With our club sessions and the youth road and outdoor track racing season about to get into full swing I thought it might be helpful for those of you who are thinking of taking your son/daughter to races this year for me to write down what I’ve learnt over the past couple of seasons since my son Luke started racing. Beginning to take you son or daughter to races might sound quite daunting, expensive and a huge commitment but it need not be. Initially we started attending local races which are relatively easy to access :
Preston Park track racing most Wednesday’s May – September. Ages U8 to U16. U8-10 riders race on normal road bikes. U12 and older riders will need a track bike. This need not be expensive. PPYCC has some tack bikes in the containers that we can loan out. Or if you want to buy a track bike they are comparably cheaper than road bikes. eBay is a good start but also sometimes parents offer bikes for sale at the track as their children have grown out of their previous seasons bikes.
Angmering Youth Series – just outside Worthing racing on Monday evenings mid-April to end August 6:30 – 8:00pm. Warm up from 6pm. Quite a lot of PPYCC riders attend this session. This is friendly closed circuit racing on a go-kart track. Luke has really enjoyed these races. Normally 5 races per evening and it’s fantastic for improving cornering and racing skills as well as building fitness at a relaxed race meet.
Once Luke had caught the bug and wanted to race more we started to travel a little further afield in the South East last season to gain more experience in races with more riders and on different circuits. There are circuit races at Goodwood motor racing circuit, Hillingdon, Cyclopark and Redbridge cycle circuits on weekday evenings and weekends from spring and across the summer. Additionally, there are the Regional Omniums and Regional Track and Circuit championships. Once it gets to September the Cyclocross season starts and there is both a series of local Sussex races, at least 2 of which are in Brighton, and a London and South East Cyclcross League. During the winter there are indoor track racing leagues – Calshot near Southampton is good for beginners and once experienced if you want to gain indoor velodrome accreditation you can then race London Youth Track League at the Lee Valley Velodrome – quite a few of the 2nd year U12 and U14 PPYCC riders compete in this league. All these events are on the British Cycling website. Use the filters to find the correct age category and different types of events.
The races we’ve attended vary in formality and the level of competition, from Go-Ride racing for beginners to top level Regional competition, but are always friendly. You’ll need your child’s racing licence, which comes free with their British Cycling membership. Before travelling to a race ensure that you have checked their bike and that it’s ready to race – there are no mechanical services offered at races so you need to be self-sufficient. When you arrive at a venue find the ‘sign on’ desk and have your licence to hand. You’ll then need to sign in and collect the race number. The main technical consideration are the British Cycling gear restrictions which are there for good reason and are enforced at all races other than Go-Ride. The race organisers may have a ‘gear check’ for all riders before sign on or sometimes only the top 3 riders are gear checked after the race. Details of the different gear restrictions per age group are on the British Cycling website. This normally just requires adjustment using a screw driver of the rear derailleur to limit use of the biggest gears, referred to as ‘locking off gears’. Don’t be put off there are lots of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to do this. If you’re unsure please ask one of the coaches and we’ll be happy to explain.
Make sure you take at least a multi-tool, pump, spare tube and tire levers with you races along with correct clothing. I always check the weather before setting off and take extra clothing as the Met Office forecasts are often wrong. Double check the tires to make sure there are no serious cuts or embedded bits of stone/glass in the tires before travelling to the race. Luke and some other riders have punctured whilst warming up before races so this is an essential check to avoid a stressful 5 minutes before a race or even missing the race completely.
U8 and U10 (Cat E & D) races are normally 15-20 mins, U12 (Cat C) 20-30 mins, U14 (Cat B) 30-40 mins and U16 (Cat A) races up 1 hour. Usually there is an opportunity to warm up on the circuit before the race but not always. Once they reach U12 it’s useful to take either a set of rollers or turbo trainer to get the children warmed up incase there are no warm up laps – U10s and 12s tend to have no concept of pacing and set off for a 20 minute race like they’re doing 200m TT !
Overall the main thing is to keep the racing fun and varied at U10 and U12 level. I’ve always tried to avoid putting pressure on Luke as being competitive even at 11 years old children can pile on enough pressure on themselves as they want to win and do well in races. It’s also a good age for them to find out what they enjoy – road, track, cyclocross, mountain bike. So if you can vary the racing this keeps things fresh and also helps them find out what their strengths are. Luke has always enjoyed cyclocross and circuit races but not so much track. Recently though he’s raced the Calshot winter league and now loves indoor track again.
In terms of training to race, until this year Luke hasn’t done any structured training. Just an easy ride with me or a race each week in addition to our coached club sessions. This year he’s a 2nd year U12 and has raced cyclocross throughout the winter which he both really enjoyed and has really helped build fitness. In addition to the cyclocross races he joined the VC Jubilee training sessions at Waterhall (Brighton Rugby Club)which are £2 on Tuesday evenings at 6:30pm from September – February and last 1 1/2hours. There are lots of youth riders from PPYCC and VC Jubilee at these sessions and I would highly recommend trying them if your child has a mountain bike or cyclocross bike.
The cyclocross season has now finished and Luke is doing 2 training sessions per week on the rollers or turbo trainer and racing on average once per at the weekends. However, one week in 4 he has a rest week when he only rides if he wants to and even then it’s just for fun. As well as some local and regional races we are planning to enter some of the National circuit series races this season and Luke, along with a couple of other PPYCC riders, are racing at the European Youth Tour 6 day stage race in Assen 1st week of August.
Racing U8-U14 is definitely about learning, gaining experience and building fitness rather than the finishing position in races. It is easy for the rider and as a parent to focus on finishing position. Luke is very competitive and often frustrated when he doesn’t do as well as he wants to and managing expectations can be tricky and has been a learning experience for me as well. Even though it’s competitive during the races Luke has now made friends with riders from other clubs – they excitedly talk about what happened and who did what when once the races have finished. I’ve also found other parents at the races to be approachable, helpful and open to offer advice from their experience so don’t be afraid to ask.
A general but important observation is that the children at the races are all shapes and sizes within the same age group and with a great range of experience. Some of the boys and girls that Luke races against are a foot taller than him and one of the 11 year olds at a recent Ice Breaker track race was built like Chris Hoy ! At ages under 12 years old a 6-12 month age difference can make a significant difference in their both tactical awareness and physical development/ performance. Some riders that are amazing at U10 will not be by the time they reach U16 when other riders have more experience and physically caught up.
Cycling as a sport is most definitely not all about racing but if you want to give it a try I hope you found these reflections of my experiences so far helpful. Please feel free to speak to me or any of the other coaches at the track of you have any questions. As Kim previously announced we’ve added a calendar to the PPYCC website which as well as including our club track sessions also has the dates of local, Regionals and National BC races. However, the definitive resource for all things racing is the British Cycling website.