How to Prepare for Your First VELOTHON

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Riders compete in the Velothon Stockholm. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

The VELOTHON race series provides spectacular experiences in road cycling, whether you’re a seasoned sportive rider, a charity fundraiser, a newbie to cycling, or a triathlete in training.

by Mackenzie Madison

Whatever your ambition or ability level, VELOTHON hosts incredible races of varying distances in some of the most beautiful locations in the world, from cities like Berlin to Australia's Sunshine Coast.

Because we want you to enjoy your preparation as much as the big day itself, we worked with nationally certified cycling coach and exercise physiologist Mackenzie Madison to bring you a collection of essential training and racing tips. The below guide is a launchpad for your training journey—stay tuned for a custom training plan for each distance. 

Let's get you started on your VELOTHON race journey!

Nutrition primer

Your nutrition strategy is just as important as your training. It can make or break your training sessions, inhibit or aid your recovery, and even dictate your overall racing success. Just like training, your nutrition also needs to be practiced as each cyclist is different in regards to what items work best for the unique demands of training, long rides, and races.

During your VELOTHON event you will need to consume enough calories. This is especially important when it comes to the longer distance races. It's commonly advised to consume around 200 calories per hour of riding, or about half the calories you are burning per hour. It's key to start eating early and stay on top of your nutrition—you want to avoid waiting until you get hungry or thirsty.

It's also important to be familiar with the nutrition that will be available on the course. Liquid drink mixes, fruit, pretzels, and gels are some of the types of food that will be provided at the VELOTHON aid stations. Madison advises bringing some of your own products that you know work for you, especially if you're sensitive to consuming foods during exercise or if you want to stay with the front pack and not have to stop at aid stations. Lastly, remember to hydrate and drink frequently no matter the type of weather in training or racing.

The night before your VELOTHON, consume low-glycemic index foods along with hydrating properly. (The common tradition of consuming massive amounts of carbohydrates the night before is not advised.) Instead, choose foods that stabilize your blood sugar levels such as protein sources, and veggies with rice or potatoes.

Your pre-ride breakfast nutrition is also something you should practice before your long rides to see what works best for you. Again choosing low-glycemic foods with complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat are excellent choices. Don’t forget to hydrate as well. 

Group riding 101

VELOTHON brings the energizing and dynamic experience of group riding right to you. Group riding can be challenging at times but when orchestrated properly it is simply an amazing experience. It's extremely motivating and exciting to be on closed roads with other cyclists. In order to keep the events safe and minimize accidents, continual communication among riders is key.

Many cyclists complete their long rides alone or with just a few others riders. Thus, we highly advise partaking in as many group rides as you can ahead of the event so that you feel comfortable riding with all the participating riders. These experiences will provide you some of the best physical and mental training you can get. They will make you stronger and more confident in all group riding experiences.

One of the greatest benefits of riding in a group is the ability to draft. Drafting helps create possibilities for many types of race dynamics: breakaways, pace lining, teamwork, and energy conservation. When riding in a group or pace line a "slipstream" is created. The riders in the front set the pace and block most of the wind, therefore making it easier for others to go faster and work less than those at the front. Within that slipstream the riders in the back of a group are pulled along with very little effort which can create a pace discrepancy within the group by creating the “slinky” effect—this is more evident over varying, hilly terrain. The riders in the front will not have as much forward momentum compared to the riders in the back- especially on downhill’s and uphill’s. The riders in the back will move forward faster than the front riders making it important to constantly be aware and pre-adjust your speed—just like driving a car.

At VELOTHON, we have created the Safer Cycling Campaign to help riders conquer the roads in an accident-free environment. VELOTHON also has a starting system for timing that matches your comfort level. Be sure to place yourself at the start line where you feel the most comfortable starting.

General Safety Group Riding Rules and Etiquette:

→ Treat others the way you want to be treated and be respectful to other riders. Give other riders encouragement and support to make VELOTHON a positive environment.

→ When riding in a group, always use controlled, steady movements on the bike. Never slam on your breaks. Instead always lightly feather your brakes.

→ Use hand signals to point out obstacles on the road and to let riders know if you are about to turn or move to one side of the road. It is especially important if you are in the front of a group to point out obstacles. Don’t yell as it distracts riders instead of focusing on holding your line.

→ It's important to position your front wheel to the left or right side of the wheel in front of you. Never sit directly behind the wheel in front of you. Always give some safety space.

→ Avoid half-wheeling, which is riding up halfway to the rider in front of you. This pushes the pace and can cause safety issues if the rider in front is not aware of your presence. Make a full pass or be respectful and wait to move to the front.

