Bicycle racing in Colorado: What you need to know in 2018
BRAC is a proud supporter and member of Bicycle Colorado. We hope this article will give you a taste of racing in Colorado and how you can get involved in the racing world.
The fun, the history and the culture
Bicycle racing is a fun way to test yourself in an exciting way–whether you’re just trying to beat your own personal record or trying to make the podium. Competitive cycling has been around since before 1900 and has taken many forms. These days, we have several disciplines to choose from in Colorado, including criteriums, cyclocross, hill climbs, mountain bike racing, road racing, time trials and track racing. Each discipline has its own nuances and each requires specific skills to enjoy and perform well.
Professional cycling has had many faces in its history. In the early 1900s it was very popular as a professional sport. Madison Square Garden held six-day races, which even had on-site betting. In the 60s and 70s, cycling was a counter-culture sport, and cyclists lived in relative anonymity. By the mid-80s it zoomed to prominence again with the success of American Greg LeMond in the Tour de France, and then shortly thereafter with Lance Armstrong.
Today, Americans still tune in to the biggest competitions like the Tour de France, and many take part in big-name road and mountain bike races, but cyclocross is the cycling discipline that is really taking off in the United States. In fact, the USA has more cyclocross races per year than any other country, and many racers only take part in cyclocross.
Colorado is currently in the heart of the State Championship season. The Masters State Road Race championships just took place on a breathtaking and popular course from Lyons to Nederland using the Peak to Peak highway, for instance, and due to the difficulty of the course, the age groups for juniors started at 15. That did not stop Ami Bigler-Redd, a 13-year-old cyclist, from racing up in age and riding with the adult women and finishing in seventh place.
Ami Bigler-Redd, third from left, finished seventh in the adult women’s race at age 13.
But, the event was really about the master athletes–age 40 and up. There were notable performances by many, including Mike Carter–a former pro racer. He won the 50 and up category, as he often does when it involves climbing.
Mike Carter stands atop the podium, proudly wearing his Colorado State Champion’s jersey. To his left, Norm Alvis, Mike’s teammate and another former pro.
Races in July and August
July is one of the hottest racing months in Colorado, literally and figuratively. What’s new and exciting this July?
- The Boulder Valley Velodrome is expanding their weekly races, going to a Tuesday and Thursday format so they can focus better on select groups each day.
- The iconic Mount Evans Hill Climb is on July 21. This race is the soul of Colorado road racing, and has been for over 50 years.
- Recreational riders love the Triple Bypass tour that goes from the front range to past Vail in a single day, climbing thousands of feet over some classic Colorado passes. The 30th annual ride was just last weekend!
- There are also criteriums in multiple communities, two track state championships at the BVV in Erie, as well as a popular Wednesday night training series at the Colorado State Patrol training ground in Golden.
How to Get Started
So, you want to race bicycles? Very cool. BRAC welcomes you!
Every spring and summer many of us have the same internal conversation with ourselves: “I’d love to get into bike racing, but I don’t know where to start.” Maybe you’re a casual bike rider and have always wondered if you would enjoy racing. Maybe you did a few races in another part of the country or a few years ago, and now you want to get back into the scene.
Where do you start? First, let’s talk about all the different kinds of racing you can find in Colorado and then we’ll dive into what equipment you may or may not need.
Criteriums, cyclocross, hill climbs, omniums, road races, stage races, time trials, track races – what’s does it all mean?
- Criteriums are like the Indy Car world of cycling. They take place on a fast loop course usually between a half mile and two miles in length and they’re usually filled with lots of corners and the occasional crash. This may not be your best bet for your first race. Road races are either point to point or around a bigger circuit (at least three miles per lap, but usually longer.) They may be flat, rolling or have lots of hills.
- Cyclocross is a fall/winter sport that involves riding a loop course on trails, grass, mud and more. These surfaces force riders to dismount and carry their bicycles once in a while. It is the fastest growing discipline of cycling in the USA, and has a unique culture all its own. In Colorado, we have many riders who only do cyclocross.
- Hill Climbs are road races that are largely–if not entirely–up hill, and we have some great ones in the state (Guanella Pass, Lookout Mountain, Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak).
- Omniums are a series of races with an overall prize list at the end. You may have a time trial on Saturday, and a criterium on Sunday, and the winner is the person who does the best overall. Stage races are a series of events based on overall time, like the famous Tour de France.
