Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tips for Triathletes first Criterium

One would think bike racing would be an easy thing for a triathlete to come to and do fairly well at, and to some extent you would be correct. However, there are many aspects that are both intimidating and frustrating for triathletes, especially for the most taboo of races... the Cat 5 crit. Road races are generally a bit smoother transition because I would guess the majority of triathletes still participate in group rides at least semi-regularly... and besides the tone of a bike race being a bit more serious, it can easily turn into a group ride with a few attacks and a sprint.

Knoxvelo has a training crit series every year which, while having an A & B group for the more experienced, focuses on the C group and helping people get into crit racing. Unfortunately, even "beginner friendly" crits are often anything but. The key difference between a triathlon and a bike race... everyone at the bike race is there to win. (At least in theory... to accomplish a goal is more accurate) As a rule cyclists are a bit more uptight / serious business than the normal triathlete atmosphere meaning even beginner series races can feel anything except friendly. So, having done a good number of crits now and coming from the triathletes background, here are some of my tips for everyone new, but mostly those from a tri background. Most of these come from my own mistakes! :)

- It's not a time trial
There is a time to attack and TT off the front. Sometimes it even works. It usually doesn't work the first lap of the race by yourself. Beginner races may seem somewhat dull/slow for a fairly well trained triathlete, so the natural tendency is to put down some power and ride off into the sunset. The trouble is what generally ends up happening is you pull the group around until you get tired, then get popped off the back when you run out of steam. People love to see triathletes in group settings because triathletes love to take a pull and unless you are considerably stronger than multiple people in the race, you aren't getting away from the start.

- Likewise, the strongest guy isn't usually the guy that wins
You can be a beast out there, leading the race lap after lap... heck, you can have the stoutest power file after the race, and STILL come in at the back of the pack. In triathlon having a steady power means a fast bike split, in crits it means you are working too hard giving other people free rides.

- Take your free laps.
This is probably the most important thing I see new guys NOT doing in our races. They don't take their free laps to get back in the field. They get dropped and try to chase back on over and over... you don't learn anything about crit racing like that. That's time trialing... you know how to do that already. If you get popped, pull over and ask to get put back in. There's no shame in it, you're there to learn the skill set needed for fast group riding. You can't learn that riding by yourself.

When the pace slows, guys bunch up.

- Figure out whose line it is
General rule of thumb, if somebody is in front of you, it's their line to take. You are responsible for the wheel in front of you, not the wheel behind. So if somebody takes a line and it cuts you off, that's your fault. This is why staying IN the group is important, you need to learn where your line goes in regards to the rest of the pack. The best way I've heard it put over the internet is like this...

(Taken from Della Casa, great place to read some more in depth stuff)
If you're on the inside, follow the person in front of you
If you're in the middle, take a parallel line to the person beside (outside) you
If you're on the outside, follow the person in front or parallel to the man beside you

None of those are likely "optimal" lines... those exist generally only for the first person in the group or the breakaway. A lot of crit courses (most) are kind of "4 corners" Nascar style tracks and this is pretty intuitive, but (at least around here) we get a lot of S turns and 180° turns where this stuff gets much more important.

At the front of this 180° I get to take whatever line I want

Same turn 4 guys back, now I take the line of everyone else

Crash 5 gets it's nickname because of this. Guys do something stupid unpredictable and clip wheels with somebody else... then you're on the ground. Unpredictable things include straying from your line, pushing way out during a tight turn (hold your line) and generally just being where you shouldn't be. smooth.

- Sprints are for the podium
So if you come into the last straightaway in 20th, don't sprint. A lot of wrecks happen because somebody thinks they've got a shot to win a sprint starting 15 places down. If you aren't in the top few guys of the field in a Cat5 race you probably aren't going to sprint to the podium with 50 meters to go. I've heard it said (and believe) many times the most important sprint is to a good position in the final corner. If you have aspirations to be up front, be up front before you get out of that corner.

War Face for the sprint!
-Have Fun
For real... all these are tips, generalizations and things that *should* be pretty common sense. Don't show up to your first crit all nerves... take a deep breath, hang in there a few laps and get comfortable. I know I said everyone there is there to win, but more accurately everyone there should have a goal to accomplish. Your first crit... your goal is to learn, be safe and have fun. Accomplish that and your day is won.

Give it a try! It's something very different from what we are used to, and a lot of fun!

Thanks for reading!
- Christopher Morelock

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