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Crits, time trials and sportives: Our beginner’s guide to UK cycling events

For many cyclists, the decision to go from casual cyclist to competing is a daunting leap.  But those who have taken their cycling to the next level will know it offers an awesome stepping stone for pushing boundaries and camaraderie. Crossing the finish line is just a small part of it. The real thrill comes from re-defining what you thought was physically and mentally possible and pushing your cycling performance into new territory. 


Litebike cycling event beginner's guide

In this post we will help you:



Understanding different types of cycling events


Get to know the cycling event lingo. There are a few types of cycling events encompassing different disciplines and formats:


  • Road racing takes place on paved roads with different distances and terrain. It often involves multiple riders competing together. These are point-to-point or circuit races varying in length and difficulty. They can range from short criterium races held on closed circuits to longer stage races like the Grand Tours.

  • Time trials are individual races against the clock over a set distance. Riders start at intervals and aim to complete the course in the fastest time.

  • Criteriums (Crits) are short-course road races typically held on closed circuits in urban spaces. Sometimes these can be short and fast. Usually lasting 60-90 minutes with multiple laps around a circuit. Alternatively, they can be billed as technical courses, involving lots of tight corners that make good bike handling crucial. It’s quite common for these events to have a sprint finish.

  • Sportive. A short to long distance cycling event usually held on the open road. Expect lots of riders. It's you against the clock.

  • Track cycling takes place on a velodrome. There are many types of race but two of the most popular are the sprint, an explosive race where riders aim to outmaneuver over a short distance, and the pursuit where riders start at opposite ends of the track and try to catch each other.

  • Cyclocross events take place on a mix of surfaces, including pavement, grass, mud, and obstacles requiring riders to dismount and remount. Short-duration races, typically lasting 30-60 minutes, known for their challenging courses and unpredictable conditions.

  • Gravel racing is typically long-distance on unpaved gravel roads or mixed terrain, testing endurance and bike handling skills.


How to choose the right cycling event 


Our best advice for choosing the right cycling event is to pick the event style that you think you would find most enjoyable. If it’s your first time competing, find something close to home ideally on a route that’s at least fairly familiar. This will help ease you in without having to worry about lots of other logistical issues, like booking accommodation and transporting your bike.


Top tips for preparing for a cycling event


While race day is the icing on the cake, the preparation and build up is often the most rewarding aspect. Training takes hard work and commitment, and a good performance on race day is the accumulation of all that effort. Over the years we’ve developed a few strategies that have given us the best chance of success.


  • Set clear goals. Define your objectives for the event. Are you aiming for a personal best, completing a certain distance, or simply enjoying the ride? Establishing clear goals will shape your training and preparation.

  • Training plan. Develop a structured training plan tailored to your event's distance and terrain. Gradually increase mileage and incorporate varied terrain, intervals, hill climbs, and long rides to build endurance and strength. Check out our advice on building the right cycling training plan that gets results.

  • Nutrition and hydration. Maintain a well-balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to fuel your training. Experiment with nutrition strategies during your training rides to find what works best for you. Hydration is crucial, so ensure you're drinking enough water before, during, and after rides. We have written plenty about nutrition elsewhere.

  • Bike maintenance. Regularly maintain and service your bike. Ensure it's in optimal condition by checking tires, brakes, gears, and lubricating the chain. A well-maintained bike can prevent mechanical issues during the event. Check out our TPU inner tubes and waxed chains if you’re after that next 1% in performance.

  • Route. Become familiar with the event route if possible. Study the course profile, elevation, and potential challenges. Knowing the route can help you pace yourself and mentally prepare for climbs or descents.

  • Rest and recovery. Get proper rest and recovery between training sessions. Listen to your body and avoid overtraining, as proper recovery is essential for improvement and injury prevention. Hard sessions should be a small part of your overall weekly training volume. You may tweak things over time, but if you’re starting out we would recommend you spend no more than 20% of your weekly mileage at this level, with the remaining 80% at a comfortable, easy speed.

  • Mental preparation. Visualise success and positive outcomes. Develop mental strategies to overcome challenges during the event, such as staying focused, managing fatigue, and maintaining a positive mindset.


