First real crit, really need advice on tactics and sprinting!

lara fara

New Member
Jan 27, 2011
[SIZE= medium]I did my first real crit yesterday against B grade elite women’s (Brisbane race), for some reason i thought they may not be too strong but they were pretty damn fast and the A grade women were on at the same time and our laps times were just as fast as theirs. I held on the whole time, my average heart rate was 179 for the 35 minutes... so pretty high as I am used to triathlon and would normally aim for around 174 average for say a 40k time trial. The average speed was 38.6kph. [/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]The main problem I has was that i just didn’t know what to do in the race. I just sat on the back pretty much the whole time (even out in the wind quite a lot), it seemed really hard to get in the middle or at the front (i did one turn on the front) and i couldn’t tell what was really going on. I was a bit fearful of being aggressive and just grabbing wheels because I didn’t want to crash or seem like i was riding like an idiot. I am absolutely fine riding in a fast bunch, but a race is completely different. I am doing another one in two weeks and now i know how hard it is i know what to be prepared for but i need some basic help on even just how to sit in the pack more and whether or not i should deliberately avoid turns on the front. I really don’t want to just sit on again, and i was also putting myself out in the wind, i know now that these girls are strong but it was still totally manageable for me, they didn’t have the extra speed that they guys i ride with have that can often cause me to get dropped. Are there some rally basic tactics i could use right from the start just to get me in the bunch. I couldn’t tell if they were swapping turns or what, but it definitely seemed like a few of them were in control. [/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]Also, i was also wondering about this: My boyfriend (stowy) did the male B grade race which was also really full on for him, and we had very similar average heart rates (his was 181 though, mine 179) but he was getting his up over 190! It even hit 197 in the sprint, i seem to get mine to 186-188 max, i have had it at 194 from running but on the bike it doesn’t seem to get that high, am i just being soft or is it because he has stronger legs so he can keep pushing for longer, whereas my legs die before my heart rate reaches 190? It seems that getting to a really high heart rate will make me more able to get into the middle of the sprint and not at the back. I also had a compact cassette so i think i didn’t really have enough gears, but i’m not sure because it all happens so quick. [/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]So it seems like the two things i needed for that race were A) getting myself in some kind of position for the whole race, not at the back and B) being able to get my heart rate up really high for the accelerations and sprinting. [/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]We were shown this sprint circuit for training where we sprint up small hills (its a circular course with a series of rises) is that a good idea or should i just practice winding up on the flat? The hill seems good because it forces you to suffer.[/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]Also, when sprinting, do i need to practice doing it starting at a heart rate of 180 (to emulate the race) or is it ok to do it from say 160bpm?[/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]Any help on race tactics/ sprinting and how hard i should go would be much appreciated, at the moment all the race is for me is a training session but if i am going to do them i may as well do them properly, and i obviously have the fitness and strength just no race experience. [/SIZE]

[SIZE= medium]Lara [/SIZE]
I think that your experience is pretty typical for a first time racer. And actually, the fact that you didn't get dropped despite your sitting on the back for most of the race, is pretty impressive. You definitely want to learn how to position yourself better. Basically, close to the front (so as not to suffer from the accordian/yo-yo effect out of the corners), but not on the front. You want to protect yourself from the wind as much as possible. You also want to ride predictably. A lot of this can't be taught, you just have to get out there, try it, and see how it goes, and figure out what to do differently next time. It seems you are already doing that. Another adage is not to do any work that doesn't benefit you. So, if you don't have teammates in the field, don't do work at the front. If you want to attack the field and try to get away, get a good "jump" so you open up a quick gap on the field making everyone else have to work to catch you. The key to sprinting is being positioned well coming out of the final corner. Even if you have a powerful sprint, it won't do you much good if you start your sprint from the back of the pack.
Congrats on your first crit, definitely a different beast than TTs or triathlons with the pack dynamics and cornering. A couple of thoughts:

- Don't set HR based goals for riding a crit and definitely don't try to compare HR across two riders. Your heart responds as it needs to and while many folks have found ways to use HR to guide training and even racing steady events like solo time trials it's really the wrong thing to pay attention to in a crit. You also really shouldn't compare HR between any two riders but definitely not across genders and body sizes. I've raced in team time trials where there was 50 or more bpm difference in average HR between four relatively well matched team mates who all took pulls and stayed together. Point is heart rates are very individual things and you can't really say that you or stowy were necessarily working harder relative to your capabilities based on HR alone.

