Spring has finally sprung in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with some fine weather, Melbournians are gearing up for criterium (or ‘crit’) season. We’re pretty lucky here in Melbourne in that you can race a crit on almost every day of the week. There are plenty of crit courses to choose from. From punchy hills to flat and fast, there is a course to suit your riding style.
With the start of the season imminent, many new riders will be entering their first crit and pinning a number on for the first time, while seasoned riders will be dusting off their skin suits and gluing their tubs for the season ahead.
Here is a quick guide on how to prepare for a crit race:
Attend a beginners skills session. Many cycling clubs have beginners skills sessions available to members. These sessions are a great way to learn tips about racing from experienced coaches and members. Criterium racing is a very specific style of cycling, and for the safety of yourself and the field, seek advice from someone experienced to assist you in navigating your first crit race. You will learn valuable tips such as bunch etiquette, cornering and tactics. Clubs also tend to have a wealth of information available to riders on their websites, so don’t forget to check these out prior to race day.
Time your nutrition. There are many things to consider with your nutrition, especially timing. You will want to have a balanced meal a couple of hours before the race (exact timing is a personal preference based on digestion) and then perhaps a light snack before the race. If your crit is in the morning, keep in mind that there may not be much time between when you get up and when the race starts. You are about to ride at max capacity for approximately an hour, so digestion time is important. If your crit is in the arvo, your lunch will become an important meal. Be sure to eat something wholesome that will fuel you for the race. You may like to have a gel before the start, and during the race. It is good to practice eating gels whilst riding so that when you get into a race situation you are confident about eating and drinking at speed.
Hydration is also important. You will need to be well hydrated, so make sure you are drinking lots of water the day before and in the lead-up to the race.
Check your gear. Make yourself a checklist with what to take to the race and lay it all out the night before. There is nothing worse than being rushed in the morning then forgetting your Garmin. Basic essentials you will want to remember include:
- Cycling shoes
- Race licence.
- Clothes to change into
- A clean podium jersey (you never know!)
Other important things to consider are what kit will you wear – is it skinsuit Sunday? Are your socks pro length?
Check the weather. What’s the weather looking like? The elements will have an impact on your preparation, and the race itself. Make sure you check the weather the night before the race to help you prepare. The weather conditions will impact your wheel choice and tyre pressure. Do you wear arm warmers? Sunglasses, dark or light lenses? These are all things that you must take into consideration. If it is raining you might want to ride a lower pressure in your tyres. If it is really hot you might like to carry an extra bidon of water.
Clean your bike. A clean bike is a fast bike. Cleaning your bike also gives you an opportunity to check for any issues or defects. Put your race wheels on if you have some, check the tyres for wear and tear and don’t forget to change your brake pads if you need. Also, check your gears to make sure that everything is running smoothly, and oil your chain. While you have the cleaning gear out, wipe down your shoes and helmet so that they’re sparkling clean.
Warm up. A crit race is generally 60 minutes of lung busting pain, so it is important to be warm on the start line. Either go out for a spin on the road beforehand with a few activation efforts, or if you have access to a wind trainer, spend some time (20-30 mins) on the trainer to get the legs going and the heart rate up. Allow enough time to get on the start line. You may want to get there 10 minutes early to nab a position towards the front.
Recon before the race. First up, don’t forget to go and enter the race and pin on your number. This may seem obvious, but you can get caught up in the hype of activity and forget. Make sure you leave enough time before the race to do a course reconnaissance. Ride a few laps of the course to check out the corners, pot holes and road furniture to watch out for. Ride a lap at speed so that you can pick your lines into the corners and are confident about where to pedal and where not to pedal (typically, do not ever pedal through a corner). Spend some time and talk to experienced riders about the race. They will have plenty of tips to share about the circuit, when to brake, when to start the sprint and other handy things.
Race and have fun. Remember to not panic when racing. It can be fast and furious, so ride to your strengths. You will notice pretty quickly that everyone has a different riding style. There are sprinters, climbers, people that are strong on the flat and everyone in between. There will be attacks, breakaways and fast finishes. The first few races are the hardest, but soon enough you will find your ‘crit legs’ and will be climbing up the grades!
Cool down. An important step for recovery is to eat some protein-rich food within 30 minutes of the race finish and then spin the legs out either on a trainer or on the road.
Crits are so exciting to race and very addictive. Spending an hour at 199 bpm is the best way to start the morning, followed by a social recovery roll and coffee with friends. I can’t wait for the Melbourne crit season to start (especially my club crit on a Wednesday evening).
Is there anything that I have missed? What do you do to prepare for a crit?
About the author
The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.
She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.