Getting thrown into the deep end in about a week

In about a week I have my first sanctioned criterium. Due to the way officially sanctioned races are structured here, the entry level class is essentially the equivalent of Cat 3.

So overweight mid-30s 3.0 watts/kg me with minimal criterium experience (one hotdog crit two years ago) me will be up against, at the pointy end, skinny 5.0+ watt/kg teenagers (I think one of the kids is actually on the national team?!).

The race is a 28 km crit with a history of big crashes. The course is 2.2 long with four 90 degree turns and one 180-degree hairpin. The class I am signed up for averaged just under 42 km/h last year. There’s going to be probably 85 people in the race this year (170 have signed up for my category and there’s usually two groups).

Any suggestions to avoid breaking my new bike? How deep will I need to go just to keep up?

I have a road race the next day, but I know I will be dropped and cut so fast that safety will basically be a non-issue.

Depends who you want to keep up with…and thinking about this at the beginning of the race might be key.

It seems obvious that there’ll be some strong riders there. Chances are, anyone who’s 5w/kg is going to be up the road and you won’t be able to keep up with them, regardless of how hard you go.


Be smart. Don’t chase anyone who its unrealistic to stay with. Identify people of your ability before the race/right at the beginning of the race and use them. The more people you can work with, the more energy you can save and the better result you can get. The race will be more surgey the further back in the group you are, especially in a field of beginners. So if you find yourself in a pack of similarly fast riders to yourself, stay half a dozen wheels from the front. You’ll save energy by keeping your power smoother whilst still benefiting from the draft.

The back of that group is where the least confident riders will probably be, meaning more potential for crashes, more hard braking in to corners and hard sprinting out of them.

That’s what I would do anyway :slight_smile:

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I should probably mention the 5.0+ kids tend to be sub-60 kgs and I am 90 kg, so on perfectly flat roads there’s not that much of a difference… except for those bastards whose dads bought them $10,000 Cervelos. hahaha.

I nearly asked this question but assumed it was relevant if you were talking about w/kg and national teams.

In this case, my suggestions still stand but hopefully you can worry less about being stuck behind inexperienced riders who are likely to lose the wheel or crash in corners.

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A couple of things that I learned from my first couple crits were:

  • Don’t hang at the back of the group just because you’re a beginner. You will be forced to react to every rubber band at every corner. Meaning you will on the brakes going in and forced to punch it coming out just to stay with the group while the front of the group is much more steady. You will be dropped after several laps this way. As long as you are safe in the group then try to sit in the front third of the group.

  • Spend the first quarter of the race looking at your fellow racers and trying to spot the confident and smooth ones and the sketchy nervous ones. Try to stay behind/near the smooth ones. You will learn more from watching then while also being in a safer position.

  • You may feel safer going on the outside of corners but if someone loses traction and slides out they are going to head toward the outside and you will be vulnerable. If you have decent bike handling skills then you should try to ride the insides of the corners as much as you can safely. Also, that will put you one the inside line which should theoretically be the shortest and fastest line.

There are obviously exceptions to these but they are things that I went into the races thinking and found myself quickly struggling.

Also, classes like that are highly variable and the difficulty of the race can vary wildly from region to region and even week to week depending on who shows up and how motivated they are. You might be able to just cruise around in the pack and get to the finish in the bunch but you might also be bleeding from the eyes just to not get dropped. It’s really hard to say.


If you get dropped it will be because of the accelerations out of the corners, especially the 180. The closer to the front you are, the smaller they will be. At the back of a pack that size, you’ll be bouncing between 30 and 50 km/h 5 times a lap. Cornering well and maintaining momentum will determine your fate.

As for crashes, races like you describe (field and course) tend to get strung out pretty quick which is safer than a big bunch. You’re pain will be endless 600 watt digs out of the corners, not road rash :wink:

ADD: if you do get gapped, stay in as long as they let you and work on your cornering. An open crit course is a rare opportunity.


My immediate thought is, do you need to take your new bike? What’s wrong with your old one?

The picture you’ve painted for me of this course and the history of crashes, coupled with your relative lack of experience, doesn’t lead me to believe this is the best introduction for your new ride.

I’m highlighting this because I can imagine this scenario playing on my mind if I were in your position. Simply having a relaxed (relative to the racing environment) and focused mind on the task at hand will really help you enjoy your race.

My old bike is a decade old and easily over a kilometer an hour slower on the straights.

I also don’t have room to take both bikes for the crit and the road bike.

Believe me, I don’t want to spend $2,000 on a new frameset, but I want something that won’t slow me down.

My bike and I survived the race unscathed, but mostly because I wasn’t able to accelerate hard enough after the first hairpin or go hard enough to latch back on before the next hard acceleration and spent the rest of the race more or less TTing with the other people who got spat out the back until being time cut.

I guess those extra 10 kilograms of fat do make a difference even in a crit. Haha.


The key things… you went and you threw your hat in the ring. Hopefully you’ll be going back for more?

Of course, but races (and even hard group rides) are so far and few between here (even during normal times) that it’s hard to make progress in racing even though I’m at least maintaining fitness. I think I might need to renew Zwift and do at least a race a week.