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.