Successful SoCal racing starts well before the gun goes off. Set yourself up for success by preparing before race day. This might be cleaning your bike, making sure your tires aren’t too worn, sealant is topped off and your drivetrain is as efficient as possible.
Oftentimes I will pack my race bag the evening before the race as well. I like race day to be as stress free as possible so I can focus on the racing which is already stressful enough. Make a checklist: kit, shoes, helmet, etc. Think about pre-race nutrition, especially the timing of your last meal before the race.
SoCal racing prep includes doing your homework as well. What is the course like, what is the weather going to be, which competitors are showing up on the day. These questions are all integral to giving yourself the best chance of success. Control the controllables.
Preparation for SoCal racing also includes doing openers the day before, as well as warming up before getting to the start line. Warming up does not need to be complicated, and half the time I warm up just to make sure my equipment is working. Some riders need a longer, harder warm-up to feel good, some riders may not need a warm up at all to feel good, figure out which rider you are. My warmup changes based on my strategy. If I am sitting in the field all day to conserve for a sprint, I probably won’t warm up. If I am attacking off the line, I’ll probably add in a couple short VO2max efforts in my warm up.
Setting Your SoCal Racing Goals
Every race you line up for should have a goal which you should be able to define. The goal may simply be to have fun and gain race experience and that’s completely valid. Maybe you are targeting this race and finishing inside the top 10 positions is your goal. Other goals could be to improve cornering skills and work on positioning skills. CBR events are perfect races to come to with these goals in mind, as the course is low consequence for trying new things and often success will come down to positioning.
Define individual goals as well as team goals. How can your individual goals integrate into the team goals? Having a pre race meeting can help set expectations, define strategy and tactics with the team present.
Write about your race experience. If you track your training on Training Peaks or another platform, take notes about your experience. What did you do right and what can be improved on for the next race? What did you learn??
Positioning for SoCal Racing
I’m convinced the number one skill for race success is positioning. CBR crits rely so much on positioning, that the barrier for fitness required is actually quite low. In a CBR crit, high positioning in the final laps is the most important. Other more technical races might require high positioning throughout the whole race, as splits are constantly happening.
If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward. Most SoCal racing like CBR and other crits have courses which make it quite easy to move up. You can just charge up the side of one of the massively wide roads. This also means it is quite easy to move back. Think about moving up efficiently. If the race is strung out single or double file, probably not the best time to step out into the wind. Wait for a lull in the pace and stay on the gas for just another 10 seconds and that’ll move you right towards the front.
Be aware of the washing machine effect. This effect is especially prevalent towards the latter stages of the race, as the pace typically lulls with 10 to go for so as before the final ramp up to mach speed. If you are riding in a good position near the front, be aware if the pace lulls to expect riders to push up from behind. If you can anticipate this surge, push to the outside and accelerate a bit yourself to stay in front and good position during the surge from behind.
Actively practice this skill. It’s hard to get this kind of practice without a race, even a group ride doesn’t suffice. I actually make it a goal to practice positioning at some of my lower priority SoCal racing. I go in with the intention of not making a result a goal, and just try to maintain positioning in the top 10 wheels for as much of the race as I can.
Reading the Race
Having a pre race strategy is great, but racing is dynamic and sometimes the plan needs to evolve. Being able to read the race in real time is invaluable.
Some general questions to sort out are: How is the peloton racing today? Are people racing really aggressively or conservatively? Are there splits constantly forming in the peloton? SoCal Racing often comes down to a sprint finish, but not always. The race has a higher chance of coming to a sprint if it feels really easy sitting in the field and vice versa, if the race is strung out most of the time and you find you are still putting a lot of power out just on the wheels, a strongman break is likely to eventually pull clear.
Think about pinch points on the course. Is there a tighter corner that is causing a big acceleration? This might be the spot the break is most likely to go.
Breakaways thrive in chaos. If you start the race in the dry and it starts raining halfway through, get to the front as soon as possible as chaos is about to ensue.
Congrats, you made it to 1 to go, now what?? Finishing is a skill that needs to be learned as well and it’s hard to learn because you have to put yourself in a finishing position and be in the mix. You won’t learn how to finish well riding in 30th position coming into the last lap. Aim to be in the top 10 wheels minimum with one to go, if the race is strung out and full gas, being in the top 5-8 wheels may be even better.
Most crits are over by the last corner, and often finishing position is dictated by where you come out of the last corner. Think about racing to the last corner, and a good finish will be a byproduct. In most SoCal racing, the finish is about 200m from the final corner, meaning if you aren’t top 3 out of the corner, chances of being top 3 at the finish are very low.
What kind of finisher are you? Do you have great top end speed, but lack stamina? Try to surf wheels all the way to 250m to go before punching into the wind to gain advantage before the last corner. Maybe your peak isn’t great but you can solid a high 30 second power. Try jumping with about 350 meters to go, or a bit longer to dictate the sprint to your strengths.
Think about the finishing conditions. Always know where the wind is coming from? Is it a tailwind finish? Jump earlier, the sprint will be faster. If it is a headwind, wait a bit longer to jump. If there is a crosswind at the finish, pass on the ideal side, meaning if the wind is coming from the left side, pass on the right to gain shelter, as passing on the left will expend much more energy and shelter your opponent.
Keep these tips in mind and practice as much as you can and you’ll start seeing success at SoCal races.
About the Author
Taylor Warren has raced at the elite level since 2014 and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Physiology from Colorado State University in 2015. Taylor continues to race at the elite level with CS Velo Racing, gaining experience and wisdom to help impart to the athletes he works with. Taylor is also a student of the game, with a passion for human performance and physiology, he is able to combine his race experience with an understanding of how the human body responds to training to deliver the best possible coaching experience. Taylor believes in a practical, holistic approach to coaching and training that values the athlete’s lifestyle and understands how to make the process approachable and enjoyable.