Criterium racing is a combination of fitness, strength, skill and strategy. The races are short and tight, so things can become pretty hectic at times, but that doesn’t mean they should be frightening or dangerous.
Here are some tips to help make criterium racing safe and enjoyable, for you and your competitors.
Be sensible and safe
Racing is not like a training bunch ride where everyone’s doing turns and riding smoothly together, but you are riding in a bunch. There are some basics to remember and always ride safely is the biggest one of all. Again the Vikings Race Rules are all about safety – your safety and the safety of other riders.
Take it easy for your first few races. Stuff happens in bike races – people will cut you off and occasionally crashes will happen. You can yell out to warn people but it doesn’t help the race to get angry or abusive towards anyone. If someone rides in a dangerous way, remember their number and you can quietly report it to the race director afterwards.
Don’t expect to win your first couple of races
We all want to win but don’t expect to for your first couple of races. Instead, treat it as a learning experience – get the hang of the course, the big bunch, the pace and the corners.
If you get dropped, don’t get disheartened
The criterium is a different kind of race that takes practice and experience to get good at. After the first race make yourself some goals – you might say to yourself, “I’m going to hold on to the bunch for at least 5 minutes next week.” After that you might aim to stay on for the whole race, then do some riding up the front.
Work together with each other and others with similar goals. If you and several others are dropped from the bunch, you all have the same aim – to get back on – so you can organise yourselves to work together to achieve this. Keep an eye out for team mates and give them a hand if you can. For example, someone might be looking to slot back into the bunch but can’t find an opening. You can leave a gap in front of yourself and let them in.
Choose a good wheel to follow
Try to choose a good wheel to follow to help build your race craft. Try not to get stuck behind someone who corners too slowly, keeps leaving gaps in front or rides poorly. Remember that big riders provide a better draft than smaller riders.
The front group is the easiest place to ride
Stick to the front of the group. You will have noticed how changes in speed get amplified along the bunch. The same thing happens in a race. The front group can take corners fastest, and usually with a better line. The rear of the group will be slowing right down for the corners then having to sprint out of them to rejoin the main bunch. But of course this means everyone want to ride at the front.
Do your share but no more (maybe even a little bit less)
Don’t let people pressure you into doing all the work at the front. If you end up on the front do your bit and then pull off. Don’t sit there for more than the length of a straight unless you have some sort of a plan. If a break goes, some people might yell at you to chase it down. You don’t have to, they are doing this because they don’t want to expend the energy themselves. If you end up on the front and you have a team mate out in a break, just sit there and soft pedal – why should you help chase down a team mate? If others want to they will have to ride around you.
Look for gaps and take them
Don’t feel you are being pushy if someone leaves a gap to the wheel in front and you want to take it. This is just what racing is about. Sometimes you might pull off from the front and find it hard to get a spot to slot back into the lead group. If someone’s not holding the wheel tightly, it’s yours. If this fails, gaps will invariably open up after corners.
Hold your line
Don’t swing out in front of other riders and don’t ride erratically. Just like on the open road, do a quick check to make sure no one is coming past before you pull out. Veering all over the road during a sprint is a good way to get yourself relegated.
Avoid overlapping wheels
The same as in any form of group riding, overlapping your front wheel with the wheel you are following is increases the risk of a fall. This is especially important on the approach to corners when people will start veering to get the best line.
Take parallel lines through corners
You know what the ideal line through a corner is, but most of the time there will be someone riding to the inside or the outside of you and you will need to compromise your line accordingly. Effectively, the road you can use is narrowed by the other rider, so your new line should be what the ideal line would be if you could not use the outside/inside of the road. Be sure that the other rider knows you are there, particularly if you have just pulled up alongside. Don’t hesitate to call out, “I’m on your right/left!”
Don’t brake late and undercut someone’s line. Once someone has started into a corner, you can’t come underneath them and push them off their line – this is quite dangerous. In the instance shown to the left
the rider has checked that no-one is beside them and starts to take their line through the corner. But the
rider coming up breaks late pushing them off their line – any crash would be the inside rider’s fault.
Everyone is out there to have fun, this is amateur racing not professional. Have a good attitude, be friendly and not aggressive to others, and don’t become disappointed if you don’t do as well as you hoped. Have fun out there!
And that’s it, your first criterium! Get out and do it!