A criterium (or crit) is a type of road bicycle race with the biggest differentiators being they are raced in a closed circuit, are usually technical, short in duration, and very fast.  They also feature prizes called primes (pronounced preems) that are awarded to the winner of the prime lap.  Criteriums have become a lot more popular as of late, especially in the United States, so time to educate yo self, fool!

Crits = Cornering skills

Most crits feature 4 corners that can be +/- 90 degrees with the racers usually going clock-wise around the course.  However, some more technical crits can be 6,8, or even 10+ corners that feature both left and right turns, chicane sections (natural or artificial narrowing of the road), sharp climbs, hairpins (really sharp corner that is a full 180 degrees), and varying road surfaces (pavement, cobblestones, etc).  Needless to say, a criterium racer needs to have excellent bike-handling skills to deal with all the various elements of a crit course and sometimes (okay always!) nerves of steel.

Improve your bike-handling skills: Cornering Drill

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Ride to a safe place where you can practice taking a corner (hitting the apex) and accelerating out of it.
  • Enter the corner at a high speed (but a speed that you feel safe at!), practice hitting the apex (inside) and accelerate out of it HARD!  Repeat this going both left and right picking up the entry speed as you feel more confident in your ability.
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Image credit: Altovelo.org

Crits = Accelerating

Since crits feature a lot of corners, there is inherent slowing and accelerating out of said corners.  Most everyone can slow down like the best of them, but it’s the accelerating part that separates the wheat from the chaff (bet you never heard that one before).  The acceleration that is required also becomes more violent and lasts longer the further down the group you are due to the “accordion effect” whereby the racers in the top 10% of the field can take the corner at speed and smoothly pedal through it versus the riders in the bottom 10% who need to slow down fiercely and then accelerate their butts off to hold onto the wheel in front of them.

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Image credit: Criteriumcoaching.com

Improve your acceleration ability: Microbursts

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Perform 4-10 minutes (depending on fitness level) of 15 seconds FULL GAS, 15 seconds recovery.
  • When I say FULL GAS, I mean it.  You should be grabbing the drops, and exploding up to speed!  Either standing or seated is fine.
  • Rest for 5-10 minutes between and perform 2-4 sets.

Crits = Not pedaling

Wait, what?  How can I win a bike race if I don’t pedal, Shayne!?  Not pedaling is the only chance you are going to get to recover in a crit, unless the course features a downhill section.  And, you guessed it, the corners are the best place to not pedal to recover.  The best way to recover in a corner is to let a little bit of a gap open to the rider in front of you before entering the turn (about half a bike-length).  Going through the turn, let the gap close to the rider so you are right back behind them again on the straight-away.  Doing this will prevent gaps from opening after corners and will provide you with the best draft when the rider begins their acceleration again.  This takes a lot of practice, so don’t become frustrated if you mess it up the first thousand times you do it.  To drive this point home further, check out some data from a typical crit…

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In the above diagram, you can see how many accelerations >700w there are (purple line), but also a huge amount of not pedaling when cornering (pink line).

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This diagram makes the first one a little easier to read.  You can see this athlete spent OVER 20 MINUTES not pedaling their bike during the race!  This is over 1/3 of the race which is pretty amazing.  As the saying goes “the athlete who pedals the least usually wins”.

Crits = Sharp elbows and icy veins

Okay, not really, but you need to be able to take a few shoulder bumps, have a touch of wheels, and deal with people trying to undercut your lines going into corners.  This requires you to have extreme confidence in your bike-handling, stability to hold a line, the ability to read a peloton, the faculties to see if a rider is gassed and to advance past them before they open a gap causing people to fly by you on both sides, and the knack to put as many expletives into a sentence as possible (just joshing), plus some ice in the veins doesn’t hurt.  Basically, you need to have experience to keep yourself safe.  For this reason, I would not recommend crit racing to the inexperienced athlete as the chance of screwing up a corner and causing yourself or your fellow riders to bounce of the pavement increases drastically.  Fortunately there are some excellent beginner racer programs out there with some focusing solely on crit racing.  Fire up the Google machine and see where the nearest one to you is!

Improve your confidence: Bump drills and wheel touches.

  • Grab a partner whom you trust and are okay with bouncing into.
  • Head to a field that is nice and flat with minimal divots in the grass.
  • Practice (slowly!) leaning into the other rider with your shoulder.  As you gain confidence, push harder, push more violently, pick up speed, and do it from both left and right sides.
  • Also, make sure you let them push into you so you can get the feeling of it and practice improving your stability.

Another drill I like to give my newer athletes is the wheel touch drill:

  • Grab a partner whom you trust and are okay with bouncing into.
  • Head to a field that is nice and flat with minimal divots in the grass.
  • Practice (slowly!) coming up from behind and tapping your front wheel to their rear wheel.  Make sure the rider in front maintains a constant speed.
  • When you get better at tapping the wheel, then practice turning into it.
    • When turning into it, keep on turning the wheel until you push yourself away from the other rider.  The biggest mistake people make here is freak out and cross up their front wheel by immediately turning out and away .  It is a little counter-intuitive at first, but with practice it become less scary and second-nature.

So, if you really want to crush your next crit you need to improve 4 major areas that include cornering, accelerating, recovering through corners, and mental fortitude.  With these 4 areas, plus a little luck sometimes, crits can be some of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of cycling.

 

 

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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