The first race of the season is tough, no matter whether you're a longtime pro or a new racer. There are start line nerves, there are so many fitness unknowns, and there is a very good chance that you've forgotten something important! After nearly a decade of racing as a pro, Alexey Vermeulen has started to get a handle on that first race back, but even he admits it can feel a little intimidating being on that start line. So, if you're getting stressed about your first upcoming race, here are a few tips:
Rather than having your first race of the season be your A race that's your top priority, add in a casual race beforehand. This could be a local event, or something that's more relay-based. Alexey typically heads to Tucson for the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo mountain bike race, which he does on a team with some friends. The low pressure, low stress environment makes that first race back feel fun, not stressful, and it sets him up to have a great first 'real race' of the season!
"The first race of the year always seems like you are cleaning out the cobwebs," Alexey says. "Usually for me I try to reframe the situation by just getting excited to ride with my friends again and by focusing on the things I can control!" Even if you don't know anyone on the start line, smile and say hi—remember, if you're not racing for a paycheck, then really, you ARE here to make friends.
If there's one thing Alexey loves, it's list-making—and it's a big part of his success as a cyclist. He rarely shows up at the start line having forgotten something important, like charging his electronic shifting or putting the right snacks in his pockets. But even he occasionally forgets something. "I have a running list for all race things, but for some reason the thing I seem to always forget is drink mix!" he says. "It is now underlined and highlighted on my list..."
"If it goes well, GREAT!" Alexey says. "That really helps for the rest of the season. If not, that is usually where a small mental battle begins and you have to work really hard to stay positive and set your sights on the next one!" But whether it goes great or goes poorly, remember that in the grand scheme of your racing life, it's just one day. You've got this! (And you can always pretend that the race was just a practice one and your 'real season' starts at the next race.)