Criterium Last Lap Tactics

First you must understand that the last lap is completely different from all other laps in the race. The last lap is anarchy and chaos compared to the nice and orderly previous laps during the criterium.  I will lay out a few strategies that you can use to win.  These strategies are mainly appropriate for categories 5, 4, and 3 races.  In higher level races, team tactics are much more of a factor.

You have choices for the last lap, and you must decide before the race or during the race what you are going to do.  You don’t leave your race winning strategy to chance.  Here are some that I like:
  • Last Lap Attack – This is great for those of you that have the ability to do a high power kilo type solo effort.  Many times just before the last lap starts there is a slight hesitation by the field.  If you can jump hard, you can get a gap.  This tactic requires a complete dedication to maximum pain, but you just need to make it to the line before you die.  You will have to be fully dedicated to cornering at full speed and pedaling though at full power.  The field will be chasing you down but if they hesitated, you might be able to hold them off.  This works well if you have the ability to suffer for a full lap.  You don’t look back during this type of effort, you need to be fully committed that you are going to win.
  • Position for the Sprint - Once you know the race is going to come down to a sprint, you need to start position yourself at the front but not at the front, i.e do not pull the field around…period.  If you want to have a chance to win, you need to work backward from five laps to go.  With 5 to go, it is key to get yourself to the top 10 within the field, and then fight to stay there.  Most races will have a push, where people are trying to move up, attack, or lead out the finish.  Once you are in the top 10 you need to fight to stay there, and it is a fight.  Sprints takes huge guts and nerves.  It is an experience and aggressiveness thing.  Everyone is trying to get on the wheel, move up, fight for position, etc… you need to fight, i.e. move some off of the wheel you want, not be afraid to bump elbows, etc….it will happen.   It is much easier when the pace is fast because there is more room,  when the pace is slow the pack will go gutter to gutter, and this is when you can loose or gain your position (but also a good time to use the tactic above).  There will surges from the left and the right, etc….  this will happen for next few laps.  Keep pushing yourself into position, don’t give up your wheel and fight to push for the wheel that you want.  During the race or watching the finish of the races before your race, you need to figure out where you want to be at the last corner.   If the line is close to the finsh, you will want to be #1 or #2 position out of the corner.  If the finish is a long way, then you will want to be #4 or #5 position out of the corner.  Make sure that you are in your sprinting gear as you come off the corner, and then let it fly.
  • Lead out a team mate – Your job is to get him to the last corner in first place so that he can win the sprint.  You are completely dedicating yourself to lead out your Mario Cipollini.
  • Just ride it in – only used if you attacked, and attacked, or were in a breakaway earlier in the race and you are spent!

Knowing what to do and doing it are two very different things.  It really is a completely different race during the last lap, but you learn what will happen by being there and going for it.  It is the only way!

Ride Hard

Steve