GETTING STARTED IN BICYCLE RACING
Clubs and Teams:
Bicycle road and track racing in the U.S. is very much a club and team-oriented sport, and one of the best first steps you can take is to find and join a local club. There are a number of different types of clubs. Some are small, focused, invitation-only teams, while others are larger and open to anyone. Some of the larger clubs may even include more than one team, each with a different sponsor and each with a different focus. Finding out about the clubs and teams in your area is best accomplished by talking with your local bike shop and by visiting club websites. You can find a listing of USA Cycling clubs, organized by State, on the usacycling.org website at http://www.usacycling.org/clubs/. Once you join a club, you will need to get to know the riders and the club officers and find out about training rides and other club activities. Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions and generally make a pest of yourself. Most experienced riders really like helping out new racers, but they won't go out of their way until they feel like you are reasonably serious about it.
USA Cycling and LAMBRA:
USA Cycling is the primary governing body for bicycle racing in the United States (there are a few other bike racing organizations), and this is where you go to get your racing license. They are heavily involved in putting together national and olympic teams, running development clinics, maintaining official's and coaching programs, etc. The Louisiana-Mississippi Bicycle Racing Association (LAMBRA) is an association of bicycle racing clubs that handles much of the day-to-day work of organizing racing calendars, running an annual points competition (the LAMBRA Cycling Cup Series), and working with the event promoters and clubs who put on most of the races in the two-state area. We also help organize the annual LAMBRA road race, time trial, team time trial, criterium and track championships. On the LAMBRA website you can find lots of information about bike racing in Louisiana and Mississippi including the race calendar, race results, and other key information.
LAMBRA also maintains the annual LAMBRA Cycling Cup Series (LCCS) in which riders and their clubs score points in many of the area races, with the winners receiving championship jerseys and/or awards at the end of the year. You will find that many of the other "Local Associations" like LAMBRA maintain similar points series, often referred to as "BAR" (Best All 'Round) competitions. On the national level, USAC also maintains a race results and rankings system called the "Results and Rankings" system, through which you can get an idea of how you rank among other racers from your state, region, class and/or category. LAMBRA also maintains the LAMBRA_racing email list to which you should subscribe in order to keep up to date on race information.
Racing Licenses, Categories and Classes:
OK, so you're ready to start racing. Whatever you do, don't wait until you feel you are fully prepared before entering your first race. Nobody is ever fully prepared for his or her first race. Besides, there's a special introductory Category just for new racers.
You need to have a USA Cycling racing license in order to race. You can purchase a 1-day license at most races and even online from the usacycling.org website. The best deal for most riders, however, is to purchase the annual racing license via the USAC website. When you do this, you can indicate which club and team you belong to and you will be able to set up your "My USA Cycling" logon ID and password. Your customizable "My USA Cycling" page will show your racing results, current registration information, upcoming events in your area, etc. You'll initially be assigned to Category 5 (Category 4 for Women). This category is for new racers, and after entering ten mass-start races you can request an upgrade to Category 4. Most events will include a Category 5 race, and it will typically be shorter than most of the other categories. You can find out more about the USAC Category system and upgrading on the LAMBRA "Rider Resources" page. In addition to "Categorized" races, most events also include some age-graded races which may or may not also be categorized. Typically, there will be a Master-35+ or Master-45+ race for riders who are at least 35 or 45 years old, and often the Junior and Women's events will have no category restrictions. You can enter any race that is open to Category 5 riders using a 1-day license, but to enter any other races, you will need to have an annual racing license. Women can race "down" one category in races that include men, so a beginner Cat. 4 woman can enter a men's Cat. 5 race.
Racing Rules :
It's a good idea to look over the USCF road racing rules before entering your first event. You can find USAC racing rulebooks for each discipline (Road, Track, Cyclocross, Mountain Bike, BMX) on the USAC website.
Training and Coaching:
Becoming an accomplished competitive Category 1 or 2 cyclist can take a number of years of training and racing. This is where belonging to a club can be a big benefit. If you want more formal coaching, you can find USAC certified coaches through the website or through your club. One of the "Rites of Passage" for most riders is participating in the local group or club training ride. Often, this will be the equivalent of jumping into the deep end, so don't be discouraged if you find yourself dropped and off the back when the pace speeds up. Everybody starts out that way. Stick with it, ask questions, and you'll get stronger and more relaxed with every group ride.