Tips for a Successful Criterium
You don’t have to be the strongest rider in the pack to race well in a criterium and come away with a positive experience instead of a frustrating one.
You don’t have to be the strongest rider in the pack to race well in a criterium and come away with a positive experience instead of a frustrating one; you just have to be smart about where and how you expend your energy. One classic way of thinking about it is to imagine that each rider starts the race with a handful of matches. During the race, you’ll burn through your matches, and when they’re all gone, your day is done. To improve your results and increase your chances of winning, you want to be careful about your efforts so you don’t burn all your matches and get dropped before the final lap.
Many inexperienced racers believe it’s easiest to ride in the back and sit in the draft and out of the way, but this is actually the hardest way to ride a crit. This is where the greatest suffering occurs, as riders constantly brake and accelerate at each corner. Criteriums are hard for everyone, but there are ways to make them easier so you can get to the finish line with more energy and the power to have a strong finishing kick. Here are some tips for successfully racing crits:
Warm up well
Make sure you get to the race early enough to find parking, get registered and do a proper warm-up with enough time for bathroom breaks, stretching and pinning on you number. Having plenty of time often helps alleviate normal pre-race jitters and anxiety as well. You’ll want to execute the warm-up properly so you get to the line with your blood flow primed and your body ready to go hard from the start. Criteriums get to full speed in the first lap so you need to be ready to sprint off the line and get into a good position early. A typical warm-up consists of 30-60 minutes of riding, preferably on a trainer to keep you close to the car and the start, which includes efforts of gradually increasing intensity. Start by riding at endurance pace, then pick it up to time trial pace, do a few 3-5 minute intervals above your time trial or max sustainable pace, and throw in a few street sprints. Your goal is to prime each of your energy systems, get your heart rate up and initiate the body’s ability to buffer and process lactic acid.
Once you have the warm-up down and get to the start line, the fun is just beginning. The next and probably the most important thing to think about is proper positioning within the pack, and a good start is the first step to riding in a good position. Crits always start off fast so start in the big chain ring and be able to clip into your pedals quickly. This is such an important skill that it’s worth practicing all by itself so you can get a good position straightaway and don’t lose ground before you get to the first corner.
Stake out your place
The best place to race a crit is in