Criterium races, also know as crits, are short races held on a closed loop course which ranges anywhere from half a mile to two miles in length, and they are some of the most intense, heart throbbing, and fast paced events on the planet.
As the shot signaling the start of the race echoes throughout the track racers pedal frantically off of the line, vying for race position, and risking obscene wipeouts to secure first place early on.
That is where the similarities end.
Get Primed for War
The first unique feature of crits is called a ‘prime’ (pronounced preem). Think of them like a much more frequent and intense version of sprint points in a traditional road race.
To initiate a prime a race official will stand at the start/finish line and ring a bell, signaling that the end of the next lap is a prime, meaning that whoever crosses the line first gets to take home some extra cash or other prizes.
With the almighty dollar on their minds, racers put their heads down, wipe the sweat out of their eyes, and push as hard as they can to be the first person across that line.
To ramp up the intensity (as if things were not already intense enough), primes occur at regular intervals, one around every five minutes, allowing the racers just enough time to catch their breath before throwing them back into the fire.
The Fear of the Unknown
Where the rubber really meets the roads for crits is towards the end of the event.
Unlike in a normal road race where you always know how far you are from the finish and how to effectively pace yourself to prevent fatigue and burn out, the end point of a criterium is not decided until shortly before the race actually ends!
So while you are pedaling away, fighting for position and trying to prevent your legs from giving out on you, the race officials are sitting calmly behind the monitors, reviewing how long each lap is taking.
Based off of this information they will then decide upon an end time (which they normally try and keep close to the advertised time of the race) at which point a bell is rung and lap cards are displayed to let the racers know exactly how far they have until the finish.
Now, with the end in sight, the pace really starts to heat up, as the already tired racers dig deep inside to find those extra reserves of energy to fight through the final laps and score a victory.
Sign Me Up For The Races!
So now, you are probably either on the edge of your seat screaming “Sign me UP!” or running away like a dog being told off with your tail between your legs yelling “Heck no, I am NOT doing that!”
But before you go making any rapid judgements, take a minute to think about it.
Crits can be incredibly exciting, they are a great way for you to improve your overall fitness and competitive edge, and they are also tons of fun as they are short, intense and have a lot more action than a normal race.
However, they can also be quite dangerous to the inexperienced or injured cyclists as the fast pace and aggressive nature of the races makes them a prime breeding grounds for nasty wipeouts and potential injuries.
So whether you decide to join in your next local criterium or simply sit back with your choice beverage and watch, you now know the down and dirty on one of the most exciting races in the cycling world!
Hope to see you at the Ridge at 38 Criterium on Sunday, September 12!