1. What is the Criterium?
The Criterium is a road race played on loops of about 1 – 3 km with 2 or more corners, this is just a brief description of the Criterium. The Criteriums are very popular in the United States and more often we can also see them in Europe, especially in big cities where a long road race is difficult due to technical reasons.
The criteria usually take place on a flat route, sometimes there are short, easy climbs and easy descents, which diversify the race and gives an even more dynamic character.
2. How to race the Criterium?
The 3 basic principles are:
- Stay on the wheel
- Stay on the wheel
- Stay on the wheel
As you know, our biggest opponent on a bike is wind resistance, so it is so important to always try to “be on someone’s wheel” whenever possible. Wind resistance increases disproportionately to speed, it is the dependence of the “cube” of wind resistance on the “square” of speed. We will feel it especially on Criteriums or flat road sections where speeds reach 30-35 mi/h.
Another important element is the position in the group, we always suggest to be as close as possible to the front of the group and at the same time be on someone’s wheel. If you do not feel confident enough with your form and technique, keep yourself in the middle or back of the group, but remember that very often it is where the group does a lot more work! The end of the peloton reacts with a delay to what is happening at the front, which is why you often have to unnecessarily slow down and accelerate way faster.
“Hold the line” very often you can hear during criteriums or track racing, another important element if not the most important is SAFETY. Whether you’re riding straight or you’re taking a corner, always stick to your line, never change your line too fast. If you want to attack or “sit” on someone’s wheel, always watch if someone is not just coming fast and does not try to do the same thing.
Practically never use brakes. Of course, if the whole group is doing it for you too, but never brake violently, remember that someone is behind you. A very simple reason why track cycling is much safer than the Criteriums is that there are no brakes.
3. How to train for the Criterium?
The basis of each training is a good “base” of miles in the zones 2 and 3 which are the foundation for intervals, and they are an inherent element of the Criteriums. Acceleration after acceleration does not allow you to catch your breath. Below you can find a few examples of training for the Criterium, please remember to take into account your current form, level of experience and specification of the race.
3.1 “Tempo” training
“Zone 3 is the place where the racing starts” – the intensity of 76% to 90% of your FTP. Training in this zone is very good preparation for racing, coming out from the comfort zone which is zone 2 but still more bearable than riding below the threshold. You can read more about tempo training in at this link, if your target race is 60 minutes, then you should aim for a train in the zone 3 up to 60 minutes, which will give you greater comfort in the group.
The Criteriums are about constantly accelerations, the neuromuscular power training is useful to help you endure it and is also great preparation for the final sprint. Neuromuscular power training is possibly the highest watts you can maintain for about 5-10s. You use ATP resources that regenerate about 2 minutes. The curiosity is that the 8-10 seconds intervals can be practically performed all year long because the production of lactic acid is minimal.
Exemplary training is 4 reps 8-10s with 2 minutes of regeneration in between. The intervals can be performed from standing or riding about 20 mi/h. Remember that for the best results these 8-10s should be as hard as possible and regeneration between as easy as possible. Under this link, you can find out more about sprinting technique, turn your sprint up about 100 watts!
3.3 Anaerobic training and VO2 max
Yes, that is where real pain starts and it is here that you will spend a lot of time during the Criteriums, so be prepared for it.
VO2 Max intervals should last from 3 to 8 minutes, start with 3 reps 3 minutes duration, gradually increasing the time and number of repetitions. With an hour criterion, I would suggest for 5-6 reps about 4-5 minutes with regeneration equal to the interval time.
Training in the anaerobic zone are intervals between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. Like in the case of VO2 Max intervals, starting from 3 repetitions 30 seconds, aiming for more repetitions 7-8, 45s – 1:30 min. Regeneration is twice as long as the duration of the interval.
4. Final Tips
Remember to never use the brakes on corners, this is the most common cause of accidents and the necessity to chase the cyclist ahead of you, which is associated with losing energy.
Taking corners is very important during Criteriums, riding on the outside we can maintain a higher speed, but while driving on the inside we can avoid accidents (there is no one who can “cut us”). Most often how we overcome corners depends on our personal preferences and the situation in the peloton.
If you want to win, you have to be in the front, remember that the real sprint starts at about 200-250 m before the finish line and that’s when you should be in 2-3 position, if you are the first there is someone on your wheel and does a lot less work if you are 4 or below, it is not enough time to beat several bike lengths, 2nd and 3rd position is the best place to attack. It is very difficult to be there, but the experience gained at every race will definitely help you. During the race, we use mostly our heads, not only legs.