Criterium Race Tactics and Strategies

Every week the FasCat Coaches get together to discuss and share ways to help out our athletes. We cover a variety of topics like off season and resistance training, indoor trainer workouts, TSS, the Performance Manager Chart, intervals, sweet spot training and weight loss to name a few. We often talk about race tactics and strategies in order to teach athletes how to race. See our road race tactics tip and read below for our criterium race tactics and strategies:

Allen: Learn how to “surf” the riders in the front but never actually be the rider in the front. It takes some work but it is a whole lot easier than trying to ride in the back of the pack and eventually getting gapped. If you do find yourself on the front, take a short pull and let someone else come around.

Nadia: Ride a gear lower than you think you need and accelerate with your cadence - this will save you tons of energy. Get the rhythm of the course- when the attacks happen, where the pack rests. Use that to plan your attacks! Primes are there to make the race more interesting, be careful about getting suckered by them, save your matches.

Jake: If you are not passing a rider moving up, chances are you are being passed and moving backwards. Follow wheels up (see 'surf' above) and don’t use your own energy. Use an early prime or mid race sprint to gage the finish and how to take the last couple of corners. You don’t need to give it your all to show everyone, but feel it out. Don’t wait for others to start the sprint. If you wait someone else will get the jump. Know how far the sprint is from the last corner. Think about how long the effort will be and when YOU should go. You won’t be able to come around more than 1 or 2 riders in a sprint.

Carson: Rather sitting in the middle of the pack, try to draft on the outside of the bunch. This allows you to slot in behind riders as they pass you (see Coach Jake and Allen above 'surf') to move up and prevents you from being boxed in so you can follow attacks if they happen. You also have a safe place to ride in the event there's a crash in front of you. However, beware if you are on the inside of a turn, because you'll be more likely forced to brake which sets you up to accelerate hard out of the corner.

Isaiah: Play your strengths. If your kick(sprint) is your weakest link, then don’t wait for the sprint on the last lap. Follow wheels and/or attack when the field takes a breather to try to get away solo or with a group. Remember though, once you are out there you have to be able to hold it. If you find that you don’t think you can do the work to stay away, there is no shame to sitting up (or not working if in a break) and going back to the field. With enough practice, experience and attempts, eventually you'll have the strength to hold a breakaway all the way to the line provided you commit to the effort. If the course is 'fast' or the peloton's average speed is high be aware that a breakaway attempt may take 4-5 strong motivated riders all sharing the work.

Frank: The race begins on the last lap. Until then, sit in. With 5 laps to go, ‘get to the front’ - aka not on the front but at the front. Use wheels coming by you to jump on and take you up to the front. Ideally you are in top 3, top 5 at least with 1 to go and the 2 riders in front of you are going for it. If they aren’t, plan on riders from behind coming up and you hoping on their wheel. Don't get swarmed. Whoever exits the last corner first usually wins. Also race with a teammate or friend: one teammate sells out for the other chasing down attacks and on the last lap leads you out. Then the next race swap team work roles and you lead him/her out!


And there you have it: learn how to surf wheels to stay positioned at the front of the race. Wait for the last lap if you are a sprinter and don't if you aren't and implement team work. Oh and cornering skills are a must so be sure to practice at home!

If you are looking for specific guidance on workouts that will help you improve your performance at crits, check out this training tip. 

Copyright 2020 , FasCat Coaching

For more information about criterium training, check out this "Watts UP" training tip or Join our *FREE* Athlete Forum to nerd out with FasCat coaches and athletes about your FTP, race data, power based training, or anything related to going fast on the bike!

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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