Criterium Training

Criterium racing requires skills, tactics, strategy, luck and fitness. Today, I want to focus on the fitness aspect of criterium racing. In Tour de France racing, the races are long and day after day. To train for the Tour de France you need to ride 5-7 hours a day for years to build a huge aerobic engine. If you are Lance Armstrong or some other full-time pro, you can do this, but most of don’t have the genetics nor the time. You do not need to train long to do well in a Criterium, but you need train to go fast. In fact if just do a bunch of long rides and then expect to well in a crit, you will just get dropped as soon as the pace goes fast.

Criterium races are typically less one hour long unless you are doing a pro1/2 race which will typically be 100km or hour 2 hours. The length of the race is due mainly to the number of race categories (womens, 4/5, 3, masters, pro12, juniors, etc…) that need to be part of a USCF race schedule. To do well in a Criterium, you must be able to go hard for one hour, but I would like to define hard by looking at the physical demands of a criterium race:

  • Repeated sprints out of every corner for 30-40 laps
  • Moving up in the pack
  • Covering gaps as riders drop out
  • Attacking
  • Riding in a breakaway
  • Single file riding while the pack chases down a break
  • Covering other attacks
  • Bridging up to a breakaway
  • Last 2-3 laps
  • Sprinting for a win

In a time trial, typically the strongest, most committed, and fittest rider on the day is the winner. Criterium racing is about knowing when to burn your “matches” and training so that you know how to burn your “matches” strategically. The “matches” concept has been around for a long time but basically it means that you only have one book of “matches” so you need to burn them carefully. By training for a criterium correctly, you can learn how to burn your “matches” in a way that is best for you, but most importantly, you can add “matches” to your book. In other posts, I will talk about how to conserve your “matches” in a criterium.

If you look at the list of physical demands, you will notice quickly that these are a lot of high intensity efforts and sprinting. There is only one way to getter better at high intensity….riding at high intensity. There is only one way to get better at repeated efforts with limited recovery….doing repeated efforts with limited recovery. There is only one way to get better at sprinting….sprinting.

There a two main physical systems that must be improved in order to win criteriums:  Anaerobic Glycolysis system and Creatine Phosphate system.  The Anaerobic Glycolysis system is the energy system mainly used during efforts of 30 to 90 seconds of hard efforts, and this is the energy system that produces lactic acid. When you go all for about 30 seconds the lactic acid builds up quickly. Pushing through 30 seconds while maintaining the high power out is painful but necessary.  High intensity efforts help improve your ability to process lactic acid and to tolerate it.  Sprinting efforts helps develop the Creatine Phosphate system and build muscles for sprinting. The Creatine Phosphate system is the energy system used for short 8-10 seconds of all out sprinting effort. The CP system is not as painful as the Anaerobic Glcolysis system but requires full out efforts with long recovers between sprints. These two physical systems can be developed and improved but like all training you need to push the system to its limits to get improvements.

I am a firm believer that most racers don’t go hard enough on their hard days and easy enough on their easy days. Most racers like to ride, but this does not help the Anaerobic Glcolysis or Creatine Phosphate system. Long rides are great for developing the Oxidative Phosphorylation system (Aerobic system). Your hard days need to be puking hard and your easy days need to either off of the bike or riding with your girlfriend. Training should be hard so your races are easy!

Ride Hard