Wednesday, December 1

Cycling 101: The Criterium

I have just a little time, before I have to be on the bike tonight. I don't have time for a "well considered" or researched post on either Romans or Christian ethics. So ... it's off to the races, so to speak. In an earlier post on cycling, I had introduced the three types of bike races common in the US, namely the criterium, the time trial and the road race.
In this post, I will ramble on about the criterium.

A criterium is a short course mass start bike race. The courses are usually between 1/2 to 1 1/2 miles in length. At the Masters level the races are usually about 45 minutes long, but some can be as long as 40 miles. At the pro-level 100 kilometers (62 miles) is the distance for the US National championship race. At race speeds of 26-30 mph averages, laps count down quite quickly. Since a lap only takes 2-3 minutes, any small hills make their presence felt over the course of the race.

Several things are unique to the criterium and give its own distinctive flavor:
  • Corners With the short course, sharp corners, and high speeds the ability to corner in a pack comfortably is crucial.
  • Primes (pronounced "preems") these are lap prizes given either to the field (or the breakaway) by the announcer to "liven" up the race. Often the primes rival the winners purse in value and just as often you don't even have to finish the race to take home the prime. If the field, you just hear the bell and the announcement "$40 to the winner of the next lap" to know the whip will be cracking at the end of this next lap.
  • Tactics in cycling are driven by aerodynamics. Drafting can save up to 30% in effort over the rider in the wind. If the strongest rider pulls the pack around for much of the race, he will almost certainly not win the race. Tactics and teamwork take place because you have to choose your moment to attack (going into that wind) and leave the shelter of the pack. If you fancy yourself a sprinter, you can wait for others to attack, stay sheltered. Watch for a good break (and get in it) and then enter in the showdown at the end of the race with the other gunslingers. If on the other hand, you are a rouler (time trialer), you have to break the sprinters strength. Try to get in a breakaway and solo (or maybe with two or three riders) get away and outmuscle whole the pack.
  • The BreakawayAt sometime in the race (in a substantial fraction of criterium races) a breakaway of several riders trying to stay away from the pack (or lap the field) will get away. The composition of teams in the break and those willing to chase almost always determines if it will stay away. A determined chase by a few strong teams, will doom all but a few "inhuman" riders in a breakaway situation. But if those teams are represented in the break, those strong teams "block" or hinder the pack's efforts to chase. And the break will then almost certainly stay away. Even if it doesn't, the chasing riders will be tired from the chase, leaving the defending (blocking) team fresh for either a new attack, or the final sprint.
  • The Pack In a criterium it takes work to stay toward the front of the race. But if the pack breaks up, and you aren't toward the front, you have two alternatives. You either have to do lots of work for a lot of other racers dragging the break back. Or, you resign yourself to an expensive hard workout and but no results.

All in all, with the pack whizzing by ever 2 minutes, an announcer on a PA system wired around much of the course, refreshments right at hand, it is little wonder why the criterium is the fan favorite.