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When Should You Quit a Cycling Race?

By Jiri Kaloc

It’s never a good situation when you have to start wondering whether to continue or take the dreaded “did not finish” in a cycling race. But sometimes it’s necessary. Even if you feel prepared before the race, there are many factors outside of your control.

It’s better to think about quitting a race before you’re in a tough situation. Let’s look at the reasons for and against.

We often celebrate those that overcome terrible odds and persevere despite bad luck and awful conditions. While perseverance is important in training and racing, there should be a healthy limit to it. Putting yourself and others in danger is not worth the pay-off. So, let’s talk about how to make good decisions on those bad days.

Amateur race
When is it good to quit a race? © Profimedia


Preparation is key if you want to reduce the likelihood of a bad scenario. Developing outstanding fitness is one of the best ways of preparing because it increases your capacity to absorb adversity. However, you can’t forget about the mechanical aspect of cycling.

Make sure to carry enough gear that can get you out of trouble. Consider items such as a multi-tool, pump, tube, one set of brake pads, one set of cleats, as well as brake and derailleur cables. Depending on the type of race you are taking part in, you might want to add a rain jacket, hat and warm gloves.

Rehearse your responses

Try thinking of all the bad scenarios that can happen or have happened to you in the past and mentally go over what you would do to alleviate them.

For example, if you run out of water on a hot day. Will you be able to drink from a stream? Will you carry a water filter? Will you be able to ask other riders for water? Will you soak your clothing to cool down and slow the process of dehydration? Going over these questions before the race can be invaluable.

Worth the risk?

Most amateur cyclists are competing for fun and to reach personal goals. That means the risks they take have to be appropriate to the situation. Professionals who have to perform to keep their contracts will probably be willing to risk more. But us cycling enthusiasts should probably call it a day when continuing would mean ending up in a medical tent.

Cycling race
Rehearse your responses. © Profimedia

Reasons to quit

Even with good preparation, rehearsals, and priorities set, you might be in a situation when you’re unsure whether quitting is the right thing to do. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are you in danger or just uncomfortable? If you suffer a fall and show signs of concussion or a broken bone, you are in real danger. If you are exhausted to a point where you’re disoriented and uncoordinated, you are in danger. On the other hand, riding with a few scrapes or soaked by unexpected rain might be very uncomfortable, but not necessarily dangerous.
  • Do you have the right gear to safely continue? If the weather is turning very cold and you don’t have the proper clothing and still a long way to go, you may be putting your health at risk. With the right gear it might only be uncomfortable, not dangerous.
  • Are you able to keep eating and drinking to safely continue? If you’re nauseated to the point that you can’t consume calories or keep down liquids, you might be in danger. If there are no sharp cut offs, you might consider stopping or slowing down significantly to give your digestion time to recover. If that’s not an option, or if you keep vomiting, it’s time to quit and stay safe.
  • Will you put others at risk by continuing? Every reputable race will have staff and emergency personnel ready to help you if something goes wrong. But if you’re at a point where you believe you might need help if you continue, you have to stop. Don’t take the help away from someone who might need it for reasons out of their control.

There are many situations where quitting a race is actually the right choice. Don’t be afraid to do it when the day comes. But until then, do your best to prepare and avoid those bad days as best as you can.