Despite the extensive negative media attention currently plaguing the cycling world, there is still the undeniable fact that as we progress through the year, thousands of people across the country are going to look at their love and dedication to the bicycle and decide to have a go at racing. You like going fast, so why not?

Not only can this be a terrific resolution for one’s health, but it can also add an unforgettable series of experiences that can enrich the soul with heart-pumping good times and the sort of physical bar-setting that is unique to formal competition. 2012 was my first year of competing, and thinking back to the flurry of races and training that occurred, I can honestly say that the decision to start racing with my bike was one of the most rewarding I have yet to make, and I say that with 100% seriousness.

Sound over the top? Maybe, but hear me out.

Obligatory Warning: bike racing in Northern California is ridiculously fun, especially if you do well. The wake of satisfaction that follows a hearty season may cause the rider to seek the evening shift, cut out of class early, pour hundreds or even thousands of dollars into seemingly minute mechanical upgrades, and overall become obsessed with gobbling up as many miles as his/her schedule will allow. It may seem a bit crazy, but there are countless people in Sonoma County, not to mention the rest of the world, who routinely knock out as much as 20 hours a week on the saddle – and love every second of it.

Is it legal to have this much fun? This question legitimately inhabits my mind when ripping down a picturesque descent, or zoning into complete focus on a tailwind-ridden shred down the Pacific Coast Highway. Whenever my adrenaline pumps with such reckless abandon, I can’t help but look around and wonder if it is all too good to be true, as if someone may come around at any moment and say, “Hey, you! Stop! You’re having way too much fun over there.”

I’ve always equated riding my bike to receiving the most thrilling, hands-on geography lesson, all while soaking in the euphoria that attaches itself to the bounty of exercise-induced chemicals. In other words, just imagine watching the most HD, 3D Planet Earth marathon while riding a roller coaster, all as your mind goes through some of the most thrilling, satisfying changes in consciousness; don’t forget the truckload of cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits.

If you share this sort of passion for your two-wheeled machine, you may or may not have tried the prospect of racing, whether by your own research on, or, or simply word of mouth from other ride buddies; if so, you probably discovered the fact that racing is tattooed from head to toe in tactics, strategy, and many other variables that have very little to do with how hard you can crush down on the pedals.

Taking this into account, it is of the utmost importance for you to become aware of the various factors that contribute to winning and losing, because ignorance will only act as one huge disservice to all those longs hours hauling yourself up and down steep grades.

Why Read This?

Although I am not a veteran by any means, the memories of my initial, and painfully silly mistakes are still clear as day in my mind – something that may fade from the memory of a more seasoned rider.

That being said, save yourself some sanity, drive time, money, and pride by reading up on some of the following tips; first from myself, then from successful riders from all over the area.

Maybe even Levi himself will close the piece with some fundamental, Sonoma County-style tutelage. Enjoy…

Don’t be late, don’t be late, don’t be late.

  1. NCNCA (Northern California Northern Nevada Cycling Association) races are often peppered all over Northern California, so drive times are rarely ever the same. There are few things worse than prepping all week for a race, driving two hours, only to get turned down at the sign-in desk due to the fact that you assumed Rocklin was basically west Sacramento.
  2. Listen to/research all rules for particular event. Each race has rules specific to the course of the day, meaning, the roads may be fully closed, partially closed, or just open at the finishing sprint. After I casually paid no heed to the ref speaking before the start of last year’s Leeseville Gap Road Race, my result went from 1st place, to DQed, to relegated; all because I didn’t listen to the fact that there was a center line rule enforced for the entire race, even the finishing sprint. Unnecessary grief.
  3. Upgrade your equipment as much as in reason.
  4. Ride with someone stronger than you.
  5. Have a plan for each race. This doesn’t necessarily have to be conceived before the race, and even if it forms after several miles, it is good to have a sturdy plan of attack and not aloofly wait for the cards to fall. It also doesn’t hurt to go online and do some digging – view the course that you will be competing on, see the times and speeds of others, read race reports, and basically prepare yourself for the race as you would a final exam you really need to ace.
  6. Look into a professional’s training routine, and extract as much as possible. makes it possible to see exactly what the pros are doing, at least on the bike. This is a great tool to see how many miles are needed to compete with the best. The slew of other variables is another story, but having that basic knowledge brings great perspective to any training schedule.

