Okay, here’s my short list of basic knowledge that it takes to race bikes. There are a ton of things that should come naturally to you when you’re racing a bike. Hopefully you’ve ridden a bike long enough to have most of the skills necessary to control the bike. I’m not going to go into simple things like outside pedal down, weight off your seat in a corner, etc. This is more of a basic race tactic list. And this list is off the top of my head, just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge that you need to be more competitive. There are thousands of more things, which I’m sure I’ll hear about soon.
1) Never be in the front pulling for no reason.
2) Always know which direction that the wind is coming from.
3) Know the course, at least in your mind, before the start and picture where the strategic points, hills and wind direction will occur.
4) Constantly ask yourself if you’re in the right position. If you’re not, get there.
5) Know when to do single pace line and when to ride double echelon.
6) Don’t be shouting at other riders telling them what to do. It just pisses them off and makes them want you not to do well.
7) Nearly never look back for what’s going on behind you. If you really need to know, drift back through the field subtly.
8) Don’t try to show off in races. Races are judged by who crosses the line first.
9) Always observe and rate the guys your racing against. Watching how they pedal, climb, corner, etc.
10) Make sure you know where the finish line is and where you plan to sprint from.
Like I stated above, this is just .1% of the stuff that needs to be going through your mind during a bicycle race. And it needs to be there at all times. Decisions in cycling need to be made instantaneously. And even good decisions can go south on you down the road. But you need to file all those good decisions that went bad away and use them later to make better good decisions. That is one of the things that is so great about the sport, it is a complete morphing, fluid activity at all times. No two races will ever be the same and no outcomes will ever repeat themselves.
If you really want to read about race tactics, I’m sure that this book, written by one of my old Wheaties/Schwinn team mates, Thomas Prehn, has most everything you need to know. I don’t own it, but Thomas is a smart rider, and good writer too, so it is most likely pretty comprehensive. That being said, there is no substitute for on the bike learning through racing.