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A Beginner's Guide to Criterium Racing

Updated: Jun 7

Introduction

A criterium is a lapped race on a closed circuit, usually carried out in the cities. The laps are usually half a mile to 1.5 miles long, and the total race distance is about 15 miles (for beginners) to 60 miles (for pros). There are usually about 4 to 6 turns, and races last about 30 minutes to 2 hours.


Criteriums, also known as "crits" are an exciting event within the racing culture. The riders speed through streets, cornering tight turns at about 30mph with a multitude of other players. Riders that are passed by the main group or far behind enough to be considered out of the competition will be removed from the race by officials in charge of overseeing the event, similar to referees at other sports matches, and will be ranked according to the rider's overall distance traveled and placed among all riders pulled on the same lap.


America has some of the best race events, such as the American Criterium Cup, and is considered the gold standard of racing quality and creativity. 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, and Germany have national Criterium championships. However, criteriums are not an Olympic event yet.


Taking part in a criterium for the first time? Then, here are some tips to get you started.



One heck of a big gap between the lead and the main group.


Tips to Start Criterium Racing


1. Train the necessary skills

This is an important step if you will be racing in a criterium. Attend a beginners skills session. You can check around your local cycling clubs and enroll in the beginner's skills sessions made available to members.

The races range from beginner to professional with the riders matched evenly according to a grading system of Category 5 (beginners) to Category 1 (professional). Each category is point-based and recognition of experience levels in racing e.g to move up from Category 3 to Category 2 requires 25 points in any 12 months. Moving from Category 2 to Category 1 requires 30 points in 12 months.


It is best to learn from the best. For your safety and others', seek advice from an experienced figure to help with navigation advice for your first crit race.



Riding close to others and turning in a tight line is one skill that riders will need to master before racing.


2. Fuel your body

Timing is important when it comes to nutrition and racing. This is based on your personal preference due to digestion. Your body has to be in prime condition nutritionally, so you have to do your best to attend to it as you should. Examples of fueling your body may include eating a breakfast that is neither too large nor too small, bringing food to the event for eating while riding, etc.


You will want to consider a balanced meal some hours before racing and a very light snack before the race.

The reason why you should pay attention is that your crit could be in the morning. This means you are about to ride at maximum capacity for about an hour. Digestion time is worth all your attention as there may not be much time between your waking up and the race.


Your balanced meals should be with the right amount of water. Make sure you are well hydrated and drink lots of water the day before the race and in the lead-up to the race.



This cyclist is fueling with a gel, in a race, you will need to do this while moving.


3. Make sure to bring the necessary equipment

It is essential to pay close attention to your gear. Omitting a crucial gear component could be the untimely end or your first crit. Create a checklist, if necessary. On the checklist, highlight what to take to the race and prepare it accurately the night before. Individuals looking to get into criterium racing for the first time may be shocked at the overall expenses of cycling equipment, but there are often more affordable solutions. For example, a lot of the no-name heart rate monitors function just as well as the bigger names.


Some examples of equipment to bring include heart rate monitors, cycling computers, gels (quit littering the road, pocket your expended gels until the end or toss it at an approved waste zone), water, and so forth.



A little more than you might need in a race, but whatever. All of these are good stuff to have.


4. Check Weather Reports

Weather plays an important role in your preparation for the race. Some riders may opt for larger tire widths during rainy events and waterproof clothing such as overshoes and rain jackets. Some events may be canceled in event of rain due to the risk of thunderstorms. Check the forecast the night before the race to help you prepare better.


Your wheel choice and tire pressure will be impacted by the elements. Will you be wearing dark or light sunglasses? Rain will have you lowering your tire pressure the same way hot weather could have you carrying an extra bottle of water. What you can do is be adequately prepared.



Sometimes it helps to train in the wet, just to get used to adverse racing conditions.


5. Clean Your Bike Thoroughly

Cleaning your bike is the best chance to notice the small defects and issues that could lead to big defects later. As you put on race wheels, check tires for wear and change your brake pads if you need to. Gears should be running smoothly, and your chain lubricated. Another key issue is that sweat and rain can often seep into cracks and cause unwanted friction. Testing the bike with a little spin before the event can clear a lot of headaches.


Your bike should be in its best condition for the big day ahead.



This mechanic is cleaning the chain and will likely apply lubricant afterwards, gunk on the chain can cause a lot of friction.


7. Race and Have Fun

Having fun is an integral part of riding and racing. Do not panic when racing. Ride to your strengths, as the going gets tougher. Remember that everyone has a different riding style, so do not try to ride like anyone. Just be comfortable and be yourself. Many riders get discouraged if they do not make it onto the podium, but out of an entire field of riders, only a select few will get the opportunity to stand on the podium. The truth of the matter is that many riders train all season long, and sometimes even in the off-season, and do not make the podium when racing season begins. From personal experience, there was even one rider I was racing in Japan that was angry with himself for not winning, this man was the second-place winner and only missed first place by a fraction of a second. The goal of any racer should be to win, but actually expecting a win will often lead to disappointment.



Many races are centered around scenic routes, so take a moment to enjoy the surroundings and try to have fun.


Final Thoughts

Criterium racing is an exciting sport that will have your heart racing as much as your bike. Beginners should not have a hard time taking part as there are beginner categories for beginners to compete in without having to face the professionals.


Remember to take good care of your bike and yourself. Also, having fun is very important. The first few races tend to be the hardest, but your "criterium legs" are still developing, and soon you will be going up in the categories.

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