My first Criterium Race, beginner perspective.

Discussion in 'Road Cycling' started by Deafwolf, Jul 6, 2010.

  1. Deafwolf

    Deafwolf New Member

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    First, thank you everyone who have posted information about criterium racing. I was extremely nervous and apprehensive going to my first one. It was not that bad.

    I raced at the weekly crit race at Great Irvine Park, once the El Toro Marine Base. It’s a 1.5 mile course around the tarmac. The turns are not that bad. I had about 30 minutes to ride the course and warm-up prior to the start. There were 5 turns to the right and 1 turn to the left. In the Cat 4/5 group, we had about 35 riders. I started and stayed pretty much in the middle. It didn’t start too fast, but quickly picked up speed. Riding in the peloton, I found I was rolling with ease, and fast! I actually stopped pedaling and was still moving forward relative to the other riders. I can say I felt good holding my line on the straights, working my way into small gaps that opened and no one else was taking them. But the turns were more challenging to navigate. On the third turn I found myself in the unfortunate position of the inside on the turn. I had to slow and carefully watch other riders while controlling my own turn. Mind you, we were going into the turn at 23-24 mph. That action moved me to the back end of the pack. Then another turn came up quickly, maybe 200 meters from the 1st. That was when I failed to accelerate hard enough to keep up, and thus, I was dropped from the group. And once the wind and air catches you, there is no catching up. I lasted 7 minutes before I was dropped. Very unspectacular, but I learned a lot in just that first race. And I was allowed to continue riding after being dropped. On a side note, I noticed my hands and feet were getting numb ¾ of the way through. My total distance for the ride over 50 minutes was just over 15-miles. Yet when I do a distance ride of 39 miles, I don’t have that problem. Any thoughts?

    So that was my experience with my first crit race. If any of you are feeling apprehensive about trying a crit race for the first time, just go, and be sure to tell the people where you register that it is your first time. I found everyone to be quite friendly. Please ask questions and offer comments. If I had to offer one strategy from what I learned, that corner that you want to take slow because either you are turning into the wind or a slight elevation, that is where you need to accelerate and accelerate hard. If you can keep up, you’ll get a chance for fatigue recovery on the straight.
     
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  2. 64Paramount

    64Paramount Active Member

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    Good write up, Deafwolf and congrats on your first race! :cool:

    It sounds like you gained some very good experience.

    The hand and foot numbness you experienced was probably caused by tensing up during the excitement of the race, hopefully some other more racing experienced riders can comment further on that issue....
     
  3. genedan

    genedan New Member

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    7 minutes in the pack is not bad for a first time, especially in a 4/5 race since these races are more challenging than a regular cat 5.

    Cornering was the first weakness I noticed my first time and it seems like it's the same for you. It's kind of scary but you can lean the bike over a lot more than you think, although admittedly this is still one of my own weaknesses. Also, do not wait to long to accelerate. The more you wait, the more you will slow down, and you will have to put in more energy to get back up to speed.

    On your regular rides it's not a problem because you tend to slow down to a point where you know you can corner safely. In order to get better at cornering you need to practice it specifically. I find that places where you can do a lot of 90 degree turns at speed are good for practice. I think a big empty parking lot is good, it even gives you real-course practice because lots of crits are held in and around parking lots.

    You should realize that you will fall down at some time in the future. It's unpleasant but it'll probably happen with enough miles. When you fall in a corner you will learn the limits to how much you can lean, or how fast you can go through a corner.

    As for the hands going numb, I feel that when I do really hard intervals in my training. When I go really hard I noticed that I tend to contort myself so it's probably tensing like the previous poster said. Just relax... a good thing to check is your jaw. If you are clenching your teeth, most likely the rest of your body is tense. Relax the jaw and the rest of the body will follow.
     
  4. taniwha

    taniwha New Member

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    Good effort there, it's always a very steep learning curve at the first crit.
    I'd second what 64Paramount said about the numbness. In a race you will subject yourself to all sorts of pressures that you never encounter in riding and training. That is particularly true in crits, where the intensity is extremely high.
    I'd wager that a good part of the hand numbness was a mix of nervous tension and fear, with a very tight grip on the bars as a result. Possibly you were also riding in a position that you don't train in, eg deep in the drops. Either way that extra tension will manifest itself somehow.
    I suspect that the foot numbness is a similar type thing, maybe you were gripping with your feet or curling your toes.

