Racing a criterium, or crit, is a great way to get into competitive cycling. They’re action-packed, exhilarating and, most importantly, not too time-consuming. Crits are composed of a predetermined number of laps around a short track, lasting up to an hour. This unique format means there are unique requirements. To help understand how to prepare for your first crit, we chatted to former NRS rider, Phil Cavdarski.
How should you go about preparing for your first crit?
‘Before you race, the biggest thing is to join a cycling club. Crit racing is fast, densely packed riding, so there are loads of skills you need to have before your first event. You need to be comfortable riding and cornering in a big group, drafting, and you also need to be able to look around without deviating from your line – all skills that are best learnt on bunch rides. The people on club rides are always super helpful and are more than happy to give new riders tips.’
Crit racing is very different to long days in the saddle, so should you change your training?
‘For your first race, by default, you’ll be put in the lowest grade, where people are more focused on building their skills than they are on winning, so I would still focus on your bunch rides instead of specialised interval training. Once you do have your bunch skills dialled, a great drill to do is called 40 20’s. This is where you go as fast as you can for 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds, and repeat. Do that straight for five minutes, and then have a five-minute rest, and start again. Three sets of that and you’re done. It’s a really useful exercise because it better emulates the demands of crit riding than a four-hour day in the saddle will. Crit racing can turn on a dime, so you need to be ready to go as hard as you can at a moment’s notice!’
How do you find a cycling club?
‘Cycling Australia is the best place to go! Their membership page has an awesome app where you just put in your postcode and it comes up with your closest CA affiliated cycling club! To race crits you’ll also need to buy Cycling Australia membership, this is just personal and third party insurance; if you’re not sure if you want to race a whole season, I’d recommend buying a three-race pass just to give you a taste before you lay out a few hundred dollars for year’s membership. However, if you do buy a year’s membership now, you’ll get all of 2018 as well as the rest of December, so it’s great value for money!’
What about nutrition?
‘Because crit races are so short, there’s no real point bringing gels or anything, I would only bring a bottle of water; the race is just too short for there to be any benefits from nutrition. If you’re really worried, maybe have a gel or a banana half an hour before your start. Just make sure you’re not hungry for the start and you’ll be fine.’
Are there any rules you need to know about?
‘The biggest one is your helmet needs to have an Australian safety certification sticker (note: all Pushys helmets have passed Australian safety testing). You’ll also need to know cycling etiquette before you race, but it’s just all the basic stuff – hold your line through corners and sprints, communicate and don’t throw your hands in the air if you win. We don’t do victory salute in crits. You also need to be wearing lycra, as big, floppy t-shirts can be distracting, and you need to race on a drop bar road bike. Each club might have some specific rules concerning pedals and discs, so be sure to check with them before your race. The only other major thing is to get your bike checked before the crit, it’s your responsibility to make sure your bike is safe to be ridden in a crit. Beyond that, the Commissaire (the official) will inform you of any other rules before you start.’
Any final tips for a first-time racer?
‘I may have made your first race sound a bit daunting, but it’s really not! Crits are loads of fun, and at the lower grades, no one is particularly competitive. Oftentimes there will be more experienced riders in the bunch helping you learn the ropes. Honestly, the best thing to do is just get out there and try one! You won’t regret it!’
Phil Cavdarski raced the National Road Series for Cobra 9, and is still an avid crit racer in the local Brisbane competition.