Summer is upon us and with the competitive calendar approaching its peak, many will be considering pinning on a number on their back for the first time.
Cycling’s increasing popularity post-Beijing has been well documented and many riders will have seen a casual interest become something more serious.
The path from social rides to structured training for domestic and later European sportives is well trodden, and the next step along it for a growing number of riders is competitive action.
We’ll be taking a look at grass roots racing in four different disciples in our month long celebration of a Summer of Cycling, starting off with road racing.
Chris Snook started racing on the road four years ago after leaving university. Years of experience as a club cyclist had provided an outlet for a love of life on two wheels, but watching television coverage of the Tour de France and the Beijing Olympics had him hooked on racing.
Chris’ career as a club cyclist started with Cardiff Jif while studying in the city. He praises the club’s friendly and welcoming approach, exemplified, he says, by their policy of placing a ‘chaperone’ with new riders. “I think more clubs should take this approach,” he says. “I have since ridden with other road clubs who seem to enjoy intimidating beginners and new members.”
Graduation and a move to London saw Chris visit local bike shop, Banjo Cycles, for advice on racing: where to find races and how to start. “This kind of guidance, I think, is invaluable – getting into racing can be quite daunting when you don’t know where to start,” he says. Improvement led to an invitation to join the team, some team kit, and further guidance from riders already on the team.
For many first timers, racing in a group will be a daunting experience, and not an occasion on which to tackle your first bunch ride. Chris recommends club rides as a safe environment to learn bunch etiquette: the art of riding safely surrounded by other riders. “When cornering in a bunch for example, you have to take a different line than you would on your own – see Ferrari taking out Cav in the Giro for an example of how not to move in a bunch!” he says, referring to the Italian rider’s wild manoeuvre in the final kilometre of stage three of this year’s Giro d’Italia, and the Manx Missile’s subsequent inspection of the tarmac.
Fitness will be another key concern for those hoping to take the step up from riding for personal satisfaction to racing. Chris warns neo racers to expect sudden accelerations, the key difference, he says, between racing and club or training rides, and an area that can come as a shock, even to riders who achieve respectable speeds in training. “Have a look on the British Cycling website for fourth cat [category] races, or even Go Ride events, which provide a beginner’s introduction to racing in a safer environment,” he says.
Full-time cycling is a luxury denied to almost any rider outside of cycling’s elite WorldTour; even riders on some of the smaller teams competing in the Halfords Tour Series hold down full-time jobs between racing. Chris works for bicycle distributor, Madison, and often works away from home. We’ll bring you a typical week’s training for Chris in a separate post, but as a general principle, he breaks his training into three week blocks, ending with an ‘adaptation’ in week four (taking things a bit easier).
Every rider has a strong suit, which, for professionals, can become a specialism. Chris is a powerful all-rounder with a strong sprint – not a skill on which he likes to rely. “ When you do this you often switch off from the racing around you, which can cause you to miss the decisive break. It’s rare that things end in a bunch sprint,” he says. A useful climber on most ascents, he admits to struggling on long, very steep sections that are the domain of lighter riders.
Last month, Chris lined up alongside the likes of Endura Racing’s Russell Downing on the start line of the Lincoln Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious events on British Cycling’s Premier Calendar. “It’s a great race, with a strong field and really good atmosphere,” says Chris. Getting stuck behind a crash on the notorious cobbled climb of Michaelgate removed him from contention. “Positioning is everything there, and I wasn’t where I need to be. Lesson learned!”
This weekend, Chris and the nation’s top amateurs will compete against s Team Sky and
Britain’s UCI Continental teams at the national road race championships in Ampleforth, north Yorkshire. “I have to be realistic about my chances,” says Chris. “It’s going to be a hard day in the saddle! However, I feel that if you have a chance to race the best, in the biggest races, then you should take it.”
Victory at Ampleforth seems like a tall order but in other races, Chris has victories at the top of his agenda. “My main goal for the season is to win races. I had too many bridesmaid places last year. If I do this, I should achieve my Elite license,” he says.
Road racing remains Chris’ sole competitive outlet. He has raced on the track at Newport velodrome, which will soon host the holding camp for Great Britain’s Olympic team, and “loved it”.
“The track really suits someone like me,” he says. The move to London put further sessions on hold, but he is hoping soon to “give it a proper go” at Welwyn. “Hopefully after the Olympics, we will have access to the new Velodrome too, which will be great for the sport.”