Tour of Washington County: Cycling Road Races 101

As of May, D is officially back in the racing saddle, and I’m along for the ride. We’ve watched a lot of pro races together, listening to the sweet sounds of Phil Ligget & Paul Sherwen, and I’ve learned a lot about the sport. This world is almost nothing like the running races that consume my training-time, energy and dollar bills; when I start to explain what goes on to friends, I inevitably start to answer the same 100 questions that I’ve asked more than once.

So, without the real qualification or credibility to do so, I’m spreading the wealth.

Want to know what goes on during a Cycling Road Race?
Listen up!

And feel free to ask questions, too.


Prior to this weekend, I had only seen a stage race via the screen, as the best of the best battle it out for a grueling three weeks in the country of France (aka Tour de France), Italy (Giro), California, etc. . The Tour of Washington County (ToWC) may not really compare, but I considered it a leap to even know what the words “stage race” mean, a bound to know what we were in for with a Road Race, Time Trial & Criterium.

In the interest of saving you from information overload on day one, we’re starting with the most basic stage – the Road Race.

Tour of Washington County Collage jpeg

This was the first stage in the ToWC, on Saturday afternoon:

ToWC Jersey & BikeToWC Race fuelToWC Pre-race 2

Road Race:

      – May either consist of point-to-point, out-and-back, or more commonly, a long loop that the riders do repeatedly. This course was a hilly 7-mile loop.

– Has a designated “Feed Zone”: as riders zoom through this area way too quickly, people (ahem, spectators,parents, girlfriends, spouses and/or team members) hand them water and/or food.

– Team riders work for the leader; they ride hard to help him/her stay near the front and in the best position to sprint at the end (if applicable).

– Usually begins with a “neutral roll out”; the start may be anywhere from one to a few miles away from where they actually line up. For safety, they casually ride together to that marker, and then start the all-out riding.

-Riders are both preceded and followed by a Motor Cop and/or equipment car (see top-right photo above: this race was sponsored by SRAM, with a car full of bikes, wheels, and tools ready for any rider who has a “mechanical”, aka mishap). In the pros, each team has a car full of bikes ready for, and fit to, each rider who needs it in the event of a crash, flat, pot-hole chain-drop, etc.

– Starts and ends in stages, by the riders’ Category*.

It looks like this:

Tour of Washington County racers line up Tour of Washington County road race finish words

*One of the biggest differences between cycling & running is the Category license. In this level of racing, each rider has to apply for a license and it is required for registration.

Categories range from 1-5 – 1 being the fastest, pro/elite. Riders almost always begin as a “Cat 5”, and work their way up.


Each race you win, or do well in, earns you points. Points accumulate, and you move up in the wheel-on-wheel world. Obviously with each upgrade comes more competition, more difficult standards and a new level of training.

Fun Fact: Mark Paul Gosselaar, aka Zack Morris, is a Cat 2! Dude is fast.

Because of this regulation, these races are much smaller than the ones us runners are used to. There are few hoops to jump through before you can register for them, ergo when you’re there, you only see those who ride often, train hard and come for competition, not {just} for fun.

ToWC bike trainer warm-upToWC Post-race 2ToWC post-time trial 3


Still with me?

Who’s got a cyclist in the fam / house / friend-circle? Do you wear the helmet?

Next up: the Time Trial.



Filed under cycling, learning, new things!, Races, weekends

15 responses to “Tour of Washington County: Cycling Road Races 101

  1. Whoop!! Sent this to the hus, he’s drooling. This is amazing, great shots! And who cares if it’s not The Tour, it’s still a big deal. I like that you have to really earn your spot to race, road cycling can be dangerous for the inexperienced. Cheering on D! My full support!

  2. Laura Rios

    I am currently healing from a broken foot (I’m a runner, snapped it during a half marathon) and I’m thinking about starting to cycle. I know my foot won’t be run-ready as soon as I get out of the cast! Any tips you have on bikes (not TOO expensive. I don’t think I’ll be doing races with it) or anything of the sort is most appreciated! Thanks for posting!

  3. Sounds like a fun weekend!! Must have been cool to learn all about the sport & competition. D was lucky to have you there for support & photos. 🙂

  4. I’ve watched a lot of road races and we are volunteering for a local one this weekend. I road bike to keep in shape, but I prefer mountain bike racing. Sounds like you are a great support for your other half!

  5. I’ve a cyclist (and now two!) in the house! When D (my D, not yours) started dating three years ago I had to learn QUICK about feed zones, bike-prepping, post-race treatment, etc. What a job! It’s a lot of fun, once you know what’s going on!

    I just started racing this year (which I NEVER thought I would do) – and it’s a lot more fun to be part of the action! You’d probably be a great bike racer, Heather – with your determination and fitness I’m sure you’d advance pretty quick! Just get used to your cleats!

  6. Woohoo! Glad D is back and up to racing with his foot healthy again. Have fun spectating! I know I always enjoy it.

  7. girl the countdown for the tour is on! and we watched the GIRO. I love this post and everything about it. GO D!!

  8. Thanks for posting! I’ve also only watched races from the big tours.
    My husband is getting really into cycling though. After our IM this summer, he thinks he’ll try cycling races next year instead of running races.
    I’ll soak this up like a sponge so I’m not totally ignorant going into it next year!

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