That’s right, How To Race A Race.

Not how to train for a race, nor how to prepare for a race. 

This article is about what to do within your race or challenge event to ensure that you get the most of all that training and preparation. It’s not about race tactics per se, but more about how to ride to ensure that on the day you race to the limit of your potential to get the best result you can, rather than burning all your matches and fading out towards the end.

If you can nail this approach, you will find soon enough that you will surprise yourself, because riding to the limit of your potential more often will lead to you exceeding what you thought you were capable of. 

So, let’s get straight to my top tips for how best to race a race.


Anyone who has turned up to a one day race at their absolute fittest, in great shape, and ended up with a poor result because of bad decision-making will know what I mean when I say ‘stay calm’. 

It’s not always the most powerful rider who wins. This is true even at the top end of the sport, where the difference between the top guy and the others can be minimal. There are many examples of professionals lacking not just ‘race-smarts’ but also the calmness to ensure victory.

Of course, experience helps you to be calmer more often, to see when say a break is not dangerous or to know that you have to get that rider’s wheel or it’s race over. But that kind of experience is either weirdly (and almost uncommonly) intuitive or only comes from years of racing. 

Anyone that has raced knows that wave of nervousness that precedes a race. When I was a kid I’d get it a whole week out from the event – clammy hands, butterflies in the gut, mind going over and over what I could and should do in the race. Sometimes it was more a tsunami than a mere wave.

My advice is not to fight it. Let it wash over you and then embrace the sensations, let those nerves drive your focus. 

Nerves in the moments before the race? Sure, we all get them. But in the race?

There’s no place for them. Get yer race head on! 

Stay calm, make decisions that you know are good for you. What do I mean by that? If the mountain goats take off on the first climb, don’t try to go with them. If you’re not a great climber, you know you can’t do that without blowing. Let the wheels go then look to get in a group that can chase them down later, a group hopefully that you can tuck into and save energy in. 

Don’t chase every single attempt to break away at the start of a race. Let the others do that and follow their wheels, out of the wind, unless you know (or suspect) it’s the break of the race. 

Races are unpredictable usually, so, stay calm and make the best decisions on the day according to your form and abilities. It’s not easy, but make it a goal and it’ll get easier.

Mr Calm himself, Philippe Gilbert (l)


This is kind of obvious and relates closely to #1, but it’s a point I have to reiterate time and time again to some of my clients. 

If you’ve never done a solo time trial for 90km at 42km/hr, why are you trying it in the race? Never attempted a 5km long dash exceeding 320 watts on your Wednesday training ride? Again, why try that in a race? 

Analyse the race profile, look for where a push may suit you. If you answer ‘nowhere really’, then sort your training out and start riding the kind of profile that makes up the race in training. 

There is a time and a place to just go for broke, but generally, ride calm.

This will help you later too. Blowing out 30km into a 70km race and struggling home is not a good day and you’ll need to recuperate for a while after. However, if you ride 50km of the 70 ‘smart’ then bust a gut over the last 20km even if you find yourself struggling last 4 or 5km to the line, that’s better ‘training’ than the former. Post-race, rest well for a few days, let the race settle, and you’ll start feeling the benefit of that effort.


This again reiterates #1. On a normal training day you adrenal is not firing anywhere near what it will be doing on race day. That adrenalin surge that kicks in before and at the start of an event can, if you’re not careful, get you ‘riding stupid’.

I see it all the time at the Taiwan KOM Challenge. A rider will actually speak to me before the event, asking me what to do in the race.

Don’t get carried away by the adrenalin. Don’t, whatever you do, try to follow the wheels of the pros in the first kilometres. Ride your own race, do what you know you can do and if still feeling ok towards say half way, then open it up a little.

Later I’ll be up at the finish and see said rider collapse at the finish line. Guess what happened?


The adrenal kicked in and he thought he was Pogacar – for 14km. Then reality set in.

Sometime as racers we are our own worst enemy. 


Sounds simple right? But how often is this a significant part of the reason for a rider’s poor performance in a race? 

Re-fuelling and hydrating correctly need to become second nature. If you’re not paying attention to this in training, why assume you’re going to nail it in a race? Many riders will come back from a long training ride and be overly fatigued because they didn’t pay attention to the body’s needs. These are needs that have to become intuitive, so that the rider knows before the body requires food and liquid that he or she has to top up. 

This way you stay on top of that and are in a better position to make good on all that training and race prep. 


This is another skill that you learn really only from doing many races. However, it is one you can start working on in your next – or first – event.

A smart rider will look for patterns in the race. Which riders from which teams are attacking early? Who is chasing more than the rest? Who is always up in the top ten but never at the front?

Notice who’s looking comfortable when a surge kicks in, check if there are any wobbly riders that might cause a crash. Later on, if you’re in a break, weigh up who’s spending a few seconds less at the front than anyone else.

When I’m in a break, if I’m feeling good (and sometimes even when I’m not), I’ll ‘test’ the others by putting in a short burst of effort on a hill and see who panics, who is calm, who gets back to me easily and who struggles. Most riders aren’t enough clever inrace to even consider that I might be putting in a probing attack. Instead they react ‘honestly’ and give me strong hints as to how their legs are feeling. But a calm rider wouldn’t panic and I’d get little information from him as to his condition.

When you can read the race and read other riders better, you can become more pro-active in the race.

You can start doing this on group rides before you start racing, by observing other riders.


If you’re not the complete all-round rider (and very few of us are), you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. 

In the race, you need to measure out your race effort. 

This pertains again to previous points, because it really is all connected, but is a useful point to remember. 

If you’re feeling great in the event, don’t do the ‘I’m bored’ thing and decide to spice things up by attacking a fresh peloton early in the race. It’ll feel great for a bit but when you need that 2% turbo charge towards the end to potentially win, it’s not going to be there. 

You’ve literally handed your rivals your advantage. Follow the steps above, especially stay calm, and bide your time.

Alejandro Valverde is not my favourite rider (i.e. a doper) but he’s won a load of races since he started racing as a junior. He gave some sage advice one day after a race:

When you’re not feeling so good, go for it, see what might happen. Maybe you get lucky on a long break and win. But if you feel really good, wait. Wait for your moment and attack with everything you’ve got and leave nothing on the table.

Great advice that.


I used to arrive on the start line nervous as heck, I always did, and I’d be thinking ‘What the hell am I doing this again for?! I know how much this is gonna hurt..!’.

But then I’d take a moment and close my eyes and I’d repeat this mantra:

You know why you do it, and this is why you are here.

You know why you do it, and this is why you are here.

You know why you do it, and this is why you are here.

Three times, just like that, and click. I was good to go. 

Remember, you chose to do this! It’s your fault if you feel like you’re going to be sick from the nerves! 

But let them work for you. And smile!

‘This is why you do it, and this is why you are here’. With teammate Tjarco Cuppens (r), Mark Cavendish behind us

Now, I have to admit, it took me many years to learn this stuff. My early junior cycling career was all about the ridiculous ‘go from the gun’ type of riding (I won a few tho!).

And I recommend that approach too when you first start out as it makes you fitter, lets you know your limits and capabilities, and it’s fun as heck.

However, if you’re over that phase and want to squeeze more from your lemon, focus on The Calm.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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