Your Essential Cycling Race-Day Checklist And Survival Guide

Are you ready to race?


Amy Hopkins |

Whether it’s your first cycling race or you – like me – like having a checklist and want some handy tips to make sure you have a good day out, read on…

Unlike with running, cycling requires a whole lot more than takkies and a fitness tracker. Here’s what to pack out the night before race day to make sure you’re not fumbling around in the dark looking for that left glove. Besides, no one wants to arrive at the start line realising they’ve left their heart-rate monitor and sunglasses behind.

The Day Before The Race

1/ Charge your electronics. This includes bike lights (especially if you’re doing a road race and starting in the dark), fitness tracker and your phone.

2/ Make sure you’ve bought the nutritional supplies that you need. It’s always good to have a race bar and I always ride with a banana too. You never know what will be at the water points and it’s a good idea to have something to eat that you know (don’t try anything new on race day!).

3/ Prep your water bottle. I normally take a bottle with a little bit of Powerade mix and carry a rehydrate sachet with me. Most water points have Coke and water, but I like to start with something I know I can rely on.

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4/ Pack out all your clothing items (see list above). If you have more than one set of cycling gloves, make sure that you have a ‘left’ and a ‘right’. I once accidentally went on a training ride with two left gloves. It was so annoying!

5/ When you cycle, it’s always colder than you think it’s going to be. If you’re road cycling, you often have long, fast descents where the icy wind pierces your skin. If you’re mountain biking, the forests and shaded mountain areas are always colder than you anticipate. Rather pack a jacket just in case, especially in winter, or if you think there’s a chance of rain. Otherwise buffs and arm gloves are always a saving grace. And if it gets hot, you can remove both and pop them in your cycling pocket at the back.

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6/ Check your tyre pressure, lube your chain and make sure your bike is functioning as it should. Bikes need to be serviced, so depending on how often you ride and how many races you’ve been doing, you need to check in with your bike shop and make sure your bike is in good condition. I typically ask them to check my brakes, gears and chain, and give my bike a proper clean.

7/ Attach your race number and make sure you have your chip. Not all race numbers have chips built in and sometimes you need to attach a chip to your cycling shoe (like a Racetec).

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8/ Some extra items to consider packing (depending on what kind of race you’re doing): a cycling bomb to quickly re-inflate your tyre. You can also strap a spare MTB tube to your bike. And if you have a small bag attached to your bike, pack in a set of allen keys – I had to borrow some from a rider when I was in Mauritius. If you don’t have a cycling bag, designate one of your three back pockets as your “emergency” pocket.

9/ Have a good supper with some carbs and protein, like spaghetti bolognese or a tofu stir-fry with rice (if you’re vegan) and make sure you’ve drunk enough water throughout the day. You don’t want to go into race day dehydrated.

The Morning Of The Race

1/ Eat something. It’s often hard to stomach food very early, but you’ll need the fuel later on. And it’s easier to cycle with food in your stomach than to run. I have either a small bowl of oats with a banana and nut butter, or a piece of rye toast with banana and nut butter. By now you should have tested what works for you on a training ride. I also like having an espresso for en extra kick to get me going, but this doesn’t work for everyone.

2/ I have a small sports drawstring bag where I pack all the goodies I need to put on my bike: lights, Garmin, water bottle… So that when I arrive at the race start I can offload my bike, reach into the bag and easily access everything I need.

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3/ Always wear sunblock. Even in winter. On your face and your body. It was between five and 10 degrees every morning when I rode the mountain bike and road races in Knysna as part of the Big 5 Challenge and I still got a cycling tan. You’re always more exposed than you think you’ll be.

4/ Double check your tyre pressure again. Just in case something happened during the night or you didn’t pump them up correctly the night before.

5/ Enjoy yourself!

After The Race

1/ Have a recovery drink and make sure you eat a high-protein meal to help with muscle recovery.

2/ Go for a massage – most races have this facility, but if they don’t, book one with your biokineticist. It really helps aid recovery. Alternatively, make sure you do a foam rolling session and maybe a yoga class the next day to stretch out those sore, stiff muscles and tight hamstrings.

3/ Depending on what race you’ve done, you may now need to book your bike in for a wash/service. It’s critical to keep your gear in good condition so you’re ready for the next race!

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