- Getting further forward is the first and most important thing you need to work on. Crits are much, much easier when ridden in the first eight to ten riders for the entire race. The pace is steadier, the cornering is much smoother and everything is much safer when up near the front. Tail gunning as you did is really hard in a big field and it says really good things about your fitness that you were able to hang on back there. But make the next one easier by getting further forward and paying attention at all times so that you stay there. Pass two people for every person that passes you and don't get complacent and filter back through the field. Yes take enough pulls to maintain your forward position, but just enough pulls and just hard enough to achieve your goals. Don't refuse to pull through or slow way down when your time comes to go to the front or the group will stall and you'll get swarmed on all sides by folks taking advantage of the lull. That's a quick way to both find yourself at the tail end of the field again and to get the leaders fired up to bury you in future races. So do your share of the work, no more and no less than is necessary to maintain your forward position or to play out a tactical advantage.

- Times to hammer it include when you find yourself in a forward group with a gap on the field and you have a chance at making a break stick or putting a little extra into your pulls to keep the pace moving and to discourage attacks or towards the end when any softening of the pace will surely mean a pack swell and losing positions. But in general pull no harder than the others unless it serves you or your team mates interests but pull no less than the others if you don't want to find yourself falling back towards the rear of the group where everything will get harder.

- After a short solid pull don't drift back any further than necessary. This isn't a group ride where you're expected to fade to the tail end of the group. It's a race and as long as you're doing your share of the work most folks will be happy to let you get back in near the front. As soon as you finish your pull and swing off the point start looking under your arm for a place to slide back into the group. Sometimes you've got to sort of 'back in' on a diagonal to make space. Don't do anything abrupt or dangerous but be assertive and find a wheel in the first eight to ten riders as quickly as you can. One reason to avoid pulling to your absolute limit is because it might take you a minute or more of hard riding out in the wind just pacing the front riders before a suitable hole opens up. If you're wasted from too hard or too long of a pull then you'll likely go all the way to the back before finding an open wheel to jump on and then you're gonna have to work real hard picking riders off one or two at a time to get back to the front.

- If you do fade further back then planned then immediately start looking for opportunities to advance. That might be as simple as pedaling deeper into the turns and picking off one rider each corner as many folks coast and brake more than necessary and basically give away positions. It might mean capitalizing on a short lull in the action to move up half a dozen or more spots but immediately start looking for opportunities to advance and be ready to jump on them when they appear. Unless you're very near the end of the race or a major split occurs you don't want to advance a lot of positions when the pace is flat out. If the group is moving top speed then a big passing move means you're moving much faster and spending big matches from the high power effort it will take to pass that fast. Do it if you must but realize you'll pay a big price for moves like that so try hard to pick off a rider here or two there or only pass a lot when things slow down.

- Sprinting is an entire subject of its own but most lower category rides suffer much more from positioning issues than actual sprinting issues. Sure do some sprint workouts with Stowy, do some leadouts and sprint for city limit signs but the best thing you can do to improve your sprint is to learn how to stay near the front and develop the high speed sustainable power necessary to defend your position near the front through the final laps so that you can come out of those final bends in the first two or three riders. Once you can do that sucessfully your chance of winning a sprint become much better. Far too many inexperienced racers come out of the final turn twenty or more riders deep and then complain that their 'sprint' needs work. It might, but no way to know unless they can at least position themselves such that they have a chance to win the sprint.

Good deal on your first crit, but I'd work on riding more assertively and nearer to the front. Sounds like your fitness is solid and you should be able to do that by really focusing on the task at hand and knowing that you really want to be near the front of the race. There's plenty of specific training drills you can do to improve particular aspects of your crit fitness and end game but start with the basics, ride up front and do just enough work to maintain your position up there but don't tow the whole field around for the whole race either.

Good luck,
[edit] Seems CalicoCat beat me to the punch with a much more succinct summary but yeah, what he said!
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That's really great advice, I think you both are totally spot on, its not necessarily the sprint becuase if i am not up there anyway i'll still be sprinting on my own, I will really have to work on staying close to the front, its wierd becuase the only other crits i have done have been local ones and in those i have been on the front the entire time so this one was a bit of a shock when i realised that thes girls were not mucking around. So now i have been initiated and know what to expect i can try these strategies. Stowy beleives that it is my bike skills that truly let me down, which would be why i was so unable to move in and sit on wheels and be close to other riders, I am going to do some work on cornering and also riding a lot closer to other riders especially around corners. I do also find that it's easy in theory but once the hammer is down and the heart rate is sky rocketing and the legs are screaming it is hard to think tactically, but i guess that is part of the challenge and learning to stay calm and think logically when under such stress will be a big bonus.