    My suggestion would be two fold. One, as part of your normal training, when you are doing efforts and intervals ride in the position you raced in. Two, when you are racing mentally tell yourself to relax and loosen your hands.

    I would also add that as you race more you will adapt to the intensity and these niggles may well disappear.
     
  5. Deafwolf

    Deafwolf New Member

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    Thanks guys. I am riding the same crit again this Thursday (most likely today if you are reading this on the 8th). I don't own any gloves. That may be partially responsible for my hands. Last crit, I was riding as often as possible in the drops, but my stem is reversed such that it angles higher rather than lower. I did this for comfort when I first got fitted at the bike shop. I have put a fair number of miles in now. I think I am ready to reverse the stem to the other orientation, about 10 degrees down instead of up. I'll report in a new post afterwards.
     
  6. taniwha

    taniwha New Member

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    I'm guessing you are racing shortly, so this may not hit you in time.
    Gloves - one of the best bits of kit that you can have for crits. May not help with the numbness isuue, but if you hit the deck they can save the palms of your hands.
    I had a bit of a lie down in a crit in February, lost bark off the usual spots (hip and elbow), and tore the palm out of my right glove, but saved the palm of my hand.
    It's not the first time gloves have been my friend, and I wouldn't race without them.

    Good luck.
     
  7. cjohns33

    cjohns33 New Member

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    Deafwolf

    I'm considering doing a local crit. Its a cat 4/5 on a .8 mile loop on city streets. I just had a few questions (apprehensions?). What sort of regular training had you been doing previously? On the bike? Off the bike? And on a related note, what sort of bike did you ride? Currently I have a 21 speed "Triax". Its one of those ones from a store like Walmart or Target. Last summer, I put toe holsters on it and so far this spring have been riding as often as I can, usually 3 times a week a litle over ten miles, with a larger ride on the weekends. I'm also a collegiate swimmer so on top of the biking I'm doing two hour practices in the pool at least once a day. The race is at the end of June.

    Are there any things that you'd absolutely wish you'd known prior to doing the race? Did you have to get a permit or license to race?

    If anyone else has any other pointers please feel free to share!
     
  8. daveryanwyoming

    daveryanwyoming Well-Known Member

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    Some basic tips towards your first crit:

    - Try to ride more than 3 days per week, yes to some extent the swimming is cross training for basic fitness but in and of itself it won't prepare you for the speeds and bike specific fitness needed in a Cat 4/5 crit.

    - When you ride mix it up, but do some steady moderate to high intensity riding as in 15 to 20 minute stretches that are steady hard, require focus, get you breathing deeply and steadily but aren't all out gut busting efforts as well as some shorter quick efforts of a few minutes each to get used to higher speeds. Experiment with gearing and figure out how to get the bike moving fast (hint it's typically not the biggest gears that allow you to accelerate and ride fastest unless you happen to be going downhill perhaps with a big tailwind, get used to winding out easier gears in your training). Some days just get out and cover some distance to see how far you can go on your bike but try to ride 4 or 5 days per week on a regular basis and ideally for an hour or more per ride.

    - Practice fast cornering using the whole road. If you don't have safe backroads that make this possible then find a big empty parking lot with no cars and practice fast cornering where you ride up to the corner on a wide and straight line, dive through the apex of the turn by leaning the bike over and sweep wide on the exit of the turn. That's how you'll need to corner in a fast crit, you won't ride like we typically do on urban training rides by hugging the bike lane near the curb and slowing down to make the corner, you'll blast up to the corner and use the whole road to dive through fast maintaining speed and that takes practice.

    - Ideally find a group ride that you can join between now and the race to get used to riding close to others and drafting safely off their wheels. You won't stand a chance in your first crit if you can't draft in close quarters and ride in the group. The race is a tough place to try to learn those skills so ask around at the local bike shops for group rides that are open to new riders that you can join to learn these things. This will also teach you how fast experienced riders actually ride which can be an eye opener if you've done most of your riding alone. Don't be discouraged if folks seem really fast, that comes with time training and experience and everyone starts somewhere.

