Beginner Tips From the Rest of the Pack - Racing / Events

If you’re a beginner signing up for your first event, search through these resources for insights into some common hurdles you may encounter, and learn from our combined community experience to improve awareness of these traps and come into your event(s) with more knowledge and confidence.

I’ll start it off:

  1. Circuit races/Crits - know the course and think outside the box: When I was racing as a category 5 on the road and still early in my development, I would often travel from PA into NYC to find some fun races. There was a series at Prospect Park in Brooklyn that I particularly enjoyed. The course was a relatively short circuit with a gradual climb to the backside of the course, and then a fast return with a straight, flat-out sprint finish back to the start. I was usually in the group and trying to hold my own until the sprint finish. As expected, not being much of a sprinter (as much as you can “be” anything that early in development), I would normally finish mid-pack. I needed a way to improve my chances. Having done this a few times, I knew our race time was always early in the morning, just as the sun was rising. As luck would have it, there was one day when I noticed every time we would cross the start/finish area and head up the climb, the sun would eventually get just above the horizon and give a few minutes of blinding light where it was hard to look straight ahead. So one day the pack was looping around, and the sun was perfectly in our eyes. I decided “what the heck/why not” and attacked hard up the climb at that time when I figured we were all doing the same thing. It worked! And about 10 riders got off the front. We spent the next roughly 5 laps working together and shedding riders that were unable to maintain power each climb. We eventually got in front of the cat 3 field that was also racing and realized the rest of our group was now stuck. So we congratulated the one another on the last lap and set up for a really fun sprint. It was my best finish in that event and it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take a chance and think outside the box a little bit.

Moral of the story: Some races can be very predictable. Get to know the dynamics of your group and the event and think outside the box as you’re trying to find ways to create a new breakthrough performance for yourself. You will learn a lot, sometimes you’ll fail, and sometimes you’ll succeed. Either way, it’s movement in the right direction.

Coach Ryan


Great series of threads @ryan. I started road racing so long ago that those lessons are in very dusty recesses of my memory, but I’ll go with lessons from CX (first race 2008) and gravel (around the same time).


  1. CX is NOT a time trial! I’ve found that my worst races are when I try to keep an even pace throughout a lap. Besides poor pacing, I find that aiming to ride steady and even gets me in a really bad mental place where I’m on the back foot. In contrast, my best performances come when I’m super aggressive with my pacing. That is, I’m finding the parts of the lap where I can have microrests, even if it’s just 1-2 pedal strokes, and I take them. Then I sprint and hammer like there’s no tomorrow out of corners. I really find it’s both physical and mental, and that having that aggressive and variable mentality drives me much further than a passive or even mental approach.
  2. However, that aggression doesn’t always apply to the technical aspect of CX racing. There, my internal mantra is always “smooth is fast, fast is smooth.” You sometimes need to sacrifice pure speed and railing through one turn to set yourself up for the following turn.


  1. It’ll hurt like heck, but it pays huge dividends to go hard out of the gates and hang onto the lead pack as long as possible. Almost all gravel races eventually end up as a solo or small group TT. So the bigger advantage comes if you can surf a fast group early and hang on as long as you can. Of course, you need to know your limits so that you don’t totally blow a gasket and also know when to fold your cards and drop off of that fast pack if needed.

I’m sure I’ll dredge up more bad nightmares as the thread progresses!
Stephen Cheung


@ThermalDoc great points on the CX pacing strategy!

I always try to keep the mindset that if I’m hurting, the riders around me are hurting just as bad, if not worse. Otherwise they would be farther ahead of me. And exactly what you said - if I can take 1-2 pedal strokes, or find a 10 second section of the course where I know I’m strong (and haven’t seen movement from my group in the last lap or two) then it’s a great indicator that a small dig can get me up a few spots and work toward the next person or group up ahead.

Coach Ryan

1 Like

Thanks for sharing this insight about gravel racing, Dr. Cheung. I wonder how this might impact the way I should train for Crooked Gravel, July 24. Based on all the podcasts I’ve edited in the past year, I’m guessing I just need to “build my engine” as Jim Miller said in our interview with him. I know when I get out there on the start line for this race, I’ll be energized and tempted to ride hard at the beginning to stay near the front. One thing is for sure, I need to ride more!


Hi @jana the one guarantee is that you’ll have a great time!

Gravel events are predictable in that the majority of it will be spent riding solo or in small groups. So yes, you will need a big aerobic engine and the ability to “ride all day” at a level around your aerobic threshold. So the higher you can make that threshold, and the longer you can hold it, the better. That should be the priority for your training.

Complementing all this would be technical skills and also strength work on the bike, because you typically ride bigger gears and lower cadence on gravel than you would on road.

However, as I wrote above, the start is always fast and frantic, and the longer you can hold onto a group, the farther ahead you’ll be before you end up riding solo. So this very much relates to the parallel thread on intervals before Z2. That mentality describes a gravel race perfectly, so I think some simulation rides where you do intervals early in a ride and then prolonged endurance afterwards are important to incorporate.

At our Paris-Ancaster race (~70 km or ~2:30h) in late April, this is absolutely the dynamic. The first 11 km or so is on rail trails and at hyperspeed. Lose the pack and you’ve got a ton of ground to make up. Then there’s a right turn and a steep gnarly climb where everything detonates. After that it’s all small groups, esp thanks to the singletrack and mud.

Oh yeah, that leads to the other essential - warm up!

And of course, have fun!


Thank you for this great summation of gravel racing training, @ThermalDoc! I’m excited to embark on this journey. Let the fun begin! :mountain_biking_woman:

Interesting thread! What would be the advice for three day races, consisting of two long rides in the mountains and 1 time trial? I’m planning on doing HauteRoute Alp d’Huez in 2022.

For stage races, there are some good tips floating around in other threads that would be great to start with. I just came off a 6-day stage race in August and did a write-up on that experience that should have some take-aways.

Here are some other pieces that should be helpful:
Forum Post- Stage Race Preparation in Training Concepts

How to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

How to Maximize Recovery During Multi-Day Events

How to Manage Race Day Anxiety

1 Like

Can anyone offer any thoughts on how to be in the ‘right’ place in the pack? Say for instance there is a corner coming up and you know the wind is blowing strongly from the right after that. Assuming it is not single file you want to be on the left of the bunch to minimise the wind you face, but since everyone wants to do that how does one actually go about doing that in a bunch?

Thank you Ryan! That’s very helpful.