Surviving your first few criteriums — especially city criteriums with tight corners — is really challenging. Here are a few tips that I recently sent to a couple teammates that are just getting started.
- Don’t expect to finish your first several criteriums. Just hang on and finish more laps each time until you get a feeling for the flow for it.
- Be warmed up (in case the organizer offers a $100 prime for the winner of the first lap).
- Race from the front. Better to slip to the back then start at the back and try to hang on. It’s more work at the back due to the rubber-band effect in corners. Also, this prevents getting blocked & gapped behind weaker riders, and of course keeps you in front of most crashes.
- Keep the bike upright in turns to let the tires grip. Inside knee up and out, nose over inside brake hood. Moto GP style. Beware of clipping a pedal in a turn (don’t pedal until clear). Keep weight (push down) on the outside pedal to keep traction. As much as possible in a group, take YOUR apex, don’t just follow the guy in front of you… whose line may or may not work for you.
- You just have to survive until the race slows down (in masters categories, it always slows down eventually).
- Know where the lap board is and pay attention to how many laps are left. The real race is to be in the top 5 or so with 1 to go. At that point the race is decided, it is just a question of the sprint. In the last lap, you must defend your line and go in the wind if necessary to avoid getting boxed in. There’s an advantage to picking either the inside or outside (even if you’re 1st), because no-one can come around you.
- Decide if you’re going to try and get in a breakaway, contest a prime, or wait for the final sprint. This can be a decision at race time, but know that you probably can only choose 1.
- Stick close to the front after a prime. Often the prime attack or the counter-attack leads to a breakaway.
- Use and preserve momentum wherever possible. Always be moving up, watch for free pulls to the front but also go into the wind to preserve your position when it counts.
- Protect your front wheel (avoid overlapping the rear wheel of the person in front of you).
- Your center of gravity is your hips. Move side-to-side with your hips if you’re bumping elbows. Also, staying in the drops prevents locking handlebars.
You can see examples of some of these in my Ballard criterium Cat-4 video
See the links in the description of that video to the exact timestamps of the some of the exciting bits.