Tip #8: Scout the course early
Julian Baumgartner (Team Clif Bar Midwest) sends along this tip:
“Before any race starts the officials allow the field to take a lap to inspect the course, get a feel for how to take the turns and get a general lay of the land. This lap can be crucial to understanding the course as sometimes at full speed and surrounded by other racers one hasn’t the time or the wherewithal to spot that nasty pothole or the gravel hiding around turn 3. It can also be a great time to psych one’s self up or to visualize taking the turns or climbing the hill.
“Yet often times a rider will take that ever-so-important lap only to find him/herself staged at the very rear of a huge field; not the best place to start a Midwest crit. If one allows enough time for set-up, one can jump in with another field as they take their preview lap, thus avoiding the terror of the accordion. Just be discreet and polite and exit quickly.”
Here’s a discussion from local coach Steve Thordarson about the importance of being prepared for a course, using Snake Alley as an example. August’s Downers Grove criterium, with its 8 turns and various bumps and road imperfections, is another one where pre-riding the course is essential. You’ll see riders trying the course early in the morning, even before all the barriers are up.
It’s often not possible to pre-ride a road race, but one should try to drive it to be prepared for the climbs and descents. And it’s essential that one pre-ride the last mile. More than a few races have been lost because people didn’t know where the finish line was and started their sprint too early or too late. Pick out useful landmarks for the sprint: Be in 10th place here, be in 5th place here, start the sprint here
and cross the finish line in first here.