My name is Andrew Sidwell; I’m a new triathlon coach with T3Multisports. My background consists of some mountain bike racing, and triathlon racing mostly consisting of half and full iron distance events. This year has been more focused on sprint distance events due to time but until September 30, I had never road raced a bicycle, hence my Crit adventure.
What is a “Crit” you ask? A Crit, (aka criterium race) is a short, fast race consisting of multiple laps on a closed section of road or a race track. The Crit I chose to participate in happened to be on the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), just outside of Austin, TX. I have never previously participated in this type of racing so I figured my learning curve would be steep. Here are a few things I did to mitigate this:
Talk to Experts
I solicited advice from experience bicycle racers and coaches (i.e. Coach Boris, Coach Arlyn and Coach Daniel) about how to train and execute a solid race. Their insights proved invaluable when race day (or in my case, night) came. Bike racing is highly nuanced; talking to this panel of experts introduced me to the language of cycling as well as appropriate conduct while cycling in a group. I think it also served to make me less of a hazard to the individuals I raced with. We all have to go to work on Monday and no one wants to be “that guy” or “that girl” that takes someone out through ignorance.
Research the Venue
I am beginning to think that bicycles are sold with GoPro cameras attached to them. Unless your race is in its first year, there will be a first-person video from a previous race on the course that will allow you to see what you’re getting yourself into. Reading reviews and watching videos will allow you to understand the direction and flow of the course as well as what other riders tend to do at particular parts of the track. There are multiple videos of the COTA race that gave differing perspectives of the same course. The advantage this provided was that I at least knew what direction the course flowed, what the turns looked like and where the group tended to bunch versus pull apart. Rather than riding into a corner and figuring out what was next I came in with a tentative plan on how to string corners together and where I wanted to be on the track. Of course, this adjusted once the reality of the race took off but it gave me a foundation to start from.
If you are interested in racing your first Crit, we at T3 can help. There were a handful of “did not finish” (DNFs) due to conditioning; they simply “blew up”. Racing in general is not as easy as pro athletes make it look. Getting some solid training in prior to an event will make it more enjoyable and more likely that you’ll finish.
For me, I have a solid fitness foundation from racing triathlons so I worked on supra-threshold efforts (i.e. above functional threshold power) and sprinting. My race was five weeks out when I registered so that gave me some time to work on these aspects of my training. This type of racing is completely different from long course racing so these harder efforts are really important to get adjusted to.
My challenge was that nearly all of my training was done indoors, on a trainer. This made my bike handling skills a bit rusty. Again, not something you want to be weak in going into a Crit race. However, I was able to negotiate the pack and the turns well enough based on muscle memory and visualization, not to mentioning having spent several years road racing motorcycles on closed courses. At the same time, I know I could do better if I work more on technical bike handling skills. The value of this training cannot be overstated; if bike handling is a weakness, dedicate some time to addressing it. Doing so will make you less of a danger to yourself and others.
Arrive to the Venue Early
My race didn’t start until 8:25pm but I arrived at the track around 6:30pm. Doing so allowed me plenty of time to get my packet, put my number on the appropriate side of my jersey (race direction will tell you what side) and watch a few races with my family. It also gave me plenty of time to get some fluids in and do a solid warm up prior to heading out of the starting gate with everyone else. Lastly, arriving a bit early (but not too early) can help settle pre-race nerves for some people, allowing you to focus more on your race rather than hurrying from one place to the next.
Crit racing is basically full gas from the start. Make sure you take some time to get your heart rate up prior to getting to the start line. COTA has a rather large set of parking lots that made for a great warm up area. I also saw individuals with rollers and trainers. Do what you’d normally do in training. This will help get your mind and body ready to race.
Everyone is going the same direction as fast as they can. One rule of Crit racing is that the rider behind is responsible for his wheel, meaning the rider in front isn’t looking back to see what you’re doing. You have to have good spacial awareness to avoid crashing. One way of doing this is simply not thinking about crashing. Instead, focus on your position in the peloton, taking care not to overlap wheels with the rider in front of you and hold your line through a corner. Also, be aware for physical and verbal cues. If someone touches your hip it is to let you know they are near you. Likewise, you’ll hear, “on your left/right” or “inside/outside” from other riders. Using these cues keeps everyone aware and decreases the chances of an accident.
I’d read and heard about not wasting energy, staying protected from the wind and not leading if you aren’t trying to break away. Well, I can’t say that I adhered to these nuggets of wisdom as well as I should have. My wife observed that I didn’t spend as much time protected from the wind as other riders did. I’m sure this has to do with my lack of group riding time and breaking the “no drafting” mentality that comes with triathlon. It also cost me energy. Likewise, I also attempted to go ahead of the pack a few times, only to burn matches that cost me later in the race when faced with sprinting against good sprinters. All good lessons to learn for the next time.
The concept of fun might seem counterintuitive to some folks when we talk about racing. But in reality, that is what it is all about. I take what I do seriously but never take myself very seriously. Meaning, if I’m not having fun doing something I need to figure out why. This was my first Crit race; I did a bunch of things wrong, some of them on purpose. But, I had fun the whole way. My face had either a grimace or a smile from start to finish as did my kids. I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I can apply to my next race through trial and error. I grew a little bit as a racer and a person by doing something out of my standard comfort zone and embraced all that comes with it. Isn’t that what racing is about?
If you are interested in doing your first Crit, triathlon, 5k, trail run or swim, feel free to contact T3Multisports at info@T3Multisports.com We have experienced coaches that will tailor a program to your specific goals!