What is a criterium, or crit as they tend to be affectionately known? Well it’s basically a circuit race, a style of racing very common in the UK (more often than not on closed motor circuits) and also, of course, in Belgium with the fabled kermesses. But what is the distinction between the two? When does a circuit race become a crit? For me personally, and I’m not sure that there is a generally accepted definition or distinction, a crit is just that bit shorter and tighter than a circuit race. For those who know the local races, Mallory and Darley Moor are what I consider to be circuit races with plenty of room, and longish laps. Crits are like those seen on television in the tour series: short, narrow and often twisty.
Anyway, taxonomy aside, the reason for this post is that last weekend I had the pleasure of racing on the purpose-built outdoor circuit at Harvey Haddon as part of a series of well-organised races by Beeston CC. For me this ranked as a crit, the first I’ve done for a long time and not since the hell that was the Cycle Live Nocturnes (night time racing – yet another branch of the circuit-race family) a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed this circuit. It’s got a good few tight corners which reward those who can carry their speed and with a bit of a drag plus a good spring wind it certainly made the race far from boring.
It’s a certain type of rider who enjoys crit racing. Most of us, I presume, like riding a bike when we can cruise along at decent speeds and when feeling good ratchet up the speed and effort incrementally. Crits are all about brutal accelerations out of the corners, sustaining that speed for as long as possible and then repeating that effort again, and again, and again ad nauseam. Actually literally ad nauseam sometimes. There’s also something in the mental make-up that makes a good crit rider or, perhaps, a lack of that something. It’s been said that there are certain types of riders who excel in circuit races because you don’t have to think as much, you just keep laying down the power, as opposed to the greater nuances of road racing when one is rewarded for knowing exactly when best to use up one’s reserves. A classic example at pro level is Matti Breschel, just look at how many times he has been in the mix at the business end of the world championships (essentially a glorified circuit race) as opposed to the rest of his road-racing palmares.
Apart from the annoyingly genetically gifted few, to become proficient at crit racing requires a certain type of training, different from other forms of the sport that is essentially sprint recover, sprint recover until you can do it no more. There’s no magic to it. However, this has to be the most miserable form of training from which surely no one human can derive any pleasure. Someone once explained it thus: there’s a difference between being able to suffer and being able to hurt yourself, most road racing is about suffering. My favourite cycling expression is ‘Pour gagner il faut souffrir’ but crit racing and, specifically, training is about being able to hurt yourself.
Anyone who has ever watched a professional crit will surely appreciate the skill exhibited and the outrageous power that those guys can put down. Not only the ridiculous wattage output but also the handling skills to take corners at speeds we wouldn’t think possible so as to save as much energy as they can.
So how did my race go? Meh.
A good group of three got away early on after a few laps of speculative attacking from the bunch and they rode very well to stay away and fight out the honours amongst themselves; kudos. I got my head down, channelled my inner Neil Beasley (for those who don’t know him, he’s a class rider who hates crits even more than he hates cricket…) kept having a dig and eventually got away with Sam Smith from Langdale and we stayed away to take 4th and 5th respectively.
All in all then a good day out. A toe very tentatively dipped back into the waters of crit racing and the reward was a good work out and fun race. You know what? I might even go back for some more.
Finally, as ever I must thank the sponsors, primarily Leisure Lakes Bikes who have set up a really excellent race team this year and provide us with all the support we need, but also the good guys and ladies from Cannondale for the excellent bikes that are a continuous joy to ride, Specialized UK who provided the ridiculously sexy shoes (or disco kicks as we prefer to call them…), Muc Off for both the bike cleaning and athlete care range (seriously try the recovery balm, if it doesn’t bring a smile to your face you are clinically dead) and SiS for the all important energy products that keep us riding round and round in circles…
Thanks for reading, until the next time. A Bientot.