    - Once in the race understand that the first few laps will feel impossibly fast. It's always that way in a competitive crit. You need to get started quickly and get into your pedals as quickly as you can so that you can stay with the group or your race will be over before it starts. The good news is that things settle in after the first few laps so if you can survive that far you'll have a chance to go the distance. The last few laps will again be ridiculously fast as folks start setting up for the sprint, expect it.

    - Many if not most riders struggle in their first few crits, it's just a very fast, very technical form of road racing that demands certain kinds of fitness and certain kinds of skills. But we all started at some point and all rode our first few crits before figuring out the game and getting better results. So don't get discouraged if things don't go as well as you'd hoped in your first race.

    - Other important tips, pay attention to where you are relative to others and protect your front wheel. That means not riding closely overlapped next to another rider's rear wheel where you'll be the one to crash if they swerve a bit. Give yourself some room to one side or the other and ideally don't overlap wheels or if you must overlap another rider try to get far enough forward that your handlebars are even with the other rider's hips so that you can fend them off if they swerve over into you.

    - Don't over react to small movements of other riders. A lot of beginner racer crashes happen when someone over reacts, swerves hard for a minor event and causes a crash so protect the space around your front wheel but don't twitch or slam your brakes for every movement of other riders. The group riding practice will help tons here.

    - Try really hard to stay off your brakes at all times. If the group slows dramatically or you're rapidly running up on other riders you'll have to at least feather your brakes of course but otherwise don't touch them. Many beginning crit riders work much harder than they have to because they're nervous and brake for every turn then have to sprint hard to stay with the group when they could have just coasted through the turns at speed and saved a ton of effort.

    - Ride a straight and predictable line at all times. You move around in groups by sliding along diagonals not jerking hard left or right when you see an opening.

    - Use your gears wisely. If the group slows for corners or a headwind stretch or after a couple of fast laps then downshift to easier gears or you'll be stuck having to jump up out of the saddle and pound your overly large gears back up to speed when the group accelerates. You've got a bunch of gears on your bike so use them and downshift for any slowing, use leg speed to accelerate back up to speed when the group surges or when coming out of corners then shift back up into your bigger gears once up to speed and rolling with the group.

    Mostly get out and find some other folks to ride with as soon as you can and learn how to ride in a group.

    Good luck,
    -Dave
     
  9. swampy1970

    swampy1970 Well-Known Member

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    Lots of good stuff from Dave but one thing that I'd add to that and something that Deadwolf said he didn't have...

    Mitts. Always wear mitts. Sooner or later you'll hit the deck and it's one thing to take the skin of your shoulders, back, hips and ass but having road rash across the palms of your hands sucks - or so I've heard second hand because quite frankly I just not silly enough to ride without my mitts. Taking the skin off the back of the hands is bad enough.

    As for clothing - wear an undershirt too, unless it's really really hot - like 100+F. It helps slightly should you slide semi-gracefully across the floor but don't expect miracles.

    As Dave said, get lots of group riding in. One of the key points here is being able to keep your distance pretty close to the rider infront without having to keep looking at their back wheel. Being a foot or less to the back wheel will keep you nicely in the draft but if you keep having too look down you'll not be able to see what's happening a couple of riders infront which you need to be able to do to see when something happens - like someone attacking or someone falling off or braking hard.
     
  10. An old Guy

    An old Guy Member

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    A couple suggestions:

    1) gloves are nice in races where you might fall down.

    2) watch the upper Cat racers race the course. No sense in learning technique from a bunch of beginners (Cat 4/5s). (Watch how they pedal through the corners. Watch their lines through the corners.)

    A couple observations:

    1) the guys at the front of races tend to be the guys who are at the front of the local weekend fast rides. The guys in the middle are the guys who sit in on the local weekend rides. The guys having trouble keeping up are the guys who have trouble on the local weekend rides. The guys at the front are the guys who determine who wins.

    2) it is much easier to race if you are one of the stronger guys in the field not one of the weaker guys. Being smart does not get you very much.

    3) 23-24mph is not very fast. If you cannot sit in at 23-24mph on a crit course, you are not strong enough to do much in a race. Except to get dropped.
     
  11. tonyzackery

    tonyzackery Well-Known Member

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    Welcome to the wide and woolly world of crit racing.

