Criterium Racing is incredibly dynamic. Huge bursts of power at strategic points in the race commonly make the difference between hanging on and getting spit out the back. Strategy is crucial for crit racing and can make a huge difference in a racer's success. Since everyone is working so close to their physical capacity for the duration of the race, energy conservation and intelligently timing your attacks is key.
Criteriums are most commonly 45 to 60 minutes long and take place over a 1-2 mile course. Rather than being based on distance or lap count, the race finish is based on time. A fixed time for the race is set beforehand, and as the finish time approaches, the official will determine the number of laps remaining based on the average speed of the laps. The objective is to have the race end as close to the originally set time as possible.
Criterium races are characterized by short, and extremely intense anaerobic efforts. Repeatability is crucial since there is almost always someone attacking. Race know-how and the ability to read the pack will help you to "choose your battles".
That said, a racer with more steady-state power can leverage their sustained-power abilities to get an unlikely win from a long breakaway.
Optimal Training Approach
If you plan to race aggressively and play the role of an animator in the race, we recommend the following set of plans:
Base: Sweet Spot Base I&II
Build: Short Power Build
Specialty: Criterium Specialty Plan
If you plan to race more conservatively and place your bets on a long breakaway, then the General Build plan could be a better choice.
Race tactics will play a huge role in your success when it comes to criterium racing. Knowing when to sit in and save energy versus when to make your move is a skill that takes time to develop, however it can absolutely be taught. In the video below, Team Clif Bar Racing's athletes discuss their strategic decisions in the 2018 District Championship:
Crit Racing for Climbers
While some of us are built for Crit racing, others have more of a climber body type. To learn how to race a crit with a lower absolute power, check out the conversation below:
Conserving Energy in a Pack
Due to the high speeds encountered in road racing, your aerodynamic drag plays a big role in how fast you are able to go at a certain wattage. Of course, aerodynamic drag is not something we can get rid of entirely, however by taking steps to minimize drag, we can reduce the watts wasted to the wind and go faster for the same power output.
Since criteriums are such short events, there is a chance that the whole group stays together up until the last few laps. In these cases, your ability to put out a high maximum power for a brief period of time could be the difference between first place and a mid-pack finish. Your training will play a huge role in your ability to generate power, however sprinting has a big technical component as well. In the video below, our resident criterium expert Pete Morris discusses how to get the most from your sprint.
Criteriums make it really hard to fuel during the race, which makes your pre-race nutrition even more important. Check out the link below to learn how to fuel up for your next crit:
Similar Race Types
Road Racing: A road race is a much longer event than a criterium, with a more varied level of efforts.
Road Stage Racing: A Road Stage Race is a series of consecutive races that include criteriums, time-trials, and road races. Being successful in Stage Races requires deliberate consideration of your strengths and weaknesses. You can learn more in the Stage Racing article.