Road Racing 101 - Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson is a Cat 1 road and crit racer and is heading into his 7th season on the road with Bissell ABG Giant. Josh just happens to be a multi-time collegiate national champion on the road and in CX, former Giant Factory Off-Road pro CX racer, and currently TNLCX's only elite CX racer. More than all that, he's a great young man that brings a lot of experience, character, and a generous spirit to the TNL community. He's been racing (crushing souls as he says) at a high level since age 16 and easily has the most experience of anyone. So, we knew he'd has some valuable insights to share.
What are the two most important things I should be aware of when considering racing my first crit/road race?
I've created two separate lists, one for RR and the other Crits.
RR - my two most important things to be aware of:
1) Nutrition: it is important to know what kinds of nutrition items (drink mix, energy gels, bars, etc.) work well for you and will allow you to have the energy needed in the last half of the race
2) Pacing and knowing how and when to expend energy - it's easy to ride hard and go to the front of the pack early on in the race but heroic efforts in the early part of the race rarely leads to the spoils of victory.
Crit: my two most important to be aware of:
1) Course inspection Check out the course and look for areas that have uneven pavement, potholes, manhole covers, etc that you will need to be aware of during the race to avoid a crash.
2) Since Crits are often on tight courses with many turns, you will want to practice your cornering skills. One way you can do this is to setup cones in an empty parking lot and practice cornering in a safe environment away from cars and not in the middle of a race.
It’s January and I want to race in May, what should I be doing between now and then to train?
It's important to start to build the base of your fitness by beginning to consistently ride on the trainer and x-train to allow you to do intervals and group ride as you get closer to May. Once the weather breaks, the more you can ride with fast-paced groups that push your skill and ability, the more you'll be prepared for your first race. For road/crit racing enjoyment, I think it's important to be comfortable riding in a group and reaching faster speeds before you work on fine-tuning your engine with intervals. After you are comfortable with consistently riding in race like scenarios, you can begin to add specificity improve your outcome in the races.
How fast do I need to be able to ride to be able to race in a Cat 5 crit race?
This question has a relative answer but relatively speaking, you need to be able to hang with a group ride that avg. a pace of 20+ mph. That being said, if you have an interest and desire to race, I wouldn't let a subjective number like 20 mph. stop you from embarking on this journey. It's called racing for a reason and part of the fun in road cycling is combining both the forces of your mind and body to achieve success. Think chess master meets gladiator - you need both brain and brawn to survive, but the person who has both is the one who consistently creates winning situations.
How important is it to ride with others come spring?
I've touched on this in previous answers.... but I will elaborate on this further. It's crucial to ride in groups in the early part of the year for multiple reasons. A few:
1) to become more comfortable riding in a group and ultimately more efficient - great efficiency leads to more energy which leads to a higher probability of success during the crucial points of the race
2) regain strength and balance on the bike - if you've been on trainer during the winter months, you will have lost some of the muscle and control that helps stabilize your core and upper body when riding in a group
3) being able to pace off others and have them push you will allow you to push past limits that otherwise might've seemed unattainable on your own
How do I find others that want to train?
There are a few different ways to do this, but some of the obvious ways are to join or become more involved with your local cycling club. The next level would be to join a racing team that has others that are looking to compete. By doing these two things, you will likely find a rider or group of riders that are of a similar skill level that you can begin riding with outside of scheduled ride times. Over the years, I have found it helpful to have one or two people that I know have similar goals and are of similar ability that I can consistently train with in the earlier part of the season during the rebuilding of base fitness.
Do I need to be a part of a team to do well at races?
To begin (Cat. 4/5 level) it is not necessary to be apart of a team to have individual success. These levels of racing rarely have organized team tactics at races, and generally speaking, the people you're competing against are also beginners who are trying this out to see if it's something they want to pursue further. From a learning curve perspective, a team can greatly aid you in learning from others who have been through what you're facing for the first time before and they can aid in the process. It's also more fun to be in community and share in your success and failures with others that will support and encourage you.