The dangers of bike racing can vary greatly depending on where you are. Below are some tips about racing racing safely when travelling abroad.
As an amateur cyclist, choosing to race in a foreign country can be an exciting adventure and the perfect way for many of us to combine the joys of travelling with our passion for bike racing. However, like all international travelling, it is often necessary to consider the risks associated with your trip and ensure that you are prepared for something going wrong.
As we know, even in the best conditions, with the most stringent safety precautions, bike racing will always have a significant element of danger to it. From experience, this can vary substantially by your location.
Below are some of the key matters to take into account when planning to race in a foreign country.
Road conditions in less developed nations will often not meet the design and safety standards of what you may be used to at home. When entering a race in these regions, you need to expect that there will be more pot holes, foreign objects on the roads, unusual and rough road surfaces, difficult corners and a the potential absence of safety barriers on descents. This should dictate how you prepare for the event, your choice of equipment and how you position yourself throughout the race.
We often won’t have the ability to recon an entire stage race, however getting a few rides in before the race and getting a feel for the road surface is essential.
It’s also important before each stage to speak to other riders who have raced the event before. I’ve found that most riders are more than happy to share their experiences and warn you about parts of the course that are notoriously difficult or have claimed victims on previous editions. Make a note of these points on the route and take extra precaution when getting there.
The weather is often a factor when deciding to travel to any particular region. When racing, it also needs to be taken into account, as without planning, it will impact on your performance and can be a safety issue in extreme cases.
When travelling from hot to cold, cold to hot, or low altitude to high altitude regions, your body will need time to acclimatize. Although certain measures can be planned for and mitigated with the use of correct clothing and nutrition, giving your body some time to acclimatize will also reduce these risks and increase your level of performance.
Not only will jet lag interfere with your ability to sleep well at night, you may have difficulty sleeping due to the altitude or heat.
Although it may not be possible to fully acclimatize, getting to a region a few days before the start will absolutely make a difference as to how you will perform and also your recovery between stages.
I have found that road racing in a foreign country is very similar to driving in a foreign country. You very quickly find out that the customs and courtesies that you are used to will differ greatly by the region you are in.
Eventually you will find your position in the race, however it can take some time to get a feel for the other riders and the predictability of their movements within the peloton. Again, this is where it is important to get to know other riders with experience of the event. These riders can be someone you can look for in the bunch when seeking a reliable wheel and a safe racing line.
Race organisers will have a significant impact on the safety of any event. How the traffic is managed during the race, the roads they choose to race on and the position of finish lines are all influenced by the race organisers. Therefore, their level of experience is important when choosing an event.
To this end, new events will often have bugs that need to be ironed out over the first few editions of the race. Although another broad generalization, established events are likely to be better organized and thus, safer for the riders. Experienced race organizers will have seen a lot of incidents and know the best way to mitigate the risks when planning and running their events.
Plan for the worst
The worst-case scenario in road racing is something we never like to think about. Whether racing abroad or at home, it can occur at any time. Don’t ignore the risk of something serious occurring, as when you are overseas, these matters can be significantly more difficult to deal with.
Consider the quality of the hospitals where the race is occurring and make sure you have insurance that will enable you to take all necessary measures and get proper treatment as soon as possible. Also travel with a fully stocked first aid kit with medicines that you familiar with and know how and when to use.
Ideally, don’t race alone. Have someone there who has access to some emergency money, your insurance details and who can help ensure that you are taken care of if you are unconscious.
Don’t let the fear of an accident when racing overseas put you off.
In my experience, the rewards of seeing the world, experiencing the most spectacular scenery whilst participating in hard exciting racing and making new friends from around the globe with a shared passion for cycling, has far outweighed the downsides of crashing (touch wood).
Choosing the right events and taking sensible precautions before and during the race is important to limit these risks, enjoy your race and make it home safely.