- In the spring, Colorado has several road races that also include a significant portion of dirt roads (Boulder-Roubaix, CU Buffs Circuit Race, Koppenberg). Other road races are 100% paved (Morgul Superior, Air Force Academy, Clasico Rio Grande, Steamboat Springs, Peak 2 Peak Road Race). If you like the sound of that, then the paved ones probably are good place to start.
- Time Trials are a race against the clock. Riders start by themselves every 30 seconds. You essentially are racing yourself, but once the results are tallied, you find out how you did compared to everyone else. Time trials are a great place to start, and certainly the safest of the options. We have many time trials during the year, and in the spring there is a series at Cherry Creek Reservoir that many riders use as their first race.
- Track races are events held on banked velodromes. We are fortunate to have two such velodromes in Colorado. One is in Colorado Springs, and one is in Erie. You’ll quickly find that each type of race is a unique branch of the sport. In time you’ll discover what suits your style of riding best.
Several of Bicycle Colorado’s team members compete and train throughout the year.
What equipment do I need?
You have a race in mind, so now it’s time to make sure your gear is sorted. Make sure to pay attention to the weather and dress, hydrate and protect yourself from the sun appropriately. As you gain race experience, you’ll learn more about the tools you want in your toolkit, your personal nutritional needs, and “nice-to-haves.”
The following are essentials for any race (or ride):
- Helmet (must meet laboratory standards)
- Race Apparel (jersey, shorts/bibs with chamois, warmers, jacket or rain jacket, socks, gloves, hat)
- Body armor for mountain bike events
- Change of clothes for after race
- Shoes (clipless or non-clipless)
- Eye protection / sunglasses
- USA Cycling license (or money for one-day license if race allows same-day registration). You can use your smartphone and the USA Cycling App to demonstrate licensed status (TIP: take a screenshot of your license on your phone in case there is no wifi or cell service at the race.)
- Proof of race entry (or money for entry fees if race allows same-day registration)
- Hydration and nutrition (before, during and after race)
- Your tool kit–including spare part essentials such as tubes–and a pump
- Plastic bags for wet clothing, and towels to dry off with or change clothes under
- A positive attitude!
Do I need to buy a bike that’s worth more than my car?
If you think equipment makes the rider, then by all means. For the super serious racer, having a garage full of bicycles is important to them, but we’ve seen plenty of riders start on a $500-$1,000 Craigslist purchase and have a blast. Please purchase a new helmet and just be comfortable on your bike, but don’t be intimidated by all the flashy carbon rolling around–junior parents this applies to you as well. We’ve seen numerous juniors on inexpensive equipment compete at the national level. Speaking of helmets, please always wear your helmet if you are seated on your bike, even if just rolling around the parking lot.
Before any race, make sure your equipment is up to the rigors of racing. The last thing you want is to have a mechanical during a race due to something that could’ve been easily spotted and fixed.
How to find Races via The Hub
Know what discipline you’re interested in trying out first? Head over to the Events section of The Hub and sort by ride type to see what’s coming up in your area! When you’ve found one that interests you, hit the details button and head over to the ride or race’s website.
Registering for your first race
The first step: Don’t wait until you feel you’re fully prepared. Nobody ever thinks they are fully prepared. If you have gotten this far, you are ready. It is time to jump in and do it.
Registering for a race: There is always a cutoff day and time for online registration. Some races only do online registration, so if you don’t register online, you can’t race. When you get to the race, look for the registration area. If you have pre-registered online, you will just show your license and pick up your number. If you have not, then you will have to fill out paperwork and pay your entry fee. Probably the biggest thing to remember is to find out how and where to pin on your number. This changes every race based on which side of the road the officials and the photo finish camera will be on. Pinning your number on well is very important so that you get credit for your placing. Often you will see a mannequin at registration that shows exactly how and where to pin it on.
What are three things you can do today to get plugged into racing in Colorado?
- Show up to watch the Colorado Classic! Click here to get the schedule, find your spectating spot on the course map, and save the date in your personal calendar.
- Race and spectate at road races statewide! Click here to view a map of races through December.
- Start training! It’s prime time to begin training for cyclocross, but it’s never too late to start training for other disciplines. Find a club or team in your area and sign up. Clubs and teams are a perfect way to get the newbie support you’ll need.