Types of Road Races
These races are run as massed start or handicap events. The distance covered varies from 5km to 260km, depending on riders’ age, ability and category. The road courses also vary from flat to hilly to mountainous or a combination of all these types. The number of participants can be up to 200 for a popular open event.
During the race bunches form to maximize riders’ efforts. By sitting on or drafting a rider expends less effort and many riders each doing a turn of pace can travel faster and improve their efficiency.
A criterium is a high-speed event conducted around a tight technical circuit that is typically between .8 and 2 km in length. Criteriums are much shorter distance than road races.
Individual Road Time Trial
This is an individual event in which each participant starts at a given time interval from the riders preceding and following. This is a race against the clock and riders are not permitted to sit on or draft other riders.
Multi Stage Road Races
Commonly referred to as “tours” such as the tour de France, which is 21 stages conducted over 23 days. Stage races can have any number of stages and/or days. A stage can vary from 5 to 260km and can include all of the road race types mentioned.
Each rider is timed for each stage and the times are totaled. The rider with the lowest total overall time is the winner.
For road and criterium racing a road bike with 2 brakes is required, they are sometimes called “racers” and have up to 20 gears (speeds) for under 19, open and masters category riders.
A variety of gears are used in road racing to optimize pedaling efficiency. On undulating courses and during surges of speed or sprints many gear changes are normal.
Road bikes have thin wheels to reduce resistance and are lightweight to reduce gravitational effects. Road bikes need to be comfortable for long distance races. They need to provide stability for sprints and bunch riding as well as efficiency to optimize power output.
For time trials modifications are often made to improve aerodynamics. “Tri bars” or “aero bars” are allowed in time trials BUT not in road races or criteriums. These bars improve the profile/aerodynamics and efficiency.
At the elite level frames, wheels and cranks are all modified to improve aerodynamics of a time trial bike. However stability and comfort are sacrificed. With time trials being much shorter in duration these sacrifices are appropriate.
With races being conducted over varying terrain and bunch sizes, precise speed control is important. To avoid accidents and prevent cyclists making contact with each other, over running a corner or sliding out, brake control needs to be developed. To develop braking control, practice in a safe area like a sports oval, outdoor courts or an empty car park. Witches hats are a great way to create a course to practice braking.
Being able to descend safely down hill is crucial. Having appropriate descending skills will reduce the likelihood of accidents and improve the chances of success. Appropriate braking (i.e. Knowing when and how much to brake) is important. Seek advice from a qualified Road Cycling coach.
A cyclist sitting on behind another can save about 30% of their energy at high speed, as they are shielded from the wind. With the advantages associated with sitting on, it is poor tactics not to do so. It’s important to practice sitting on before entering a race. Practice in a training ride by following behind another rider leaving a 1-metre gap and slightly to one side. Progressively move closer to the rider in front while maintaining focus on their lower back and rear wheel. Gradually reduce the gap as your confidence builds.
Road bunches can vary from 6 – 250 cyclists. The larger the bunch the more technical and tactical the ride. The skills mentioned above need to be developed for bunch riding.