Next weekend there is a cyclocross race at a park near my house. My first organized bicycle race ever.

I would like advice / links on strategy, rules, and protocol.

I am over 50, in good bicycle shape, and comfortable on trails.

I ride a bicycle daily and take a 45-75 minute workout ride at least 3 days as week.
So I am pretty comfortable with what I can do in 45 minutes.

My thought is to try and hold with the leaders as long a possible.
If it only 5 minutes then so be it but I want to know what that pace is.
How do I even know which riders are in my age group?

I suspect I will be lapped. How do I deal with that?

This is a links to the event information 2014BCRCX2 register

  • My theory for a first experience is to let the organizers put you in whatever event they choose, and stay away from the leaders. That's where all the heavy action will be, so just go, keep out of trouble, and get some experience. And maybe try to stay with the leaders when they lap you.
    – andy256
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


Go and have fun and experience it all, you wont win, you most likely will be lapped and that is ok, they only pull people off course in the pro/elite ranks and even then not always, you'll just finish a lap down. In the races I do, when lapped, I'll end up with a finish time that is shorter than the winner, but I only did 5 laps to their 6. The organizer/timer figures all that out.

In larger events, they will run Men under 40, Men 40-50, Men 50+ in one race with 1 minute gaps between the starting gun. Also, at the races I do, they try to keep the numbers somewhat recognizable. Men under 40 200-299, Men 40-50 500-600, Men 50+ 800-900, but again it really doesn't matter too much, go race, go hard, blow up and hold on to finish.

The start times for the races I've done start the beginners category 'C' in the early race, then run an all women race, then short break for short kids race, followed by category 'B' and finishing with the 'A' race. I've never done road races, but the 'A' guys are Cat 1/2, 'B' Cat 3-ish and 'C' the beginners. Even if you are a Cat 1 racer, I would enter one or two Beginner races to gain experience on the mud, getting on/off your bike, riding sand pits, slow 180 degree turns, accelerations and more.

I try to catch the slower guys under 40 and try not to get caught by the 50+ guys, much more fun when you are 'in the mix' but I enjoy every race and learn from it to gain bike handling skills, tactics, endurance, and friends.

As far links and rules, I would just check with the race you are planning to go to, find the website to check how they start each category. Some races require a USAC license (US Racer?) my local races don't.

  • Men 40+ 50+ and 60+ are one group. And will just buy a 1 day license.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:27
  • One other thing I forgot to add is that the races go longer in the higher categories, 35-40 minutes is typical for the winning beginner race time, 45-50 for 'B' and 55-65 for 'A' Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:40
  • I emailed the contact on the web site and it is a guy that works at local bicycle shop and he told me I could come by and ask questions.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 13:19

So I did my first race to today and here is my take on first race strategy.

  • Unless you are a solid road or mountain racer don't even think about staying with the leaders. The pace is fast. It is faster than you can ride. It was two gears faster than I thought it would be. For non a racer I am a good rider and in very good shape. I got lapped 30 minutes into 45 minute race. Even on the 4/5 30 minute race I got lapped on my second to last lap so it got turned into my last lap.
  • Bring chap stick
  • Don't over eat
  • Don't drink the night before the race - it was Halloween and I went on the Critical Mass ride
  • Bring water as the event may not supply water - it was a well run event but the park did not have water
  • On the last 2 or 3 laps they will tell you how many are left. If you get passed by the leader then that is a lap.
  • Ask questions. Riders are are very helpful.
  • If you are over 40 and not experience then you don't really have a good option. You may have a 1/2 the field Cat 3 or above in masters. And in 4/5 you are going against 20 year old legs and lungs. Just have fun.
  • If you are in the last race and they serve beer then stash a cup before the race as once the Cat 1-3 hit the keg they drain it.
  • If they cheer for you to ride the sand pit or other hard obstacles and they are not a racer it is because they want to see you crash.
  • Heckling is a big part of the sport. Don't wear a yellow jersey - especially your first race.
  • If you are coming into a section that you are going to need to hit the brakes then coast a little longer and use less brakes. There are going to be sections of course where you don't brake and go all out. Use the downhills to recover.
  • When you get passed they will tell you what side they want. And you will hear them. On a corner just go wide.
  • Once you get passed is when you can learn. Watch their lines. Watching from the sidelines is not the same.

CX is a blast! It is also a 30 to 55 minute sufferfest of intense aerobic effort where your heart will be exploding out of your chest, your lungs will sear and your legs will be screaming at you.

