Crit racing style, fitness requirements, and tactics are much different than what’s required in road racing. They’re shorter, faster, more technical and often a lot more fun. Here are a few things to keep in mind while going around in circles for an hour +3 laps:
The first 20 minutes will be fast and furious with attacks and breakaways. Rarely does the winning move come in the first 20 minutes. In most cases the race doesn’t truly begin until the last half. Save your energy for the latter part of the race while everyone else is blowing themselves to bits.
• Attack like you mean it. Sometimes the “soft attack” works in road racing, but there’s rarely such a thing in crit racing. Since the pace is fast, you need to attack even faster. Don’t attack from 30 places down. By the time you hit the front of the peloton you’ll be tired out. Never attack from the very front either. Attack from the top ~10 positions. If you can enlist someone to come with you even better. More general rules on attacking here and here.
• Learn the art of the counter-attack.
• Hold your line and follow the wheel in front. You can burn a lot of energy by accelerating out of corners. I like to get down low, weight the front wheel to get more traction, and glide through the corner in the slipstream.
• Never ever try to overtake through the corners on the inside! Always remember the motto, “inside suicide.” Plus you won’t be popular in the bunch after you bomb through the inside a couple times.
Conserve your energy
• Move up or attack during the lulls. No sense trying to gain places when the bunch is strung out at 50km/hr. There’s further to go to move up and it takes more energy to do so.
• Never take a pull at the front unless there’s good reason to do so. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t.
Read the race
Before considering to bridge up to a break, take a good look at who’s in it. Do the guys in it have a reputation at making a break stick? How many seconds ahead are they? Are the right combination of teams represented in the break? How far into the race is the break? What is the body language of the rest of the peloton? Are the same guys doing all the work? Are they getting tired? One of the biggest parts of reading a race is knowing your competitors.
Stay at the front, but not on the front. In a hotdog crit, the magic number is top 20. The further back you are in a tight circuit, the more pronounced the concertina effect is at the rear of the pack. In a fast flowing crit it’s good to stay in the top third of the bunch. Remember, if you’re not constantly moving forwards, you’re moving backwards.
It’s easy to get boxed in while you’re hiding from the wind. Place yourself at the edges of the group so you can move up easily at the opportune time (preferably the downwind side). Placing yourself at the edges also allows you to catch a free ride with the swarms of riders as they come past and move up in the bunch.
Take a lap out
Remember, if you have a legitimate mechanical, crash, or puncture you’re allowed to make your way to the pit, get it fixed, and join back in. Often your first instinct is to chase back on. It’s within the rules to take a lap out from the pit section. The commissaires have seen all the tricks, so make sure it’s legit or you’ll be forced to chase.
Quite often the final sprint isn’t to the finish line, it’s to the final corner. Most crits will have a corner before the final 200-300m to the finish line. If you don’t come into that corner positioned properly you’ll have no chance at winning the sprint. The optimal position depends on the distance from the corner to the finish line. It could be top 3-5 (e.g. Port Melbourne), it could be top 15 (e.g. Sandown). Crashes rarely come from the top 10 guys entering the final corner. They almost always come from the guys on 25th wheel who think they still have a chance at winning.
Avoid Overlapping Wheels
You are responsible for your front wheel. If someone in front of you changes their line and clips your front wheel, that’s your fault, not his or hers.
So you’ve been on the attack all day and you’ve finally made the move that stuck, now what? It’s not a matter of going as hard as you can. You have to know when to give up, how to manage the gap, if you need to attack again, put in a soft attack, counter attack, sit in, take a pull, etc. Have a read of the previous post “Breakaway Strategies.”