Whether just a pair of riders or a group, once you hop on a bike, the need to race is born. Since the dawn of cycling, racing was a part of it. There is something irresistible about the freedom of self-powered speed – the wind in your face, the physical exertion and the challenge of the race. This joy and drive in cycling has spawned many different types of bicycle racing. From road racing to track racing, it has become a sport that draws tens of thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators. Criterium track racing is a favorite among both and is fast becoming the favored type of bike racing in the world.
Criterium Track Racings Creation
The very first official bicycle road race was on May 31, 1868 at Parc de St. Cloud, Paris. An Englishman named James Moore won the 1.2km race – riding a wooden bike equipped with metal wheels. After that historic day, the race was on. Track racing gained popularity around 1870 and ran on wooden, oval shaped tracks. Soon, the two were blended into the Criterium track –a short road race on a “natural” track – through closed off city streets. This “urban racetrack” sprung up in the United States in the 1920’s. More recently there have begun Dirt Criterium Races which are basically the same, with the difference being the track is totally off-road.
A Criterium, or Crit, as it is often called, is a short road race. The race is held on a short course, usually a mile long or less. This course is, more often than not, a closed off city street or dedicated race track. The course forms a loop and riders face a repetitive circle with a distance of ½ km to 3km (1/3 mile to2 miles). The size of the actual track area will determine the number of laps. Like any other road race, there is a rather congested mass start to the race. After that start pistol sounds, the race is an all-out sprint through to the last lap. It is extremely fast paced and a serious test of not only biking agility, but, endurance. Races for men, women and juniors are available- each race should specify who and what skill they need to be at to race.
When comparing research and testimony of seasoned crit racers, there is still a mixed review of what constitutes a Criterium bicycle. From Cannondale to Fuji, the debate rages as to what is best and if there really is a true Criterium bike. In the 70’s there were specifically designed bikes for this and it resurged slightly in the 90’s. The problem of personal preference seems to make it impossible to agree on one specific bike that falls under the crit bike category. Some swear by carbon, some prefer aluminum and there are even those who like steel frames. Types of pedals, chain length and frame design are factors discussed. Even the tires are a hotly debated topic. When you take all the crit websites, blogs and forums, there are a few standard pieces of advice that ring true:
● When first beginning, do not spend a fortune on a top of the line bike. Racing bikes are not cheap- they can cost thousands. Crashing and trashing your 2-3 grand specialty bike is going to be tear-worthy. Wait until you become a seasoned rider to make a larger investment.
● Make sure the bike is a good fit. You need to be totally comfortable – from the handle bars to pedals. If you do not have a properly fitted bike, you will lose on speed, comfort and agility. You will be making deep turns and sprinting till your legs scream, and still not making headway. The last thing you want, is to be wasting energy or have issues with control. Get properly fitted.
● A good quality helmet is required. Gloves are recommended. Flashy biking suits not needed. Invest your money in your helmet and bike, the rest is just extras.
In racing of any kind, the outcome of the race has less to do with the equipment and more to do with the racer. This holds true in criterium racing too. Practice, practice and more practice. Little things like getting your foot clipped in fast for a fast take off can take minutes off your time. If you’ve never ridden in a pack, you’ll need to get used to that. Being able to react when someone bumps your tire, cuts you off or falls ahead of you, are all things you need to learn to handle. Time and time again, in forums like bikeforums.net, the subject of agility in turns comes up. Learning to lean and not snag your pedal on the ground or dealing with others in the turn. It seems to be the one area that an athlete training for criterium races needs to focus on. The turns are different in each race, the racers are different and conditions too. Conquering this seems to come as a result of not only practice but by having a few races under your belt. Personal training involves eating healthy (high protein), strength training and distance training for stamina. And, with any sport, hydration is always important.
The criterium race is not just a rush for the participants but equally so for spectators. Over the years the races have become more than a race – they are huge events. People love that they can line the streets and not just see riders go by once, but many times. Seeing everything from Olympians to amateurs tackle the course at break neck speed while leaning almost parallel to whip through a corner, has races can attract more than 30,000 people at a time. According to www.usacrits.com, the company called Swagger.us deserves a lot of the credit for bringing the races to the forefront of biking. They are the leading presence involved in criterium races, as they have been involved in its marketing and presentation for the last 50 plus years. They have been sponsoring “The Twilight” crit, the granddaddy of all crit races, for the last 32 years in Athens, Georgia and the Criterium Nationals for the last 7 years. It is companies like this that have helped the sport stay alive and expand nationally in the U.S. Over here in Australia, the Australian National Criterium Championships are an annual event where the best crit racers around the country get together to battle for the right to be crowned the Australian Criterium Champion across numerous different categories. Another iconic crit race is the Shimano Super Criterium, which is also held annually.
Whatever aspect of criterium racing you enjoy, the blast of participating or the excitement of spectating, criterium racing does not disappoint. More and more cities across Australia are hosting criterium racing events and it goes without saying that these are also big in the U.S. and Europe. It is a worldwide phenomenon that is continuing to gain momentum.