How to Win a Criterium – Have Faith in Your Teammates and Your Plan by Chris Cain

Let’s get one thing out of the way: There is no one way to win a criterium. We do not have a one-size-fits-all formula for winning this sort of cycling race. Or any race. The fact that we do not know how it will turn out is what makes sport exciting. It takes hard work and sometimes years of training. There are a million things that go into racing, from fitness and form to training and tactics. All I can speak to is how I won my last race. But before I get into how I won my last criterium, I should first say exactly what I am talking about. 

Criterium races consist of several laps around a closed circuit, often about a mile per lap. These races are shorter–and more intense–than cycling road races, usually about an hour in length. They are characterized by sharp turns with racers taking aggressive lines. Races often come down to a bunch sprint but can also end with a successful breakaway. These races are fast and dynamic. 

So how did I win? 

Let me set the stage. Last Sunday I lined up with two teammates and a few dozen of my closest freinemies. The Masters Racing (35 + age group) competition in Northern California is replete with former professionals, state and national cycling champions. I race against guys who can win with a solo effort or a bunch sprint. After racing against them for a couple years I know there are a number of dangermen in the group. It is always competitive. 

Sunday was no different. 

My teammates and I had a plan: Two of them would take turns covering moves and breakaway attempts while I saved my legs for the final sprint. It’s a simple plan that requires everyone play their part. 

And that’s exactly what happened. For the majority of this races my two teammates were away in a small breakaway. I was able to catch a free ride all the way until the catch, just 10 minutes before the finish. By that time the field was depleted, the strongest riders had “burned matches” chasing my friends. Even my competition for the sprint had been punished with the constant chasing and unrelenting crosswind. And that was my time to go. 

I found myself in the final breakaway of the day, a three-man move with one teammate and one competitor. My teammate and the competition did almost all of the work. Again I got a free ride. With one turn to go I launched my sprint, railing the last turn and sprinting the 200m to the line for the win! My teammates secured third and fourth place for the day. 

So what’s the secret?

For me, it is team tactics. Have a plan and stick to it; if you are the protected sprinter then you need to stay protected. Have confidence in your teammates and believe in your plan. It’s a team sport. 

Thanks to my teammates for letting me take the win. And thanks to Tifosi Optics for making the awesome sunglasses we wore all race. 

Until next time, 

Chris 

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