Crit Racing is fast, fun and a little bit crashy.
Here’s what and what not to do on your first time out…
Do a proper warm up. Spend some time spinning at a modest pace and then throw in two or three short hard efforts. It’s tempting to skip the warm up – better to save all your energy for the race, right? Wrong. When your body isn’t warmed up, rather than use fat for fuel it uses sugar (glycogen). This is your jet fuel and you only have a limited amount. Not warming up means you will use up some of your precious jet fuel unnecessarily at the start of the race. Later in the race, when you need it, that jet fuel won’t be there. Don’t skip it.
Pre ride the course. Look out for slippery man hole covers, long grooves in the road surface where asphalt from two different geological time periods meet creating a ‘valley of death’, pot holes, painted lines, water, ice, and, worst of all, gravel. Hit any of these at the wrong time or at the wrong angle and you might develop a serious case of road rash. Learn where the hazards are before the race begins. As you ride round the course try to pick out the best racing line – this will be the one that smoothes out the corners as much as possible. For the corners think ‘Wide – Apex – Wide’.
Use the restroom. It sounds obvious but don’t pee on other people’s property. Many a race series has lost their permit because riders failed to respect the local environment. One pro trick for guys is to keep a dedicated ‘pee-don’ for race day. Slid inside your shorts for a brief moment in the parking lot you can pee into it without the danger of spills or indecent exposure. Trust me. It works. No one will ever know.
Save energy. The key to successful crit racing is the preservation of energy. To paraphrase Tim Krabbe in “The Rider”, lick your opponent’s plate clean before you start on your own. Ride near the front but not on it. Get sucked along but don’t get sucked into chasing down breaks. Watch for the big move with two or three laps to go.
Stay away from the inside. Think ‘Inside Suicide’. The inside line might offer the shortest distance round the course but don’t be tempted. The physics of it don’t add up. If you overtake on the inside on a straight you will have to brake hard at the corner and then will be forced to accelerate hard to get back up to speed. At best you’ll waste a lot of energy doing this – at worst you’ll cause a crash. Watch out for other riders doing this. They may also cause a crash.
Learn to play the accordion. The constant decelerations and accelerations in and out of corners will sap your energy. Try to anticipate these. If you can see the pack bunching up, start coasting and sit up. Keep a wide line and a high speed through the corners so you won’t have to accelerate so much as you exit.
Look up. Don’t get hypnotized by the wheel in front. Look up and keep a sense of what the riders a few wheels ahead are doing. Do this and you won’t be caught out by sudden accelerations or the pack slowing down.
Hands on the drops save watts. There is a time to keep you hands on the drops. That time is now. Your body shape will be more aero so you’ll save some energy and you’ll have better control over the bike in corners which you’ll need.
Stay off the brakes. If you find yourself breaking a lot then you are probably wasting energy. Use just enough effort to get yourself into the position in the pack that you want to be in and no more. To lower your speed, sit up and give yourself a bigger profile. To go faster get into a tuck.
Be nice to the officials, volunteers, local residents and the other riders. Take a moment at the end to thank the organizers for putting on the race. Every time you ride you represent the sport. Please try to leave a good impression.
Dominic Stobart is the current New York State Cat 4 Criterium Champion.