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How to watch a bike race

A criterium (often simply called a “crit†) is a bicycle race that is held on a short course. The courses are typically less than 2 miles, sometimes a bit longer. The races are often held on closed off city streets.

How far do you ride?

This is a common question that is just a bit miss guided. Criteriums are not typically set to a specific distance or number of laps but occasionally you may find a criterium that is simply a lap count format.

In a criterium you usually race for a specific amount of time plus a set number of laps. A typical Men’s Category 5 would be something like 30 minutes plus 5 laps. That means that when the race starts the clock will start counting down. When the clock hits zero the time board then starts counting laps.

In our example, at the end of 30 minutes, the officials would change the time board to read 5 and they would announce to the riders as they go by that they have 5 laps remaining. Then the next time by the board would read 4, then 3, and so on. When the lap count gets to one lap to go, the officials will ring a bell as the riders come by. This is the signal that it is the last lap. Whoever crosses the finish line first the next time by, wins.

So how come you just don’t ride around slow until the lap count starts?

This is another common question. Well, for starters, it wouldn’t be much fun. The real reason you race hard the entire time though is that if you get lapped by the main field, the officials can pull you off the course and you don’t finish.
The race will usually start off faster than it will be throughout the entire race. So at first you really just want to at least stay with the main pack. The pace will slow up a bit as everyone settles down.

Once the pace settles a bit you should start working your way to the front. Crashes typically happen in the middle of the pack so the closer to the front you are the less likely that you will get caught up in a crash.
The pace is also often fast at times as riders try to make a breakaway and the pack trys to catch them so they cannot lap the field.

How fast do I have to be to win a Category 5 criterium race?

That’s really hard to say. Criterium racing is not all about speed. To be successful at a criterium race you must have pretty good endurance but you also have to use your head. Not to mention that it will depend on the day, the weather, the course, etc.
There are a lot of quick accelerations and then the group will slow then they will accelerate again and slow back down. If you get out front you will also have to work harder because you will be breaking the wind for everyone drafting behind you.
If you are all the way in the back you will have to slow down a lot more than the leaders in every corner and then you will have to sprint to stay with the riders ahead of you. This is usually called the accordion effect.

Generally speaking the best place to be is in about 3rd to 10th position until the last few laps. The idea is to stay with the leaders until the last straight to the finish and try to out sprint them. Of course if you are a lot faster than the leaders you can try to break away on your own and make them try to catch you.

What is a prime?

A prime (pronounced like preem with a long e sound) is a lap prize. During a criterium, to make things more exciting, there will be prizes award on random laps. These prizes are usually cash like $20.00 or sometimes they are product prizes.

When the officials decided to give out a prime they will ring the bell and announce to the riders that it is a prime lap. Then the person that crosses the line first the next time by gets that prime. If there is a small group of riders that has broken away from the main pack, the officials will often choose to only announce the prime for the main pack and not the breakaway.

This can create some really good racing. Lots of sprinting and can really break up the back. Some riders try to win as many of the primes as they can while others just hang out in the pack trying to save energy for the real finish.

For more bike tips follow Bradley at http://www.twitter.com/bicyclefrenzy

Criterium Winning Tips:

• The starting pace won’t usually last the entire race, so hang on, you can make it.
• Crashes usually happen inside the main pack so try to get to the front group if you can.
• Save energy by drafting behind other riders as much as you can.

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