Criteriums blend together an amazingly diverse assortment of physical & psychological performance demands which culminate into one of the most exciting forms of mass-start racing in the world of cycling.
In order to meet these demands, the workouts contained in each volume-version of the Criterium Specialty blocks start out fairly specific in terms of physiological stress and then grow increasingly race-like as you progress through this 8-week block of training.
Criterium Demands & Training
Criteriums can be wildly diverse in terms of course characteristics & racing conditions which can have a major impact on the way a race unfolds, who excels and which strategies are effective.
If road races are rolling chess matches then criteriums are chess matches played during a roller derby melee. Not only are crit racers required to attain a high level of physical conditioning, but they also have to complexly strategize and make snap decisions while fighting their way through an incessant wall of hypoxic fog.
But tactics & strategy aside, the physical demands of a high-speed, high-intensity race lasting anywhere from 30-90 minutes in duration range from the ability to routinely jump explosively to one’s capacity to sustain efforts close to & above FTP with little opportunity for adequate recovery.
So not only do criterium racers need high levels of Anaerobic power, but they also require the ability to repeatedly generate high levels of aerobic power, i.e. power near & right at VO2 Max, all built upon a well-developed aerobic base.
Add to this the need for ample muscular endurance and the icing-on-the-cake ability to sprint (often with nearly-exhausted muscles) and it’s clear that criterium riders must have it all if their intent is to excel.
Specialty Block Structure
Post-Base/Build conditioning, the first 6 weeks of the 8-week Criterium block focus partly on peaking anaerobic & maximum aerobic power while also exploiting those capabilities via the use of mini-crit workouts that find their way into each of the 8 weeks.
The rest of that first 6 weeks’ training focus, at least in the mid- & high-volume versions, is aimed at retaining aerobic endurance as well as sufficient muscular endurance.
As each plan moves on, highly specific workouts introduce riders to race opener intervals & a couple full-on race simulations.
The final week of this 8-week plan is a Race Week where you can repeat the week’s format for as many weeks as your racing schedule dictates, substituting weekday training races & weekend races for indoor workouts whenever applicable.
Riders also have the option of using alternate-version workouts to increase/decrease their race-week training load, e.g. Tour de Nez +1 vs Tour de Nez +2.
As always, riders will have to limit just how long they wish to hold this peak fitness since most riders’ form begins to deteriorate somewhere in the 3 to 6-week range, although it’s not uncommon for lower-volume riders to hold this peaked fitness a bit longer due to their more forgiving training loads.
Optimally, riders will reach the Criterium blocks with base & build conditioning in their legs. In this case, here are some of the more common training plans:
- 28 Weeks Out: 12 weeks of Sweet Spot or Traditional Base conditioning + 8 weeks of Short Power Build conditioning + 8 weeks of Criterium specialization
- 22 Weeks Out: 6 weeks of Sweet Spot Base I + 8 weeks of Short Power Build + 8 weeks of Criterium specialization
- 14 Weeks Out: 6 weeks of Sweet Spot Base I + 8 weeks of Criterium specialization
Additional Block Progressions
It’s pretty common for race seasons to take place in chunks where races are clustered together over 3-6 weeks. For riders with multiple peak periods, here are a couple possible approaches:
- Already Fit, 2 Peaks, 22 Weeks Total: 8 weeks of Criterium specialization + 4 weeks of racing + 2 weeks of Traditional Base I + Latter 4 weeks of the Criterium block + 4 weeks of racing
- Early Season/Late Season, 50 Weeks Total:
Regardless of your season plan, if you like your races to be of the highest intensity & often very technical, if you thrive on highly strategic, non-stop and exceptionally painful crowd-pleasers, then the Criterium specialty blocks are exactly what you’ll need to get you ready to tolerate & dole out this brand of physical abuse.