14 Jun 2016


Criterium (crit) races may look simple, but they’re tough – they demand a lot of almost every aspect of your riding, from skills to strength to endurance. Held over multiple laps of a short (typically 1-2km) closed circuit, there are plenty of sprints, prizes or points to be won on the way to the ultimate victory.

Consequently, unfocused training won’t do you a great deal of good. You need to work on:
– Riding in groups
– Jumping out of corners (repeatedly)
– Bridging gaps
– Shifting while braking
– Smooth, fast cornering
– Sprinting

As with anything, however, you just can’t beat time in the saddle. It’s this that will give you the base fitness and skills that are so tested by crits. Just make sure you spend it working on the right things.

A burst of speed at the right time can win you a grand tour like Fabio Aru (or maybe get you to the podium of your local crit race)

Crit laps might be short, but with race durations typically around an hour, bursts of acceleration – out of corners, to bridge gaps, and for sprint finishes – are regular and intense. Your training should revolve around constant surges of energy interspersed with short periods of recovery. If you can’t keep these relentless bursts going right to the end, you won’t stand a chance.

You’ll be spending a lot of time on the drops (for the lowest center of gravity when cornering as well as aerodynamics), and that takes good core strength and flexibility. Neglect these aspects at your peril!

There are plenty of very detailed plans out there, and a heart rate monitor or power meter is a big help in following them. Just make sure you warm up for at least 15 minutes before every session.

Of course, it’s no good having the power if you’re wasting it – fractions of a second lost by slowing even 1kph too much per corner will build up, over the laps, to a very sizeable gap. So it’s vital to work as hard on your cornering and braking as your fitness.

The idea is to take as much speed into and through the corner as possible, to reduce the necessary acceleration on the other side. Smoothness is key, rather than frantic panic braking and sudden steering flicks. Concentrate on a smooth pull and release of the brakes, a constant-rate transition to full lean and arcing lines. You want a smooth rise to full load on the tires – sudden movements spike the load, limiting the speed you can corner without crashing.

To stay smooth, keep your upper body relaxed and elbows bent, while looking well ahead to the apex then exit. Load the outside bar and outside pedal to keep weight on the tires for maximum grip.

Correct handling, group riding positioning and always remaining alert for opportunities or threats, will see you right, as Shane Archbold of Bora-Argon 18 demonstrates

It takes practice to build up the core strength, and unconscious reactions to corner at the highest speeds, and more practice still to nail it in a busy pack. It’s also vital to select the right gear before the corner, for instant punch out of it – another technique that takes repetition.

What about the bike? Short wheelbases and sharp geometries help, but any crit-bound frame will benefit from aero wheels – average pro speeds can top 50kph. Shorter cranks also help maintain ground clearance, letting you pedal longer while cornering, while aero bars with comfortably angled drops boost endurance and braking efficiency.

Combine all these aspects and you’ll be in the leading group in no time!