Road Cycling - Overview
Road races are generally held over the Winter months, and as the name suggests, they are held on road or paved off-road courses. The races vary widely in length and style, with the main types of races being: Criterium, Road Scratch Races, Road Handicaps and Individual Time Trial.
Criterium races are run on short street circuits or dedicated off-road criterium circuits from 600m up to around 2km in length. Although they can be held over winter, they are most commonly held in the warmer months. The race length is not set by distance, but over a set period of time. Thus, if your category happens to be quick, you will complete the circuit more times than if your category is having a slower day. This enables the race program to keep to schedule and you can make sure you are back home before the babysitter charges you overtime. Races in Victoria can last 15 or 20 minutes for juniors and up to 60 minutes for senior men. They are great spectator events and provide plenty of opportunity to learn important skills such as accelerating out of corners, how to use change of pace for your benefit, and how to sprint around others (see ‘tips’ for more details on what to do in these races). The first to cross the finish line wins.
Road Scratch Races (commonly known as Road Races) are typically held on longer road circuits or out-and-back courses (where you might ride out to a point and turn around at a witches hat in the middle of the road). Road circuits can be as small as 10km or as large as 60km for a loop, with the total distance varying greatly depending on age and grading. Similar to a criterium, the first to cross the finish line wins. Road races are usually held on country circuits to minimize issues with traffic. They are normally held on ‘open’ roads, which means traffic may enter the circuit or pass your grade. You must obey the road rules, never cross the centre line and obey race official or traffic marshall direction in relation to road safety. In a small number of races in Victoria, races may have a ‘rolling’ (non race-related traffic must stop until the race has passed) or full road closure (non race-related traffic must not enter the circuit). These are normally limited to events such as the Australian National Road Championships.
Road Handicaps are a common type of race largely unique to Australia. The race ‘handicapper’ allocates all riders into groups of similar abilities. The weaker groups are allowed a head start (with the weakest bunch called ‘the limit bunch’), while stronger groups are set off at a later time (with the strongest bunch known as ‘scratch’). All racers are in the same event, and a good handicapper will calculate the starting times to ensure all riders arrive at the finish line at the same time…in theory. In order to succeed in a handicap you need to work together with your bunch so you can catch the weaker bunches ahead and ensure the stronger bunches don’t catch you from behind. Everyone works hard the entire race, and you can learn cycling skills for life on how to effectively share the workload. There are two guarantees in handicap racing: you will always get a good workout, and no one is ever happy with the handicapper (unless you are the happy winner)!
Individual Time Trials provide a great introduction to road racing and suit triathletes. The race is all about you, and how you can cover the designated course the quickest. Riders are set off individually, and no assistance is allowed from other riders shielding you from the wind or from friends in cars driving ahead of you. Serious time triallers will use a dedicated time trial bike (see equipment), but you can enter these races with a simple road bike. Entering a number of time trials across a season will provide you with a great indication of your improvement from comparing your times and average speeds.