→ Never stare directly at the wheel in front of you in a group ride. Always look 10 meters ahead.

→ If you are going to peel of the front do so steadily and make a hand motion that you are going to drop back. When you are on the front- don’t take monster pulls. In general pulls last 1-3 minutes in length. Keep the effort the same and don’t push the pace unless you or your team has a strategized race tactic. Always keep steady movements.

→ Eat and drink on the flats or steady coasting areas. Do not choose to eat or drink on a technical descent or challenging road stretch- especially if you are not as experienced at eating while riding.

Comfort is key

Whenever you are out on your bike for an extended period of time you want to make sure you that you are staying comfortable. Cycling restricts many movement patterns and keeps you on the saddle repeating the same motion for hours on end. The goal is to keep the body relaxed to save energy and prevent your back, neck, and other areas from pain.

The first step to maintaining comfort on the bike is to get a proper bike fit with the proper size, the right saddle, and a setup maximized for comfort and your own racing goals. Efficiency and comfort on your bike matter. Make sure you have your bike and gear set up long before you race and have ridden several long rides with your planned setup. Lastly, as aero as your friends might look, don’t change anything last minute before the race.

Mentality matters

VELOTHON racing provides many mentally challenging opportunities. Experiencing both physical and mental fatigue during your long rides or when trying to hang with a faster group in advance of your event will help prepare you to embrace the challenges of the big day. 

To stay mentally prepared, plan out your pacing. Know how long it will take you to get to specific points on the course. Most importantly, acquire a bike computer that can notify you where you are at in the race. Break down the race into segments instead of looking at the total distance. There will be ups and downs throughout your long rides and during the event itself, so train yourself to keep riding as the road ahead is constantly changing. Place yourself in a positive mindset and you will conquer any course. 

Race strategy

It is very important to look at the course map and elevation ahead of time to get a feel for the type of terrain you'll be encountering. Study the map to learn how many (and how long!) the hills are, and where you can look forward to respite over flat sections and downhills. 

Go into your VELOTHON knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a rider. Strategize to showcase your strengths and conserve your weaknesses. At the start of the VELOTHON everyone, especially the front riders, go out right away at breakneck speed. You'll want to position yourself well without going to the front immediately, but still be near the front. A consistent, well-paced effort rather than repetitive punches or spikes in power is key for long road racing success. Since you are in it for the long haul, focus on drafting whenever you can to conserve energy. Make sure to use heart rate and power to monitor your overall efforts to keep yourself in check and evenly paced—your aim is to be able to finish the race strong.

Riding with the group will require mastering group dynamics, as previously mentioned. The peloton will be ever changing with people moving to the front, falling off the back on the hills, and making "attacks" or sprinting. Group tactics are key, so always be willing to work together or take an opportunity when you see one that fits within your physical range. 

Racing a VELOTHON with a team or group of friends that can work together is another advisable option. Even doubling up on teams to work together until the final km's is a fun way to help move your teams to the front and race each other at the end. If you are with a team, designate who is the "workhorse," who will stay behind if a rider falls back, and who starts the breakaways. If you’re here to race, strategize ahead of time and on the fly during the race.

Create positive energy

VELOTHON events were created for riders to experience a fun, supportive, and competitive environment. It's important to understand that each rider has different goals and desired experience outcomes from the event. Some want to attack the distance and get to the finish line as fast as possible, while others want to take their time and enjoy the ride. Don’t forget to enjoy riding on open roads clear of traffic and the spectacular views at the top of every challenging climb.  But most of all, enjoy the camaraderie of riding with fellow cyclists, and a few extra bites of cake at the finish line.

Race Gear Checklist

  • Road helmet
  • Tuned up race bike
  • Cycling shoes
  • Bike computer
  • Race wheels
  • Moisture-wicking race socks
  • Jersey with pockets
  • Bib shorts that are comfortable
  • Base layer
  • Sunglasses
  • Cycling gloves (short, long finger, rain)
  • Rain shoe covers
  • Rain jacket and/or soft shell
  • Wind vest
  • Leg, arm and knee/ leg warmers
  • Saddle bag: flat kit, spare tube, CO2, tire levers
  • Two water bottles on bike  
  • Bike pump
  • Nutrition drink mix
  • Container with extra water
  • Gels, bars, ride food
  • 4 water bottles
  • Chamois cream
  • Sunscreen 

Mackenzie Madison is a certified cycling and triathlon coach with an M.S. in Exercise Physiology. She is also a professional athlete.


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