Yesterday was really a survival game for me, i didn't know at the start if it was going to get even harder than it already was, but they pretty much kept it the same tempo the whole race. If you looked at Stowy's mens B grade race data in sports tracks copared to mine, his speed and HR was a lot more varied, my race was more steady state but HR was over 178 the whole time i think! as it was the first race in a series of 3, and there is another one next weekend that i am not doing, but i am doing the 3rd and final one, it might be even harder in the last one! But i am assuming that most of the girls were probably going as hard as they could so I doubt they will be able to be too much faster, but it could be a bit more boisterous. I'll try my best to not be on the back the whole time, and obviously the threat of being dropped still remains, I'd really love to know how much the otehr riders were suffering and if they were working as hard as i was. I have defnitely learnt a lesson about my previous beleif that the girls (esp B grade) wouldn't be that fast, but i have done lots of hard bunch rides with A grade guys up here on the coast and they are faster for absolute sure, but these girls were really fast too! At least i got a good workout, i would have been dissapointed if it was easy.

i am looking forward to this stage race that is coming up in April because there is a time trail, a road race and a crit which will give me some variety as i think if anything, crit would be my weakest of the three.

I think you are right too. Larafara is a very strong girl, but she used too much energy up sitting on the back and often in the wind. You need to learn to work with the group, not do too much work but just be in it, this will really save your legs.

I learned from my race as well, you really have to be in the right spot coming into the last few laps, especially last 1/2 a lap, to be able to contest the sprint. I don't think my sprint was that bad, I still will work on it, but given i was already working hard to get in position for the last km or so, when the sprint wound up I was on the outside on my own sitting in about 10th spot coming around final corner with about 200m to go. I think I was lucky to get 9th!

With this in mind, does anyone have any advice as to how to get yourself in that top 5-7 riders in the last lap / 500m? It was a real struggle! Also, in terms of building top sprinting speed, just do lots of sprints, is that the only way to go?

I think we both have much to learn!
There are basically three ways to get yourself up front on the final lap of a fast crit:

- Get team mates to sacrifice themselves to put you there and keep you there. To make this work consistently you'd better be all lined up and pretty near the front with two to three laps to go and then those team mates are going to have to bury themselves and almost certainly sacrifice their own podium chances to keep you up there. This rarely works unless you have a very well organized team and most riders have to win several races without the benefit of strong team support before anyone is likely to make the necessary sacrifice for them. IOW, until you've earned a few wins on your own power and savvy it's very unlikely a team mate will give it their all for your benefit no matter what team mates and friends say before the race. Unless you've got a well organized team with strong team leadership it's rare that low to mid category amateurs will make the necessary sacrifices.

- Ride opportunistically and play the cagey game hoping to attach yourself to the right wheels to keep you forward for the final laps. Real crapshoot with this strategy but it's what most low to mid category riders do at the end. They play a wait and see game trying to do minimum work and hoping to find the right wheel and the right openings to keep them up front while doing everything in their power to avoid sticking their noses in the wind. It can and does work but it's a real gamble and it's a big part of the reason so many lower category races end up with a big pile of bikes and bodies in the final meters as everyone tries their hardest to avoid doing any work and then everyone suddenly thinks they're Cavendish as they come out of the final corner and go balls out in a wall to wall bunch sprint. If the pack isn't strung out coming out of the final bends (which is what happens when there's no team leadouts and folks all wait for someone else to do the work) then riders ten, twenty or more riders deep start shooting through impossible holes, get tangled up and folks start hitting the pavement. Trouble is enough racers win or finish on the podium with this strategy that it's hard to say it doesn't work, it's just pretty random and pretty dangerous.

