hill that after 8 laps stops being a joke. Best training out there!
Time trials are a different kettle of fish. They are run by Cycling Time Trials. You have to enter at least 2 weeks in advance. This is annoying but unavoidable. Never enter a BC and CTT and then blow out one for the other - they get peed off about that. If you can make both on the same day fine, but don't do one and tell the other you're sick/away/dog ate your homework. They will know. CTT events
Expect to pay £8-£15 but get up at 4am to get to them. No tactics. Just pacing. Own ride over the distance to get quickest time. Sounds easy but you just feel sick the whole way. Not for everyone.
Cyclocross is a fun wintersport. Very friendly. It's basically done on a bike that looks like a road bike but has fat knobbly tyres. You can do it on a mountain bike instead.
Training and nutrition
Don't worry about it for now. Just ride. Just race. That alone will get you fitter.
Energy can get high in races. It's important that what happens in a race, stays in a race. Most people didn't mean anything and they are usually sorry or there's an explanation for what went wrong. 99% of people are great and we can all make mistakes. Men passing in their race may also shout, its better to shout and avoid an accident than to say nothing and suddenly boom - again it's just what happens in a race. Nothing personal. And if they are stupid, #helpfuladvice can be offered to them too.