Criterium Tips with Curtis Tolson
Spring flowers, warm sunshine and the smell of embrocation fills the air. It can only mean one thing: Crit Season is here. As base season gives way to more intensity, it’s time to rev the engines. However, a big engine means nothing without proper technique and tactics, so we sat down with criterium guru, 2 time masters world champion, 42 time masters national champion, and head of the Texas Roadhouse team, Curtis Tolson for his tips for putting yourself in the best position to use your fitness for top results in the coming season.
1) Get good starting position
The high speed and frequent corners of criteriums make working your way through the group to the front a challenge. If you can avoid having to do so by being in the front as early as possible, you’ll eliminate this extra energy expenditure. If you happen to start in the back of the field, move up as quickly as possible to the front quarter of the field. The less time you spend in the back, the better. Be sensible & move up as race eases. Don't try to wholesale pass a single file line that is going full bore.
2) Hold good position throughout race
Races are won at the front, as the saying goes. In criterium racing, there is a frequent and violent rubber band effect for those at the back of the group as the peloton decelerates and accelerates in and out of each corner. Those at the back have an accentuated effort to hold the wheels and get on terms with the front of the group that is often already at full speed, while in the back they may still be breaking to enter the turn. Be toward the front and protected from the wind to save the most energy for the race finale.
3) Race to your strengths
Do you have a particularly strong sprint? Do you have a large, strong team? Work with your coach, team director, and teammates to identify where your strong points are and how you can exploit different situations out on the road that are beneficial to your unique characteristics as a rider and the resources available to you and your team.
Cornering is not only about going as fast through the corners as possible. There are numerous lines and strategies to take the corners to maximize your advantage or minimize your disadvantage. If you are able to recognize situations out on the road and master 3 or 4 different cornering techniques, you’ll be able to better manage the group dynamics and stay in good position throughout the race and into the finale. The more speed you carry through the turns, the less you have to accelerate down the next straight.
5) Finish strategies
Races can be broken down into sections: The start, middle, set-up, and finish. While it’s unlikely you can contest the finish if you don’t ride the first ¾ of the race properly, it is a shame to throw away all the work that got you in a position for a result by not planning and executing a finish strategy. Properly executing the finish ties into racing to your strengths, such as the type of sprint that will suit you best given the conditions (ie. headwind, long sprint, etc.) Make sure you have a flexible plan that you can adapt on the fly so you’re ready to launch a devastating final effort.