Getting Started in Cycle Racing


Even beginner-level cycle racing is a demanding and exciting experience.

Photo Credit: James Newman,

Maybe you’ve been inspired by watching Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish conquering the Pyrenees in their quest for the yellow jersey. Or maybe you’ve signed up for a Saturday-morning criterium on a whim and been bitten by the racing bug. Once you’ve decided to step up your game and make the move from recreational to racing cyclist, these tips will help you make smart choices and avoid common mistakes as you start going for the gold.

Join the Club. “The first thing for new racers to do is to sign up with an open team,” says Russell Cree, owner of Upper Echelon Fitness (, a cycle and triathlon coaching, bike fitting, physiological testing and physical therapy center in Portland, Oregon. “Knowledge trickles down from the elite-level riders to new racers, and there’s no better way to get to know the sport. Your team members will have your back—if you go it alone, you could show up to a race with your number on upside down and never have anyone tell you.”

Any medium- to large-sized city will have at least one team with membership open to anyone who can pay the fee and show up for rides. In the Salt Lake area, check out the Utah Cycling Association ( for information on finding and joining a club near you. Some clubs specialize in just one type of cycling—road, track, mountain or cyclocross—while others include riders of all kinds.

Photo Credit: James Newman,
In high-energy sprints, you’re likely to tangle with another rider’s handlebars. Practice controlling your bike in these tight-quarter situations—but start at slow speeds on a forgiving surface.
Falling correctly is an important skill, too. (So is learning to shrug it off when your friends laugh at you.)

If you’re serious about racing, you’ll also want to join USA Cycling and get a racer’s license. This license entitles you to compete in more than 2500 USA Cycling-sanctioned events each year and to earn points toward a higher ranking.

Get in Gear. There’s no escaping the facts—cycle racing is an expensive sport. Expect to pay at least $2000 for a race-worthy bike (that means one with a light alloy frame and high-quality components). But, as Russell says, “No matter how much you spend, you can’t buy a bike that will win a race for you.”

Whichever kind of racing you want to try, it’s worth taking the time to seek out a bike store that understands that type of equipment. Local road racer Brian Smith says, “Look for a shop that sponsors a team or group rides. The shops are interested in bringing new riders into the sport, and you’ll benefit from the knowledge of the more experienced riders in the group.” A well-equipped store can even help you out with a custom fitting for your bike—essential for avoiding problems such as back and neck pain down the line.

Training in a group builds strong racers and strong friendships.

Take Time for Training. For most racers, the great limiting factor in training is time. Aim for riding about 12 hours a week, and try to get in at least one or two long rides of 20 to 40 miles. These longer rides will help you build up the stamina needed to make a strong finish.

Avoid training alone whenever you can. Handling your bike in a close-packed group is a critical racing skill that many new riders forget to develop. You should also include interval training in your workouts. These one- to five-minute top-speed bursts will prepare you for the accelerations and chases that can win or lose a race.

Adjust your training schedule with the seasons, too. While the spring and summer months beckon riders outdoors, there’s no need to let winter’s freezing temperatures interfere with your training. Look for indoor training camps such as the four-month Power Cycle Camp offered by J.R. Smith Coaching ( to be on top of your game at next season’s start.

Get out and Ride. Ultimately, the only way to become a racer is to hop on your bike and start racing. Check out the schedule of events at or, or try one of these upcoming newbie-friendly races:

Sanpete Classic: August 29, Spring City, Utah,

Great Utah Bike Festival: September 4–7, Minersville, Utah, bike2bike.‌org

Cyclesmith Rocky Mountain Raceways Criterium: Every Tuesday through September, West Valley City, Utah,


About Author

Molly writes about fitness and nutrition from her home in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not at her desk, you can find her teaching history, hiking the Gorge, or hitting the archery range.

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