TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL CRITERIUM
The strongest riders in a criterium don't always cross the line first. To do well in this kind of cut and thrust racing, you need to be smart and use your energy sensibly and where it counts. Think about starting the race with a full bucket of water as your energy supply. Every time you expend some energy, it's like spilling some of the water. The trick is to have some energy left for the final sprint to the line.. To improve your placings and work towards those wins, you want to be careful about your efforts so you don’t spill all your water and watch the bunch disappear up the road before the last lap. When you first start to ride criteriums, you may think that the place to be is in the draft at the back of the group. However, this is in reality the worst place to be as the bunch spreads out round every corner, like a concertina and the tailgaters have to constantly sprint harder to catch up. .Everyone suffers in criteriums but if you ride intelligently and ration your energy supply, you will get to the finish with enough in your bucket to produce a good sprint. So, how are you to do this?
Get to the race early enough to look after registration, change into your race clothing, and do a pre-race warm-up of at least thirty minutes. In a local event like the Boxwood criterium, use your ride from home as a warm-up. Don't just idle along thinking you are saving yourself for the race – ride at 75-80 percent and put in a few hard intervals. This will elevate your heart rate and get you to the line ready to go from the gun as most criteriums start FAST..
2. Where to Place Yourself
As already mentioned, don't leave yourself dangling off the back of the group. A good position is about a third of the way back in a small bunch. Know who the squirrelly riders are and avoid them. Pick a good, safe rider to draft behind and keep close - about twenty to thirty centimeters behind is good as you will get the maximum shelter and save energy. If you notice riders passing you and find yourself drifting back through the group, speed up a bit and get back up to the top third - it's easier there as the braking and acceleration through the corners are not as severe.
If there is a good pace line, with the riders taking turns at the front, go through when it is your turn. If you are feeling at your limit, pull off almost as soon as you hit the front but do maintain the speed as it is important for the pace line momentum to be maintained. Whatever happens, keep your place in the group as fighting to regain a lost position uses much more energy than staying in that top third of the bunch..
You have saved energy by keeping well-up towards the front of the group and by drafting behind strong, safe riders. As you get to the final few laps, you need to position yourself for the final sprint. Know who is serious about crossing the line first and choose a fast finisher who will lead you to the line. It's worth using some of our remaining energy to fight for that helpful wheel. At the Boxwood races, you need to be in a good position by the time you reach the final corner. If it's windy, move up on the sheltered side as it's
much easier to gain a few places that way. Once you make the commitment to go for the finish, don't bail out – give it all you've got until you are over the line; countless races have been lost because riders have eased up before the line, thinking that they are clear of their opponents.
Use these tips in every criterium you ride. You will not always finish in the top few but you will increase your chances of finally winning a race dramatically if you enter each event with a strategy to maximise you chances. Oh, and don't be afraid to ask for advice; you can learn by doing what the winners do.