5 Golden rules of Criterium Racing

Ainslie MacEachran is the author of “Simple Cycling Performance”, a USACycling level 2 coach, a AAAI/ISMA certified personal trainer and the head coach/owner of www.geminitrainingsystems.com.

5 Golden rules of crit racing by Ainslie MacEachran

In America, typically criterium season is in full swing by June through July. Criterium racing doesn't necessarily have to be a sprinters game. Even if you consider yourself a non sprinter, you can be equally as competitive as any other of the riders. Here's how:

1. Hustle it up to the front:

In criteriums, on many courses, start position is key. BUT, its not always a given that you'll be able to start on or near the front. If you arrive a little late or they do call ups, then you've gotta just settle for what you get. Its extremely important for you to hustle it up to the front in the first several laps, even if you have to make a big effort. Master Fitness Trainer for the US Army and USA Cycling coach Major T.G. Taylor says its crucial to get to the front because you'll be better able to react during critical moments during the race and, ironically, you'll spend less energy if you're near the front.

2. Give yourself an escape route:

Many cyclists have had the experience of getting boxed in or missing out on a breakaway or the final sprint because you were not ideally positioned. Riding right in the middle of the group is easier but has a high risk for being unable to respond to any action during the race. Instead, try maintaining a position near the edges of the group and never get further back than 10 to 15 riders from the front. Mike Freidman with Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth says its all about cornering, staying smooth and quick on the inside or outside. Sometimes you'll need to move from further back to the front so in the first 10 laps you need to learn the lines to move up quickly in a lap or two if you need to.

3. Be a sprinter, even if you're not:

Criterium racing requires constant position maintenance.and isn't just about unloading the mother of all sprints at the end. Ex-pro (Navigators Pro Cycling) and prolific sprinter Todd Littlehales says that crit racing actually isn't one or two really big sprints but more a series of small sprints to get into and maintain position. So, even if you don't consider yourself a criterium specialist or a sprinter, if you're optimally located in the last several laps, you'll find its easier for you to be a player at the end.

4. Get in the groove:

Ever have that sensation during a criterium that none of your efforts seem to be panning out? That you're attacking or trying to moving up but nothing seems to take Chris Baldwin with Bissel Pro Cycling says “Don't fight the flow of the race unless necessary. Move up during lulls or when momentum dictates.” Pick your moments to move up and improve your position. You can flog yourself senseless with big efforts and dull your sprint at the end OR meter your efforts a little more and then have a big set of guns left for the last several laps.

5. Conserve, except when you don't:

One of the things I frequently see in athletes is that they're racing too conservatively. They worry about how many efforts they can make AND recover from. That's why you do the training though, so you CAN recover from multiple efforts. That's not to say you should go firing both barrels at all times though. Zack Allison with Colorado State University Rams Cycling and Western Collegiate Conference winner says “one place you can strategically save energy is if the course has a slight incline. Carry as much speed as possible into an incline and you will save some energy versus making a huge effort to go up it.” Amanda Miller with HTC/Highroad also notes that drafting is key even in the corners. “Following wheels even in the corners will make it so you don't have to make as big an acceleration coming out of the corners.”

These 5 rules will help you become a better and more efficient criterium racer. Criteriums are a staple of American racing and you don't need to be a specialist to do well. Following some of these concepts will allow you to be competitive no matter what the course or circumstances.

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Know who to follow

I have found the best way to do well in a crit is to know who the strong guys are. If there is a known doper like Kyle Leo Grande or Phil Zajicek in the pack, then make sure you keep an eye on them and don't let them get in a break without you. Often times you can just kick back an relax until they go. They will either bridge up to the break or create the break. then just hold on for deal life and be prepared to take second.