A criterium, or “crit”, is a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 1km). It often occurs on a closed off city center street course. Criteriums are mass start races with all the riders starting at the same time and on the same lap. As riders lose contact with the main field of competitors (or are “dropped”), they are pulled from the course so as to not interrupt the main fields’ forward motion.
Criteriums are timed events with multiple categories. These categories include elite mens 18-34(age range), elite womens 18-34, juniors 10-17, and masters 35 + and above. Within these specific categories there is a breakdown in the categories by race experience. Category 5 being the least experienced and category 1 racers being at the top of the amateur sport, just below professional.
Criteriums are fast and exciting races. Sometimes the courses can vary from 4 to 8 corners and have 90 and even 180 degree turns which lend to an exciting and sometimes dangerous racing conditions. Because the competitors are on short courses and the race duration is shorter, it can lead to higher speeds. To do well in a criterium, a racer must be strong and fast but also very comfortable in the field of riders. The shorter duration and higher speeds make drafting off other riders in the group imperative and this is where being comfortable with other riders is key. At times in a criterium, riders will be less than 3 inches from other competitors in the field. This can be dangerous if someone miscalculates their speed going into a corner, or how much space they have to maneuver in the field with other competitors.
Strategies for racing a criterium are not much different than road races. The only notable difference is the faster speed at which all things are done.
Riders who are not suited to sprint against the entire field of competitors will try to cause a “break”. “The break” is a small group of riders who try to separate itself from the field by attacking off the front of that field. These break riders will try to work together by drafting and keeping the speed high to stay away from the field until the end of the race.
There are riders in the field who are not strong enough to ride at the the break’s speed or sprint against the entire field. Those riders might attack the field with 1-3 laps to go, trying to stay away (solo). This is called taking a “flier”. It’s a risky move that does not work often but has high rewards when successful.
Finally, there is the field sprint. If all the riders stay together with no breaks staying away, and no one takes a flier, all the competitors must sprint against each other. This is a very intense affair. Riders (at this point) have been going very fast (sometimes for 90 minutes). Most of them are in oxygen debt, jockeying for position, and trying to expend as little energy as possible until the very last second.
Bicycle racing promoters across America have started to promote more criteriums as it is easier to shut down a circuit a few streets in an industrial park on a Sunday than most other places. Criteriums usually have 8 different categories of racers racing throughout the day. In southern California, on any given Saturday and Sunday from February to the end of August, you can find a criterium. One of my favorite things about racing is going fast. My motto is “Corning at 30 mile per hour is good, but 35 is better”.
See you on the road,
Coach Jesse Eisner
Coach Eisner has raced over 300 criteriums in the last 16 years. If your thinking about racing a criterium and are looking for a coach don’t hesitate to contact us we would like to help you get ready.