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The Insider Experience: My First Criterium

After watching the Launceston International Criterium last year, I was motivated and decided to enter into the Launceston Criterium series. Criteriums are ideal for club cyclists or cyclists wanting to get into racing they are usually short, exciting and technical races.

There is no set distance; the race runs for 25 minutes plus 3 laps. When the official rings a bell to signify the final lap, everyone starts sprinting for the line to grab points in the series.

My fitness is pretty good at this point of the year after six weeks hill climb training, though I hadn’t done any speed work and with the time trials races coming up, I thought the criterium series was a great opportunity to have a hit out and test myself.

Leading up to the race day on Saturday, I tapered my training down on Wednesday and Thursday and on Friday I kept off the bike and stretched.

The Nerves
Before starting the crit I knew I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me so a good sleep was vital. Pre packing all my gear is important before any race so that I know I have everything and don’t have to rush. The bike was cleaned, lubricated, Powertap on, and the bike given an inspection by my local bike shop (The Bike Shop in Hobart). My knicks, gloves helmets and anything else I would need were stowed inside boxes in the car for easy access.

After an early start I had a small breakfast of pasta and orange juice. It’s what works for me. On the drive to Launceston I kept my fluids up with water and a Powerade so that I was well hydrated plus had a RIDE protein bar two hours before the race.

I was nervous before the race, not knowing what to expect. Would I be able to keep up? Could I corner at 40 km/hr? I had thoughts of not being fit enough, crashing and just getting dropped.

I got to the course 90 minutes before race start so I wasn’t rushing to register and setup my equipment plus have a warm up and get prepared. Registration was quick so I checked out the course, particularly the corners trying to memorize the apex of each corner.

The course was 800 meters long with two 180 deg corners and some sweeping corners and slight ascents and descents. The nerves had started to get me at this point and I needed to get the legs spinning after sitting down for 2 hours driving. With 1 hour to go before the race I took a BSC gel and kept warming up, this got the blood flowing into the legs, open my breathing up and elevated my heart rate.

The Race
Once the course was open, the butterflies were gone, I started looking at the riders I was up against. I was ready to go, I felt good, and I was relaxed. At 12:30 we lined up at the Start line. I got in behind another rider, second row, on the outside.

And we are off, everyone clips in, no stacks, and I stayed on a guy I picked as a strong rider. Through the first corner up the incline, still on his wheel. Half way around the first lap the surges started and I went with it.

I stayed at the front of the pack for the first 5-6 laps, taking turns pulling at the front; it was obvious that I didn’t have any crit or race tactics experience. I took one corner at the head of the pack, and came out in 5th or 6th position and had to fight hard to get back to the front.
The race was faster than I expected, around 40-44kmh/r on the straights and 33kmh/r on the inclines. I still felt good after a few laps, my power was good, I wasn’t pushing into my red zone yet and I wanted to have a go at the intermediate sprints. The next time past the Start/Finish the whistle sounded and was the first sprint. Two riders broke away on the lap and I fought it out for third and took it.

I stayed with the group for most of the race, staying near the front, still feeling good and starting to think about making a break, so I upped the pace. When we went around the next 180deg corner you can see where everyone is on the course, some riders had been dropped.

About half way through the race I was still at the front working off people’s wheels though my lack of crit experience caught me out. I was on the inside on the corner, and I couldn’t take the apex of the corner so I had to slow and four riders went around the outside leaving me to chase their wheel.  

As the race came down to the final 10 minutes I had to exert more energy to chase them down. I was working with another rider trying to chase down 4th. It was a classic struggle, drawing him in on the inclines and he would get away on the straight. With only 20-30 meters separating us I was really riding hard to chase him down.

The final lap, I realized I couldn’t bridge the gap so now I was racing for 5th. In my group we were taking in turns but I knew it was coming down to a kick for the line. I just didn’t know when to go. Around the last 180 degree corner off they went, I was caught but I went across the line at 47km/hr (not even my flat out sprint) and placed 6th overall.

I consider my first crit a successful experience. I was pleased with my effort and believe that I can now place given some race practice. I now know better where I can start sprinting from and that I shouldn’t get caught on the inside. I will be back for another crit in December where I am aiming for a better finish as well as focusing on speed.

A shout-out goes to the sponsors Cycling Tasmania and the Recab Cycling Team for a well run event.

If you’re keen on racing and not sure how to get into it, contact your local cycling club or start with Cycling Australia.

So what do you need to get started?
Before you head off to start racing, there are a few essentials.

Bike: You don’t need the latest bike or wheels. A road-race legal bike with carbon wheels or race wheels if you have them. For safety reasons aero bars, full disc wheels and pumps are not allowed. Some crit riders tune their bikes to better suit the racing conditions with a shorter wheel base, shorter cranks and less rake on the forks

An Australian Standards helmet which maybe checked by officials. Gloves are a good idea to protect your hands and for comfort. Your club kit, LBS kit or any plan knicks and jersey though don’t be seen wearing a national jersey or world champion jersey unless you have earnt it.

License: A racing license is needed; either a Cycling Australia license or often you can buy one on the day or a 3 race license with the club. The entry fee is usually around $10-$15.

has contributed this article to Bicycles Network Australia.
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