Before we get into this, you need to know that this is from my personal experience and is merely my opinion. Although, I do fancy myself a smart guy. Knowing how to do something in principle is different than putting it into practice. So take my thoughts with a grain of salt. And if you have anything to add, leave a comment below.
Typically, a crit will go one of three ways.
- Someone or group breaks away early and stays away
- Someone or group breaks away with not many laps to go and the group cannot catch
- There'll be attacks, counter-attacks, each one failing and the result is a bunch sprint
Will happen for a handful of reasons. Mainly, it's because the group doubts the ability of the riders in the breakaway and doesn't chase seriously or the group isn't strong enough to catch the break. Either way, if you want to win, you need to be in the breakaway. You cannot win the race if you are minutes behind the person in front. And if being in that breakaway burns too many matches, well hey, you just got great training in and will be more effective next time.
Either way, be at the front and be there for the break.
is much like scenario one but is more often than not due to the pace of the ride elevating. Like the first scenario, you want to be in the break if you can BUT I will say from experience that staying away is much more difficult in the final laps of the race since riders are not conserving anymore -- they're using what they have left. So that being said, you better go hard if you're breaking away at the end of a race.
So no one is off the front, there's 5 minutes left in the race, and everyone is together. How do you win? You need to work backward from the finish line. Where is the last turn? How much space do you have to move up? Realistically, you'll be able to move up 5-10 spaces if you're fully fresh and sheltered most of the crit but that can be far fewer with good sprinters in the field. Being able to move up at all is not guaranteed. But, those spaces get exponentially harder to move up as they get closer to the leader. Don't forget that the person on the front is there because they're stronger or better than you. It's a tough pill to swallow but its true.
So if you're smart and you've made it to the top 5 positions with less than a minute left in the race, you CAN win. You can. This position sets you up to be able to cross the finish line first. What you need to do here is spot who would be winning if you weren't there. When they go, you go. But you go harder and take as much draft as you can.
So here is my list of tips for winning a crit:
Tip#1: Stay near the front but not ON the front.
Tip #2: Maximize freshness by not working unnecessarily hard
Tip #3 Map out the finish line. Know exactly where the end of the race is and what the terrain is like going into it. Hill? Narrow? Headwind? Crosswind? these all matter.
Tip#4: Acceleration, not speed wins the sprint. You can sit on steady-state speed. But there is no way to shelter from acceleration.
Before i get into the tips, it's imperative that you ride your bicycle in a safe manner. Do not bomb down descents and always ride within your limits. Let's get to the tips.
Tip #1: Not all Tires are Equal
If you're on a set of worn out gatorskins and thinking about hitting the twisties, I have news for you, you're not going to be living up to your potential. For cornering, you want a high-quality multi-compound and sticky tire. This is absolutely not a place where you should skimp out. Tires are way cheaper than hospital visits.
Tip #2: Get low
Get into the drops and lower your center of gravity to a comfortable place.
Tip #3: Pre-shift your gear for the exit
This may be easier said than done but it's important to have the next gear set up for the exit. The key to fast cornering is getting back on the gas as soon as possible. Take the time before a corner where you'd normally be coasting and set up your gear for the exit.
Tip #4: Avoid braking in the corner
Obviously, if you have to brake to avoid an obstacle, do what you feel is needed. But in a perfect work, braking mid-corner is going to mess up your line and put unwarranted frictional forces on your bike that will lower your maximal speed through. So if you can, brake before the corner when you're going straight and then make your turn.
Tip #5: Don't hang off your bike like a MotoGP rider
Sorry kiddos, dragging a knee like a motorcycle rider doesn't have any place here. Stay planted on your bike for optimal cornering.
Tip #6: Mind the Terrain
Bumps, uneven surfaces, gravel all impact how your corner. All else equal, a corner with a dip in it will be slower than a nice banked corner like you'd see on a track.If you know there's going to be gravel or loose tarmac, it's best to do your turning BEFORE the turn and then when there is a sandy patch go straight, and complete the turn with the remaining amount of road.
I'm going to say this again and again, proper cornering takes practice. Ride within your ability. Go slower than you can and never practice cornering on the open road.