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A criterium, or crit, is a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 5 km), often run on closed-off city center streets.


Collegiate cyclists take a tight downhill corner in the Boston Beanpot Criterium at Tufts University

Race length can be determined by a total time or a number of laps, in which case the number of remaining laps is calculated as the race progresses. Generally the event's duration (commonly one hour) is shorter than that of a traditional road race — which can last many hours, sometimes over the course of several days or even weeks, as in a Grand Tour. However, the average speed and intensity are appreciably higher. The winner is the first rider to cross the finish line without having been "lapped."

Events often have prizes (called primes, pronounced "preems", and are usually cash) for winning specific intermediate laps (for instance, every 10th lap). A bell is usually rung to announce to the riders that whoever wins the next lap, wins the prime.

Success in road criteriums requires a mix of good technical skills — in particular, the ability to corner smoothly, while "holding your line" on the road, as well as rapidly and sharply — and riding safely with a large group on a short circuit and exceptional "sprint" ability to attack other riders and repeatedly accelerate hard from corners.

Criteriums are relatively easy to organize, do not require a large amount of space, and are good for live spectators as they allow them to see the riders pass by many times. They are the most common type of bicycle racing in the continental United States. They are also gaining popularity as a format for mountain bike events.

Flanders (Belgium) hosts a number of criteriums, as does the Netherlands. The most notable of these are held just after the Tour de France. However, criteriums in Europe or mostly held in the format of a points-race. First, second, and third rider at every 5th lap gets 3, 2, 1 points respectively (with double points at final endsprint).[1] It was a long tradition that after the Tour these criteriums were fixed to have favourable results for the organisers.[2]


Racing bicycles used for criteriums are typically no different than those used in other mass-start road events. However, some criterium racers will choose bicycles with:

  • a wheelbase shortened as much as possible, for increased turning ability, with the shortest chainstays possible, and a slightly shortened top tube (often causing some toe overlap with the front wheel on certain frame sizes).
  • forks with less rake (not more than 40mm) for increased turning ability (albeit sacrificing some stability).
  • slightly shorter cranks (167.5-170mm), often slightly higher bottom bracket (+10mm) to facilitate pedaling through turns without hitting or scraping the pedals on the ground.
  • Aerodynamic wheels. Crits are high speed events with pro races often averaging above 50 kph, making aerodynamics a large factor, even in the pack.

Training for criterium racing[]

Criterium racing places considerable stress on bicycle and rider for any given race; however the pace and training requirements vary depending upon the classification.

Within the UK, Elite and Cat 1+2 riders generally race together and Cat 3+4+W separately; however individual events will vary.

Within the USA, the Men's Field (Pro + Cat 1 + Cat 2, and sometimes Cat 3) generally race together, Cat 3's often have their own races, and Cat 4/5 Men race together[citation needed]. In addition, there are a variety of Masters categories which can be raced. The Women typically have two separate races, the P/1/2 (3) and the 3/4.

The races will also vary depending upon how many people from separate teams enter, which will impact whether it will be a "free-for-all" or a team-focused event.

Experienced and successful riders often spend 15 hours or more training per week, while beginners tend to race with less preparation to gain experience and fitness.

Riders use a range of training equipment:

  • bicycles
  • inexpensive muscle stretching bands
  • weighing scales - for keeping excess body weight down
  • nutritional databases - eat for body and mind
  • heart rate monitors - protection against over training, as well as monitoring physical exertion and physical ability left during a training ride or race
  • power meters - progress monitoring and training development
  • software analysis
  • indoor trainers - rollers, aerodynamic, magnetic, fluid, ergo
  • gym - weights help build fast twitch muscles for sprinting ability and overall strength during base training

Criterium racing requires specific training to boost power output and minimize heart rate recovery time, as well as sprinting capability, general stamina, race craft and mechanical preparation.

There are three broad categories for bicycle race training:


  • increased sustainable power output (that is, below anaerobic heart rate threshold)
  • muscle fiber usage (Type I, Type IIa, Type IIb)
  • strength - particularly for hilly criteriums
  • decreased heart rate recovery time
  • increased sprinting
  • stretching
  • nutrition (diet, weight control)
  • mind over matter (i.e. pain vs speed)


  • minimize rolling weight & resistance (wheels & hubs, tires & tubes)
  • maximize braking performance (cables, brakes, brake pad compounds, rim surfaces)
  • aerodynamics vs weight vs course (aero wheels, aero bottles)
  • minimize frame flex (materials, design and build)
  • bicycle 'fit' (saddle shape/fore/aft/height, crank length, pedal ('q' factor, axle tilt), shoe size/inserts/cleat position, handlebar height/reach/tilt)
  • clothing (shorts & inserts, jersey, gloves, helmets, glasses, socks, shoes)
  • mechanical readiness (gearing, chain, bearings, cables, cleanliness, lubrication, pressures & torques)

Race craft[]

  • bike handling skills (cornering & countersteering, sprinting, climbing, drafting)
  • tactics (safety, overtaking, drafting, blocking)

For the first time rider, race craft may be most determinative of the outcome if one is not strong enough to ride solo off the front of the peloton. In this case, the rider will have to stay in the pack and choose a placement to balance the available energy and strength; the ideal placement is often somewhere between the 10th and 20th rider, which:

  • guards against being dropped off the back, thus suffering a significant aerodynamic penalty, usually enough to prevent re-integration with the group;
  • allows for advancement towards the point-winning breaks and positions; and
  • avoids the "yo-yo" effect that often occurs near the back of the pack, causing needless expenditure of energy as a result of extra braking and acceleration efforts.

Further reading[]

  • "Smart Cycling: Successful Training and Racing for Riders of All Levels" by Arnie Baker (ISBN 0-684-82243-1)

See also[]

  • Kermesse (bicycle race)


External links[]


Template:Cb start Template:Road bicycle racing Template:Cb end

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