How to survive your first crit race

Preferably, don’t start in February

Looking forward to my racing plans for 2017, I decided to look back at my first race in February 2016.

I joined the road cycling world in the summer of 2015 through a ladies taster course with the Cowley Road Condors and had a first foray into racing at the end of February last year. There are various types of racing – road, time trial, criterium (crits) etc. and my first was a ladies crit race. It wasn’t the gentlest of introductions.

For starters, it was February, in England, so it was cold, windy, and wet. To call it a monsoon in a hurricane would be slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly. The course was laps around an airfield, so it was exposed to the high winds. The ladies race was on the course at the same time as one of the men’s, which meant every now and then a horde of adrenaline-fueled limbs on wheels would come crashing past, releasing a tidal wave over us.

As aerodynamic as an elephant. Photo: Sarah Clarke

One of the advantages of riding with a club is that the more experienced members offer their wisdom to the newbies and give you encouragement when you consider your duvet is significantly nicer than outside. And they remember to bring spare towels to wash-outs.

So, here is what I learnt from my first race:

  • Don’t get your hopes up that the weather will change from what’s been predicted all week (torrential rain and 50mph winds)
  • Don’t look at the list of ladies names and quiver in fear at the number of Cat 2s
  • Do have a nervous toilet stop beforehand
  • Do laps of the race course during your warm up if allowed, it will help quieten fears of scary corners
  • Don’t ignore all advice on glasses beforehand; if it’s raining get a pair otherwise when you’re behind someone’s wheel (as you should be) it’s like someone’s got their thumb over a hose and are spraying it in your eyes (a friend’s contact lens actually got washed out because of this so she did the race half blind…)
  • Also get a cycling cap to protect your eyes further, and they look super cool
  • Do be prepared to work together with other ladies and share the work being on the front
A somewhat drier crit race later in the year
  • Ignore all the chat about marginal aerodynamic gains – shaving vs not shaving your legs will not make or break your first race
  • Don’t swing out to the side of the pack because you think it’s better than being at the back/you’re scared to get too close
  • Speaking of, get closer to the wheel in front
  • …Closer than that
  • Never get comfortable; always try and move to the front – if you don’t you’ll soon find yourself at the back
  • Do get down on your drops (ignore the photo of me on my hoods above…)
  • If you’re not comfortable on your drops, practice!
  • Do speed up and look fierce (from your perspective at least) past your club’s cheerleaders
  • If you get dropped and are going around by yourself, don’t daydream and forget you are in a race, keep pushing yourself
  • Do enjoy yourself – you’re riding your bike with a bunch of awesome ladies who are all encouraging you!

Check out Aimee Fenwick’s race report who came 6th!

I probably won’t be doing many road race or crits this year, and focus on team time trials instead, which I really enjoy. But first I need to rehab my ankle which I twisted in November and have sort of been in denial about. I had entered a 200km audax for early January and it wasn’t until the day before until I finally admitted that I couldn’t safely clip out of my road cleats. So I’m doing lots of exercises prescribed from a physio and learning to love the watt bike at the gym.

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