    You are absolute newb, so understand where I'm coming from in my advice. I'd have different advice for a more seasoned cyclist who was interested in getting involved in crit racing.

    You will get dropped in first race, but don't despair or give up - if bike racing is something you're truly interested in. As mentioned above, the pace for the first few laps will be furiously fast - so fast that you won't believe it. Your anaerobic endurance is probably relatively poor, so you won't last very long in the crit. Once you're done, hang around and watch some of the upper categories. You'll learn a few things about bike handling.

    You have aerobic fitness via swimming, but you don't have cycling fitness - very different demands on your metabolic and muscular systems. Don't expect much in the way of transfer.

    Your bike (Walmart special) is a detriment - even for a beginning racer. You're gonna have to upgrade into something that at least comes with 700c size wheels - NEVER seen these in Walmart or Target.

    Helmet - check.
    Gloves - check. Never seen a race where there isn't a probability of crashing - even in TTs, so gloves are mandatory (for me anyway - I wear full fingured gloves 95% of the time).
    Suggest you check-in the toe clips and get some clipless pedals/cleats and real cycling shoes at your earliest opportunity. It'll take a week or so until you get not-even-think-about-it comfortable with them. Keep that in mind relative to your crit race date.

    Training wise, I'd suggest you ride as hard as you can for as long as can. Rest a day, and then repeat your next time out. Because you're a total newb to cycling and riding only 4x/week, riding at any pace slower than your hardest for the 10 miles will be of absolutely no benefit in getting you prepared for your race that's quickly coming up. You need to build your threshold power. 10 mile TTs on your training days will go a long way towards increased your power at your threshold. Your longer ride on the weekend should be at leisurely pace.

    Get involved with a cycling club in your area. Benefits, to name a couple, are group rides and parts or a bike at a reduced prices.

    There are many things we can tell you to do on this forum (some good advice noted above), but the main thing to think about in your first race is stay safe with your eyes and ears wide open. DO NOT HAVE A DEATH GRIP ON YOUR BARS! Try to stay relaxed and keep to the back of the group with some distance. You will get the benefit of the draft back here - I'd say about 3 feet behind the wheel in front of you. The course doesn't sound technical (.8mile loop), so being in the back won't be such a detriment. I say stay in the back because you can get better perspective of the group racing dynamics from the rear.

    You'll learn MUCH more from your first race by understanding you're going into this for the learning aspect more than the competitive aspect. Last thing I would want you to do is to think you can hang with the front guys and cause a wreck taking out yourself and others. Good luck - and keep the rubber-side down...
     
  12. Deafwolf

    Deafwolf New Member

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    Hey CJohns,
    Glad to hear you are getting inspired. What these guys are saying is all true... here are a few things I would like to add.

    Drafting: a rule of thumb that works well for me, the distance between your front wheel and the rider's rear wheel in front of you should be about the same distance as the diameter of one wheel.

    The bike. Don't fret about the bike right now. You will need to get something better eventually, and we will help you with sizing and brand, and shopping suggestions later. The first thing you need to do is fall in love with it. I totally got dropped for the first 4-6 races. But I got stronger each and every time. When I did I fall in love with it? Right from the first moment of effortless rolling in the draft.... that serene feeling of the wind being completely absent, the road rolling so smoothly below my tires... and when I stopped pedaling, I was still advancing within the group.

    A tip I wish I knew:
    Two actually.

    1: The accelerations happen at the corners.. every corner... so you may or may not slow going into the turn... so lower you gear to a lighter setting by one notch going into the turn.. then halfway through the turn, click up to one heavier gear and pedal hard.. because the group is going to thrust forward... with or without you.

    2: Cornering. To turn effectively, you need to know how to corner.. there is a youtube video that does a fairly decent job of explaining the concept. If you need the link, let me know. along with that, you are going to hear people yelling, "Hold your line!" Erratic riders cause accidents to happen. The predictable rider, going in a smooth line... that is the one people can ride behind and pass safely when appropriate.

    As you continue, you'll learn how riders communicate with each other, and how to know the courtesies of racing... we all want to be safe.. and learn how to be an observant racer too.

    Go race, try the ride and feel the draft. Have a great experience.. then let your feelings decides... Fear is natural for the first few times.. It will pass.
     
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