- Be willing to do some hard work during the race, especially as the finish approaches to keep yourself up front and in contention. Know that you'll spend some juice to defend your position but that your odds of having a clean shot at the finish line out of the final turn improves with the amount of work you do in the final laps. Sure don't simply go to the front and tow everyone around till they pass you in the sprint but ride with a less cagey and more powerful style to keep yourself where you need to be in the final laps. If you want to be in the top three of four riders out of the last bend then you'd better be one of the top five or so for the final lap and that means you'd better be in the top six to eight for the final two laps and no deeper than ten or so with up to three laps to go. IOW, you've got to earn the forward position with some hard work unless you're relying on either of the strategies described above. If you can't ride that far forward at speed against your competition then work on your end game including your five minute and one minute power to give you the top end necessary in the closing laps.

If you haven't done so already, buy a copy of this book:

In terms of dedicated sprint work. Try some leadout work where you wind it for a solid four or five hundred meters to the line and then jump hard in the final hundred to two hundred meters. Take turns being the leadout rider (good work for those final fast laps) and the sprinter but try as hard as you can to win the sprint from both the front and back positions. If you do some solo sprint work, try to find a descent with a flat sprint at the bottom. Use the downhill to get up to race speed without a lot of effort then nail the sprint for all you're worth to the line. Try to sprint for fixed objects like a certain sign or telephone pole or other marker rather than time so that you can teach yourself to wind it out and give full effort including a bike throw when you're maxed out. Try some variations of that by getting up to speed on a descent and then sprinting up a gradual incline that forces you to keep the power up for the entire sprint. Do some small ring sprints to empahsize leg speed as you wind it for all your worth. Lot's of ways to work on sprinting but always get good recovery between each sprint as in five to ten minutes of easy spinning and give absolutely everything on each sprint. Don't hold back and don't teach yourself to do mediocre sprints. Don't try to 'pace' sprints, hit those first few pedal strokes with everything you've got but then dig deep to wind it as fast as possible to the line.

Good luck,
Thanks Dave, that's great advice. Ordered that book today, seems like a good read. For anyone else reading this that want's some general race advice, i also found these articles which are really useful:

Crit season is well and truly upon us now, we really have an excess to choose from, one every week at least! Given how hard the Brissy one was, I'm not going to hold back on the local ones anymore, they seem so gentle in comparison! Just have to hope i'm not peaking too early, I want to build for a proper stage race in early may. Thanks for advice guys.

From my (very) limited experience - just hanging on the back has many disadvantages from "yo-yoing" as stated to getting tangled up in any crashes or bumping that happens further up in the pack.

I didn't read if you were riding with teammates in either lara fara's or stowys races? If so - work on a pre-race strategy to get up to the front by "re-creating" the front of the pack with your own lead-out or ride one by one to the front and take it over. Racing on your own in a crit is extremely tough when it comes to being up in the pack for the final sprint. Especially when you'll be going against 3, 4 or possibly more riders protecting the front. They will be able to send one fresh rider after another to pull with no room for you to fall in - and there you will be in the wind for the last lap - gassed at the final corner.

My limited advise - if it helps at all...?
A couple things to do in preparing for a race:

Bring a couple friends to ride with. If you cannot bring friends, make some before the race. No need for you to win with friends you make. Work for them. Let them win. Next time they might help you.

Look at the riders before the race. Assess their strengths. No sense in using brute force in a race if the riders are stronger than you.

Have a plan. It is difficult to make a plan during a hard effort. Know the plan well before the hard work starts.
Thanks guys.

Larafara is going to have a go at rolling through with the bunch. We have a couple of local crits here for her to practise in with some strong guys, so she'll give that a crack. I think if she gets some confidence she'll be fine. Just being part of the race should be her first goal.

For me, I'm going to work on being in the front 5-8 riders in the last few laps and staying there. If i can be in that position coming around the last bend I think i may have a chance of top 5. That's my goal for now, given i don't consider myself a sprinter, but i'm working on it.

Local crits I'll be more aggressive, try and soften the bunch a bit with regular attacks and trying to keep the pace high, I don't think they'll like that!! :)

Thanks for advice.

BTW, I got coggan and hunter 2nd ed yesterday, read a great deal already and there's heaps of great workouts and info on there to understand how to put this stuff together. Combined with 'the mountain biker's training bible' by joe friel that I have already, I think i've got a good understanding of what I need to be doing here. Would still rather have a coach if i could afford one though. PM comes first tho!

BTW, does anyone do 3 hard days in a row? Like AC/VO2 Tues, followed by LT Wed, and LT Wed? Is this trying for too much in a build period?