What the heck is a crit race?
Fast, furious and fantastically fun, here’s everything you need to know about crit racing by Hannah Troop…
Want to see your fitness and bike handling skills go through the roof? Then it’s well worth trying your hand at crit racing.
What on earth is this ‘crit’ of which you speak?
If you’re a hazy on the lingo, ‘crit’ basically stands for criterium. In a nutshell, this is a race held on a closed circuit where there are no cars. A crit race can either take place on a specifically built track or a closed-off circuit around a town or city.
How long are they?
Circuits can range from 500m to 2 or 3km. Each race consists of several laps or an allotted time, roughly 45 mins to an hour. The race officials will hold a board up when there are five laps to the end of the race. On the last lap, a bell will sound to signal to riders that they have one lap to go. This basically means: get close to the front of the group and go hell for leather.
What happens during a race?
Crits are flipping great because they’re fast, exciting and adrenaline-fuelled. During races, riders will attack off the front in the hope of forming a break (a group or solo rider that’s ahead of the main pack / peloton). When this happens, the riders left behind will try and chase them down to bring it back. What this equates to is riders working bloody hard, with some races a succession of attacks and chasing. Think Fartlek or HIIT training on a bike. At the business end of a crit race, you’ll see riders somehow managing to pull a mega sprint out of the bag to accelerate away from the group and snatch a win. Do these on a weekly basis and you’ll feel like you have rocket boosters for legs after a matter of weeks.
What’s the secret of crit racing success?
One word: handling. Crit races usually take place on courses with countless twists and turns. Knowing how to maintain speed in and out of those corners will help you massively conserve energy.
The better you get at cornering, the less you have to brake, meaning the less work you have to do out the corners to get back up to speed.
If you feel nervous cornering, it’s best to stick to the outside of the bunch to give you more space to choose your own line.
After a few races, you’ll notice your confidence growing, with this kind of handling naturally translating to better handling when riding out on the road.
How do you train for crit?
While out riding, it’s worth practicing some hard efforts. Hold a fast pace for 2–5 minutes and repeat 3 or 4 times during your ride. This will replicate the sprint efforts needed when you race crit. Another way to mimic that sprint and maintain, sprint and maintain, sprint and maintain repeat style you need for crit is to start doing Watt bike training.
How do I get involved?
Some crits are run as a series, so you will have to sign up to the whole thing – with a series usually running for about 6 weeks. Saying that, there are lots of women’s races where you can sign up on the day.
If you are thinking about racing regularly, it makes sense to sign up to British Cycling and buy a race licence. A full race licence for the year will cost around £88, which is for the gold membership. If you sign up and pay on the day, the race organisers will charge you an extra £10 on top of the race fee.
The thing to note is that without a licence you will not be awarded points, even if you win the race.
If you ride with a club, they will be signed up to British Cycling, which means you can race under that club name. Some clubs have really strong women’s race teams and it's always more fun to race as a team.
Will racing crit make me rich?
If you make the podium, you will usually win a few quid. You definitely won’t be able to retire off the proceeds, but if you fancy buying the post-race round, you can probably afford a packet of peanuts plus the drinkies.
How are results measured?
For crit, there is a ranking system where racers are categorised by how many points they have won in a season. By winning points you move up the ranks. Ranking goes from Cat 4 to Cat 1, then onto elite.
As mentioned above, if you don’t hold a British Cycling license, your well-earned points will bypass you and go into another’s pot. The same for those well-earned winnings.
How do I find a race near me?
If this is the kind of thing that gets your fun barometer cranking, then check out the British Cycling website for races in your area that you can sign up to.
Show me what it looks like…
Ok. Here’s the lovely Juliet Elliott taking us for a spin around the London Nocturne event.