Given this is your first race ever, if this is a USAC sanctioned race and they have a pure category '5' race that is the one you want to ride in as it will just be other beginner men. Barring that, look for a category 4/5 or better yet a category 4/5 35+ race. If the 40+, 50+, 60+ race is an 'open' race (meaning any category of racer can enter) I would shy away from it as there will be cat 1, 2 and 3 racers in it.

The day before the race get all your stuff ready. Make sure you have appropriate clothes for the weather plus your helmet, your shoes, water bottle with whatever sort of hydration you do, energy gels etc. If the weather is poor consider bringing a towel to dry off with and an extra complete change of clothes for post-race. Again, if it is going to be wet or muddy consider bringing a few plastic bags to put your muddy and wet shows and clothes in. Also, take your bottle cages off the bike to make it easier to shoulder in the race.

Day of, try getting to the race early in the day (ideally an hour or more before the first race of the day takes place) so you can pre-ride the course a few times. Don't try to crush it when pre-riding the course. Instead focus on learning what line to take through different sections of the course, how you are going handle off-camber sections, how you will handle run-ups and the barriers, where is there going to be a bottleneck during the first lap etc.

When you are pre-riding, if there is a section that gives you problems or you don't feel comfortable with, ride just that section multiple times until you have a game plan for it. As you are doing all this remember that for some sections the fastest solution may be to get off your bike and run with it.

While you are doing this also watch other riders. How are they handling different parts of the course? How are they dismounting/mounting their bike?

Make sure you pick up your number before registration closes for your race. Make sure you pin it on the correct side. Use 6 pins. Don't pin through the holes in the numbers.

Make sure you are warmed up before the start of the race. After you've warmed up hydrate. If your normally consume gels, gummies or other energy food while cycling consume your normal dose while hydrating. If you don't normally consume gels, don't do so now.

Show up to race staging 10 to 15 minutes before the start of your race. If it is cold or wet outside try to stay warm and dry by wearing a jacket to staging and discarding it when the officials start staging the race. Listen to what the official say prior to the race start.

During the race, as Glenn Gervis says in his answer, you most likely won't win, you might be lapped but that is ok. Go out and do the best you can, don't fret the barriers and run-ups, if you crash, skid out get run into don't panic, just pick yourself out and continue. When you put your bike down after going over a barrier or shouldering it on a run-up make sure you place it back on the ground gently so you don't drop the chain.

If you find yourself a ways back in the race focus on the closest person in front of you and make it a race between you and that person. Where does he slow down? Maybe he is slowly riding that muddy off-camber uphill section and you can run it and pick up time on him. Once you pass him switch your focus on the next person in front of you. When you are right behind someone remember pass, don't pace.

If the leaders come up behind you don't interfere with their progress. At the same time that doesn't mean you need to stop. Just kind of pull off to the side a little and let them by. Make sure you check your results as soon as they are posted. If you think they are wrong, calmly talk to the officials about it.

  • I added links to the event to question. I would have thought 50+ based on conditioning. I could do both as there is a 4 hour gap. If I am going 4/5 I need to sign up now as it is 1/2 full. There is a fast downhill with bumps that I am OK with alone but in a pack it will be scary. Hitting that with 75 rookies would really scare me. I would rather lose mens 50+ and keep my teeth. Please comment.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 19:01
  • In the end do what you are comfortable with. If you do the 4/5 and things are too chaotic you can always hang back going down the hills on the first lap. Usually after that races start to get pretty spread out. There is a video of last year's 4/5 race (youtube.com/watch?v=PWN8pUk4GGA) unfortunately it is a backward facing camera but I still think you can see how spread out the race is long before it gets to the descents. Does look like a fun, fast course: strava.com/segments/5939321 Have fun and good luck! Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 5:34
  • Thank you! That video was so helpful. The hill I was afraid of is not even on the course. Well it is on the course but they go down it in three long cut backs. The mountain bike would have been a mistake.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:10
  • Thanks again. 4/5 only had 24 spots left and a registered on line. I will go in the morning and watch the mens 50+.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:35
  • 1
    There was a cat 4 rider at the park tonight that is also one of the organizers. He took me through the course and I was able to ride the whole course - even the hill by the stairs. We ran the hill twice and rode it twice and decided riding was easier. He said I would not place in 50+ but I would probably have more fun. Either will be fun and I may do both.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 23:46

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