You may have read something useful from the previous advice, and you may have just skipped down here to the good stuff; either way, here are some pointers from the more elite:

First off, we live in a cycling rich environment. Not just the terrain, but the culture. There are a lot of strong riders and professionals that live in Sonoma County. Try your best to ride with some of these folks – you can learn a lot. Experienced racers ride group rides differently than you may expect. Secondly, spending some cash to get a Garmin/GPS device will do wonders for your training. You can track your rides, link up to STRAVA, and see where you stack up to others. –Nick Kersmarki, 1st Place 2012 P12 Steve Dunlap TTT

My advice would be to learn what you can from everyone. That might be a current or ex professional, or even a peer. Learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. As soon as you think you know everything, you ultimately have lost because nobody does. Be patient, attentive, and enjoy every moment of the sport. –John Piasta, 1st Place 2012 P12 Folsom Cyclebration Stage Race

Most beginner races are early in the morning and can be in locations a couple of hours away. Prep your gear and get plenty of sleep the night before to allow time for a solid breakfast, drive time, and warm up before the race. –Brian Bonham, 1st Place, 2012 E5 Winters Road Race

Racing allows you to test your fitness and push past mental barriers. Find a mentor or attend a training series or clinic. Once you start, it’s easy to make gains in fitness and race tactics.

–Nick McGowan, 1st Place 2012 E3 Petaluma Criterium

My one tip for new racers is don’t hold back, and race aggressively. You always learn much more from your failures than you do from any other part of racing.

-Pete Morris, 1st Place 2012 2/3 Counter Center Criterium

The biggest thing is to be friendly to everyone and realize that it’s just bike racing. Ask questions and don’t be intimidated. Most people are not doing this for a living, so be safe, courteous and don’t take too many chances…power wins a race not disregard for your body or others. So on that note, go out and train!! –Justin Rossi, 2012 P12 Cal Cup Winner

 1 – Pace yourself.  Not from a on-the-bike perspective, but from a month to month racing and training perspective.  There are so many races and training methods.  Take the paths that don’t tackle more than a few goals and race per month.  From time to time you can go crazy.  But those racers that start out too strong rarely are seen racing in late summer…they burn out.  Pace your training and racing with dedication and patience

 2 – In Crits and Road Races, the strongest guy rarely wins.  The SMARTEST strong guy will.  Watch what the good racers and teams do, and what they DON’T do.  If the guy that always wins doesn’t chase much but is always there at the end, take a race and just tail him to see what he is doing well.

 3 – There is always someone stronger than you.  There is always someone with more experience or race smarts than you.   There is always someone with more freshness than you.  The key to doing well is being the best you can be at these 3 things together at one time.  Fresh, Prepared tactically, and Fit.

 4 – “When in doubt lead it out”  Common to hear this, but rare to see it.  When the race starts getting critical and the make or break moments arrive, it if almost always better to go ALL-IN than to wait for others to do what you want to see happen.

 5 – As the saying goes: “Form = Freshness + Fitness.”  You can be super strong but very tired, or very fresh but low in fitness.  The key to being in good race shape is finding the right blend of each Freshness and Fitness for YOU.  Don’t copy anyone else’s training plan.  That never works out well!

-Jonathan Lee, 1st Place 2012 P12 Steve Dunlap TTT,,


Most cyclists spend too much time in zone 3 (tempo) and not enough time at a “true” recovery pace (low zone 1).  I call this the “Zone 3 Syndrome” and almost every amateur rider I know falls into it’s trap.  Z3 is not hard enough to improve high end performance but too hard to be efficient endurance training.  Because the rider is in a constant state of moderate fatigue due to all the tempo riding, they aren’t able to hit the really high notes when they try to do their interval training. As a result, the rider gets very good at riding at a medium high pace for long periods of times but doesn’t have the top end fitness for when the pace goes beyond that.


Every rider I have ever coached has come to me in some state of over training so the first thing I always do is have them take a week completely off and then another week riding very very easy.  Only after that two week recovery can we start to ease into some interval training, making sure that the hard stuff is hard, the medium stuff is medium and the easy stuff is very easy.  The amazing thing is what a huge leap in fitness they get after only a month on the program because they are finally in a good cycle of intensity and recovery.  

-Josh Horowitz, Former General Manager of Wonderful Pistachios Pro Cycling, pro cyclist, and founder of Ultimate Psychology and Ultimate Sports Psychology.

“Riding and racing your bike should be fun and enjoyable because there’s a lot of hard work and suffering involved to improve and perform to the best of your abilities. Like anything in life, if you truly love what you’re doing then it will never feel like work. My advice is to recognize what it is you love about riding your bike and focus on that, remind yourself of it as often as possible. For me, I love how far and fast I can go in one day’s training. Living in Sonoma County is the perfect canvas for adventurous days on the bike. You too can explore the area where you live and over time go further and faster.”

–Levi Leipheimer, Sonoma County cycling legend.


Hopefully you are now equipped with a few more useful pointers and are ready to continue on/begin your conquest for racing supremacy.

Pertinent links:

Get your racing license:

Find Nor Cal races:


Santa Rosa Tuesday night crits:



About the author: Tom Edwards is a recent Sonoma State graduate and a Sebastopol road racer. 

“After rowing throughout school, I traded in my calloused hands for a killer jersey tan and haven’t looked back. I’m passionate about all things exercise, from the physiology involved, to coaching. On top of that, I love brewing, writing, and music,” said Tom.

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