Cyclists who want to take the sport to the next level tend to gravitate towards road racing. For many indeed this is how they caught the two-wheel bug in the first place. Every child who ever picked up a tennis racket will tell you it was Wimbledon that first captured their imagination. In the world of cycling, it is the sight of the Tour de France leaders battling their way down the final few metres of the Champs Elysée, faces contorted in determination as they summon up the last dregs of energy from their calves to reach the finish line.
Gruelling ScheduleInterest in the Tour during the course of the past 10 years has been driven, as with so many other sports, by the television broadcasters that have recognised the unique drama that each stage of a major road race can produce. The famous yellow jersey claimed by the winner of the Tour may be out of reach for 99% of those that take up the sport, but it is emblematic of the physical and mental heroism needed to put the body to the test over such a gruelling schedule.
Road racing takes place on both public highways and circuits, and distances and course difficulty vary depending on both age, ability and sex. The discipline is not simply a test of basic cycling ability and stamina, but tactics, mental strength and specific skills, for example, sprinting or handling steep gradients. In some events, riders work in teams, which calls for individual interests to be put to one side in favour of the group. A race may be split over a number of days, or stages. This requires both physical and mental discipline in planning strategy for the entire duration of the event to avoid burn-out and being able to handle the psychological challenge of spending a number of hours in the saddle at a single stretch.
Racing CalendarIf all these challenging aspects of road racing simply make you hungry to get started as quickly as possible, how do you do it? A good starting point may be membership of a cycling organisation. This can also point you in the direction of a local club, and lists the major UK national and international events on the road racing calendar. The starting point for road racing should be locating and joining a local club. Not only will you have access to events for all ranges of ability but the fact that you will be surrounded by fellow enthusiasts will mean that you are never far from either encouragement or advice.
Always remember that road racing skills are acquired over time, and there are no short cuts to avoid having to follow the learning curve. Developing at a steady pace means both skills and experience will be acquired at the same rate, producing a more rounded rider ready for the progressively more difficult challenges that each event presents. Even if you never get within touching distance of a yellow jersey, reaching personal goals is a more modest but nevertheless equally heroic pursuit.