Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Portland, Maine
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One thing you have to understand about crit racing (as opposed to point to point road racing) is that the fittest guy is not always the winner. It's not neccessarily about being fast (sure, that helps), but more about strategy and recovery.
Positioning is a huge part of Crit racing. For instance, if you are hanging off the back all race, you will be toast. Also if you are up front pulling all race, then you can expect to be crushed on the final sprint. The goal is to be in a position where you are able to get a good line for a sprint if need be, or to be using as little energy in between the prime laps and final lap as possible.
Recovery is also a crucial element of Crit racing. Being able to match a breakaway or just keep up with a sudden surge in pace without geting thrown out the back is all important. You have to train to be ble to go from 1/2 effort to max effort in a very short period of time and then still have enough left in the tank to hang on until you recover.
Most good Crit racers go into the race with a plan of attack and are able to modify that depending on what the field does. For instance, I might decide ahead of time that on lap 3 I am going to attempt a break to try am get the prime lap. I know that exerting this much energy early in the race will mean that lap 4-6 will be recovery laps for me. During the recovery laps I will attempt to get myself in the middle of the pack to rest and recover. This will help me use less energy and also keep me from falling out the back.
Now, if the pack is really cruising that day, I might change my mind about going solo lap 3 because they will just chew me up and spit me out. Instead I will position myself (with at least 1/2 lap to go) to have a good line for a group sprint instead.
Depending on the skill level of the riders, you may want to avoid the back portion of the pack all together as these riders tend to be a bit less experienced and most crashes happen here. Middle to upper 1/2 of the group is usually a bit safer.
Remember, if you are thinking about trying for a break, come from the back of the pack to do it as opposed to trying to go off the front. This will give you the element of suprise and the guys at the front may choose not to react which will give you a bit of seperation. From there on in, it's up to you how long you stay away. Don't get suckered into hanging out on front for a long time only to get swallowed by the pack on the final turn, it's really a bummer when that happens (and it happens ALL the time).
The best way to train for this is by doing intervals. Mix in hard sprints during your regular ride. This will emulate the type of effort required during a Crit race. I will ride at a good pace with a BPM of around 155 and do hard sprints that will bring my BPM to 188 (my max) and try to sustain that for as long as possible. Then I will give myself a 5 minute rest keeping my avg. speed up but allowing my BPM to come back down to the 160's and as soon as I get to 160 I sprint again. Repeat!
You should also practice your sprinting to ensure that all your energy is moving you forward. Too often you see guys who are throwing their bikes all over the place during hard sprints. While this looks nice and theatrical, it robs you of precious energy.
Another critical element is feeling comfortable in a pack and being able to hold your line. Stay close to the person in front of you and don't do a lot of weaving in and out (very dangerous at 30+ mph)
Also, if you have the chance, watch the cat 1/2/3 guys to see how they do it. A ot can be learned from watching others.
Hope that helps.