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What is a Criterium?

Dan Cavallari
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bicycle racing takes on many forms depending on the type of bicycle and the intensity of the race. Perhaps one of the most intense and spectator-friendly forms of road bike racing is the criterium – or crit, as it is called in cycling circles. The criterium takes place on a short course, typically on a few city blocks that have been closed to motor vehicle traffic. Courses are typically three miles or shorter, or less than 5 kilometers or shorter, and during the criterium racers do several laps around the course at high speeds. The course often includes challenging corners and short climbs.

The criterium is a much shorter version of a multi-stage road race, typically lasting forty five minutes to an hour. While structure may vary from race to race, a criterium usually has racers riding the course for a certain amount of time plus a set amount of laps – for example, forty five minutes plus five laps. The tempo of the criterium race picks up in the last few laps as racers position themselves for the final sprint.

In order to keep the rest of the race at a competitively high speed, racers will compete for prime laps, in which the winner of that particular lap will win a small prize or recognition. The prime lap in a criterium serves to ensure racers do not sit back and ride slow to save themselves for the final laps, and it also serves to sort out the different types of racers in the group: some racers will compete solely to win prime laps, while others will race for the overall win. Other racers may perform a "helper" function, aiding a teammate in his pursuit of the win.

A criterium race tests the racer’s ability as a bike handler. It is vital that a racer be able to handle his bicycle in tight and often dangerous situations with fellow riders in close proximity on all sides. Cornering ability is vital in a criterium race, as is jockeying for strategic positioning in the group throughout the race. Criterium racers must also be at the peak of physical fitness and possess an ability to go on the attack as well as chase when other riders attack. This dynamic makes for a physically intense race. Because the criterium race takes place on such a short, compact course, they are perfect for spectator viewing and have become extremely popular in the United States and throughout the world.

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Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Dec 04, 2011

I think it's fantastic that this kind of race is starting to become more and more popular. My sister does a lot of cycling and she's entered a couple of these, although she usually doesn't try to be too competitive.

She does it for the atmosphere and the camaraderie between the racers.

It seems to be rather addictive, but in a good way. It's a method of getting people to put in some daily exercise, with a kind of purpose.

I know that I find it difficult to fit in daily exercise just because it feels like there's no reason to do it. If you have a race in mind, you have a reason to go out there and get on your bike every day.

By croydon — On Dec 03, 2011

@pastanaga - Actually, in a way a criterium race can be even worse for this, as they usually have to corner very sharply several times along the track. Since the race is held in a city most of the time, there is no getting around the fact that city streets are usually made up of corner turns.

Turning in a pack would be extremely difficult.

But from what I can tell bike racing often has a rule against people traveling in packs as you say. It's being increasingly recognized as being very dangerous, just because it only takes one mistake by one person to injure a lot of other people.

So, anyone who tries to cycle too close to another rider might be penalized.

By pastanaga — On Dec 03, 2011

While this race does seem like it would be a lot of fun for the spectators it might end up being more dangerous for the riders.

One of the things I dread the most in competitive cycling is the fact that it is easier to ride along in a pack. Unless you are up the front of the group, you get the benefits of the others shielding you from wind and creating a slip stream that is easy to cycle through.

Which is why you often get groups of people cycling together in long distance races.

A criterium bike race seems like it would encourage this kind of thing, just because there wouldn't be all that much room to spread out anyway, and there is no real hurry until the last few laps so if you really wanted to win, you'd try to keep your strength up.

The problem is that these packs can often result in massive accidents. Just one person going the wrong way can cause a domino effect.

I guess it's a risk they are willing to take.

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
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