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The Ultimate Guide to Crit Racing

Posted by Mikey Ducard on

Criteriums, in case you didn't already know, are super exciting and hectic races that typically last around an hour. Don’t let the fact that these races are on the road fool you though; a crit isn’t the same as riding a road race.

The whole approach to a crit race is different to the regular road race; from the overall style of racing and the fitness needed to compete, to the tactics involved. Expect faster, shorter, more technical, more intense and, arguably more fun, from a crit race.

Think you’ve got what it takes to line up in a crit and take on the challenge? Here are some pointers to take into battle with you before you head to the start line…

Stay Cool

For the first 20 minutes of a crit race, you’re going to see full on fast and furious behaviour in the saddle! There’s going to be a feast of attacks and multiple breakaway attempts. It’s not always the smartest move to get drawn into these dog fights in the first 20 mins though. As the race has another 40 mins left, if you’re spent before the real race has started then you’ve wasted your time.

It’s worth keeping in the back of your mind that, in most cases, the race doesn’t really hot up until the last half. So, while the other riders are scrapping like vultures wanting the first bite on a carcass, you can sit back, save your energy and pick your time to put the hammer down and blow them all away!

Know How to Attack

Picking up from the last point, attacking is a beautiful art form, but as every artist will tell you, you must carry out your work like you mean it. Leave the softly, softly approach of attacking to the road races, because if you fancy testing the breakaway with one of these, they’ll hunt you down and spit you out the back in no time. We know the pace is fast, that’s the nature of crits, so when you attack, you need to attack even faster.

If you’re sat 25-35 places back, forget about attacking too. Once you’ve worked your way to the front, you’ll be cooked. Don't go attacking if you’re riding up top either; you want to be exploding out from somewhere in the top ten positions. Ideally, someone else will make a move too, and you can work in tandem to kill everyone else off.

Conquer Cornering

You need to have cornering nailed as you will be hitting them a lot during a crit. The key is to hold your line and follow the wheel in front. You might want to hang slightly outside of the wheel you’re following, because you don’t want to take a tap and eat tarmac! Stay on that wheel in front though, as this can save you lots of well-needed energy that is often taken up by accelerating out of corners and trying to get back on that wheel. If a race racks up over 100 corners, then just imagine the energy you could save/lose by cornering right/wrong.

For the beginners, you should know that if you try to overtake through the corners on the inside, then you are going to pay in more ways than one. Trying to overtake on the inside is dangerous, will make you the villain in the bunch and could also see you get hurt. Forget what you see on F1, this is crit racing and going on the inside is suicide.

Top Tip: Get down low, apply the weight to the front wheel for peak traction, and allow your bike to glide through the corner in the slipstream.

Conserve Your Energy

Energy conservation is paramount. Get to those last couple of miles feeling primed and ripe for ripping it up and you’re far more likely to get the result you want. Make moves up through the bunch or use the slight lulls to make attacks.

Race Reading

This is a point for those who’ve got a few races under their belt, but can also be used when you first start out. If you’re mulling over whether to bridge up to a break, have a glance at who is occupying the break. If these guys aren’t well known for making the break effective, and there’s not much time between the pack and the breakaway, you may want to hold off. Also, think about how deep into the race you are, whether any of the other riders look up for it, or if they’re looking a bit ragged and you know you’re feeling strong and are raring to make a move and hold on to it.

A big aspect of reading a crit race is knowing who you’re racing against, so if you're new to the scene, it might be worth asking around and doing some fact finding before you line up.

Proper Positioning

A fast flowing crit is like a shoal of fish swimming upstream, but with more aggression. It’s good to stay in the top third of the bunch and that’s because if you’re not making regular forward moves, you are moving backwards.

Think of it this way; you want to be at the front but not on the front or you’ll be dead and buried come the end of the race. If it’s a hot dog crit you’re in, aim to keep amongst the top 20 riders. Hot dogs are tight tracks and so the further back you are on a tight circuit, the more pronounced it’ll be, leaving you less space to attack/make your way upstream, little fishy.

Don't get boxed in and aim to ride on the edges of the group, that way you can move up nice and easy when the time is right. You can also slip in behind a wheel as riders move up the pack if you’re positioned on the outside edge of the bunch –bonus!

Be a Sprint Sensation!

You’ve seen road race sprints in the final straight, but when it comes to crit sprints it’s the final corner, not the finish line that is the focal point. Most crits have a corner around 200-300m from the finish line, and if you’re not hitting that corner in a healthy position, there’s not top spot for you today, my friend, because you have a slim to none chance of winning the sprint.

In basic terms, the closer the corner is to the finish, the closer you have to get yourself to the front; it could be top five, or it could be top 12.

Take these crit racing essentials away, pair them with Koppenberg rims, use them to the best of your ability, and see what you come away with at your next race… hopefully, it’s a top place finish!

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