Cycle race strategies 


Race day is about showcasing all the hard work you have put in over weeks and months of training. As well as the mental preparation, there are a few strategies you can employ to give yourself the best chance of coming out on top.


  • Know the course. Understanding the race course is fundamental. Study the route profile, elevation, technical sections, and potential challenges. Identifying key points like climbs, descents, and strategic sections helps plan your approach.

  • Place strategically. Manage your effort wisely. Avoid expending all your energy at the start. Aim for a steady pace, reserving energy for crucial moments, such as climbs or sprint finishes. Consistent pacing can prevent early exhaustion.

  • Drafting. Master the art of drafting to conserve energy. Tuck in behind other riders, benefiting from reduced wind resistance. Learn when to strategically position yourself and when to utilize the slipstream for maximum advantage.

  • Positioning. Strategic positioning is key, especially in group rides or pelotons. Stay aware of your surroundings, anticipate moves, and find the optimal position to avoid getting boxed in or caught in a surge.

  • Breakaways and attacks. Be tactical when launching breakaways or responding to attacks. Timing is crucial. Gauge the moment when the peloton's pace relaxes or take advantage of technical sections to make a move.

  • Cornering and decents. Optimise your speed through corners, leaning into turns and exiting smoothly. Descend confidently but cautiously, maintaining control and speed.

  • Nutrition and hydration. Race nutrition is critical. Stay hydrated and fuelled with easily digestible carbohydrates and electrolytes. Practice your nutrition plan during training to avoid surprises on race day.


Upcoming cycling events


It’s worth doing a bit of research to see what’s coming up. But if you’re stuck here are a few annual events that we can recommend.


RideLondon

Date: Summer (dates vary each year)

Location: London

Event Type: Multi-day cycling festival

RideLondon stands as one of the most celebrated cycling festivals in the UK, attracting thousands of cyclists annually. This multi-day event offers a variety of rides suitable for all ages and abilities. From the iconic 100-mile sportive on closed roads through London and Surrey to family-friendly FreeCycle events and the thrilling Classique race showcasing the world's top professional cyclists, RideLondon is a highlight on every cycling enthusiast's calendar.


Dragon Ride

Date: June

Location: Wales

Event Type: Sportive

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Welsh countryside, the Dragon Ride is renowned for its challenging routes and stunning scenery. With various distances catering to different abilities, cyclists can conquer climbs and descents while immersing themselves in the natural beauty of the Brecon Beacons National Park. From the Macmillan 100 to the fearsome Dragon Devil boasting 300 kilometers of challenging terrain, this event offers something for everyone seeking a memorable cycling experience.


Tour de Yorkshire

Date: Spring (dates vary each year)

Location: Yorkshire

Event Type: Professional race and sportive

The Tour de Yorkshire, a legacy of the iconic Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014, has become a major fixture in the UK cycling calendar. Combining professional racing with mass participation sportives, this event showcases Yorkshire's stunning landscapes and embraces the region's cycling fervor. From witnessing top riders compete in thrilling races to riding the same routes in the sportive events, participants get to experience the electric atmosphere of this prestigious cycling extravaganza.


L'Eroica Britannia

Date: Summer

Location: Derbyshire

Event Type: Vintage cycling festival and ride

For those captivated by cycling's heritage, L'Eroica Britannia offers a nostalgic journey through cycling's golden age. Embracing a vintage theme, cyclists don classic attire and ride iconic pre-1987 bicycles through the picturesque Peak District. This celebration of vintage cycling is not just a ride; it's an experience steeped in history, with live music, food stalls, and festivities celebrating a bygone era of cycling.


London to Brighton Bike Ride

Date: September

Location: London to Brighton

Event Type: Charity ride

A classic in the cycling calendar, the London to Brighton Bike Ride attracts cyclists from all walks of life to pedal the iconic route in support of charity. Starting in London's Clapham Common and winding through picturesque countryside to the vibrant Brighton seafront, this ride is a fantastic way to raise funds for a worthy cause while enjoying a scenic and spirited cycling experience. Whether you're aiming to conquer challenging routes, soak in stunning landscapes, or embrace cycling's heritage, these upcoming cycling events in the UK promise unforgettable experiences for riders of all levels and interests.


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