Spring Hope: Early Season Races Across the Country


by Gus Grissom

“Race runs rain or shine. Snow cancels.” With this simple policy on the registration page, the Jefferson Cup Road Race, held in Charlottesville, VA, announces itself annually as one of the premier “early season” races for the Mid-Atlantic Region. Despite the virtually unpredictable weather challenges, racers from all over the East Coast will flock to this unofficial season-opening race on April 3. They can’t wait to test the fitness they’ve spent the winter building.
It’s nearly universal for amateur racers: winter is a time to dream about the first race. And for some, that first race comes very early and the tests are very real.
“The thing about Jeff Cup is that you never really know what it’s going to be like,” explains Frank Cundiff, a member of the Haymarket / Starlight Custom Apparel Cycling Team. “Some years it can be cold and wet and you see folks dropping out due to the conditions. Other years it can be really warm and racers are getting cramps, but I’ll definitely be at that race. It’s really important for me and if I wasn’t racing, I’d still be riding anyways. So if the conditions are horrible, I might as well be cold, wet and miserable with the rest of the racers around me.”
There is definitely a ‘misery loves company’ aspect to early season races on the East Coast.
On the West Coast, however, weather is much less of a consideration, according to Kacy Wander, member of the San Diego Bicycle Club / Emerald Textiles Racing Team. “Our racing season can start as early as mid-February,” she explains. “We are basically able to start at the same time as some of the collegiate racers, which is why our earliest races even have collegiate categories on the same day as senior and masters’ categories.” Since the season starts early in California, Wander explains that many racers seem to “race themselves into fitness” rather than being overly concerned with putting in a lot of base miles in the harder months of winter. “The weather is so nice here that it’s much easier to stay in generally good condition through the winter and then to do a lot of racing early to get the speed and skills work it takes to be competitive.”
Cundiff, by contrast, says the East Coast is very different. “Sure it might seem like early season races are ‘practice races,’ but what we’re practicing is racing. So it’s not like a Wednesday night training ride. My teammates and I are out there fully expecting to contend for the win.” He explains that while the earliest races may not exactly be “A-races” on their annual training plan, they are important. “The early races are not only a chance to race for the win, they are also a chance to figure out who’s who in the peloton that year or to regain some confidence in large groups. But really the most important thing is to rely on your winter fitness and training to be in a position where you can try new things and see how you really stack up against the competition, new and returning, for the rest of the season.”
So while the style of racing and conditions may differ across the country, what is constant is that every region has its own sense of how “season-opener” is defined. So if you’re looking to reap the benefits of your winter training at a season-opener, here are a few events of various sizes, and in various locations across the country, that you could consider.
March 5-6, 2016:
La Primavera Lago Vista Bike Race (TX): Describing itself as “an annual event that partners with the Lago Vista and Jonestown community like a foot to a bike pedal.” The 2016 edition “will be a paramount event and celebration.” This hilly 5.5 mile course draws riders from all over Texas and the world.
March 6, 2016:
Knot MTB Race (SC): This kickoff to the Maxxis Southern Classic Mountain Bike Series features fast singletrack, steep climbs, and will be held rain or shine. The trails are built to withstand even the worst conditions!
March 20, 2016:
SERC #1 (FL): The Southeastern Regional Mountain Bike Championship Series is merely one part of over thirty races helping to support USA Cycling’s 2016 goals to “lower the barriers of entry to the sport of cycling, and to increase its support of amateur and grassroots racing.”
April 1-3, 2016:
San Dimas Stage Race (CA): This three-day stage race is set with the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop, and offers a challenging, demanding, affordable and fun race atmosphere.
April 10, 2016:
Hop Brook MTB Race, Middlebury (CT): Though it’s only in the middle of April, this stop on the Root 66 Race Series serves as the Connecticut State Mountain Bike Championship.
April 14-17, 2016:
Subaru Sea Otter Classic (CA): The combination of mountain, road and even cyclo-cross options will be enough to satisfy racers in nearly every cycling discipline.
April 17, 2016:
Daniel Harwi Memorial Annual Lower Providence Spring Classic Criterium (PA): A race that has in the past also served as the Pennsylvania State Championship offers plenty of opportunities for juniors to test their fitness.
April 23, 2016:
The Ken Woods Classic (MN): Sponsored by the Gopher Wheelmen of Minnesota, the Ken Woods Road Race honors the club’s founder and legendary six-day racer.
April 23 – May 14, 2016:
Races at the Lake (OH): Hosted by the Summit Freewheelers, these races actually form a series of races that extend through the middle of May.
Regardless of which part of the country you call home, there are some early season events that give you the chance to test your fitness and rejoin your racing friends for another year on the circuit. All you have to do is make sure your USA Cycling membership is active, find an event, figure out how many layers you need (of clothing or sunscreen depending on location!), and get out there to make it happen.

This Article Updated March 5, 2016 @ 10:40 PM For more information contact: