By Karen Brems, Masters World Cyclocross Champion 

Stretching is one of those things that everyone agrees they should do but when it comes down to actually doing it, they don’t. It’s kind of like flossing, I guess! It has to become a habit. It is difficult to commit to doing anything every day. Trying to do something every other day or every 3 days is much more doable. Stretching falls into this category: even 3 times a week is better than nothing. For me, after 12 years of gymnastics training, I just don’t feel right unless I stretch at least every couple of days (but even I don’t do it every day).

Stretching should be done when muscles are warm. The ideal time is after your ride. My personal experience is that stretching helps recovery.  I can’t prove this, but it seems that if I spend 5-10 min. stretching  after a hard ride, my legs don’t seize up quite as much 2-3 hours later especially if I have to sit for a long period of time. Of course, if you’re rushing back to work after your ride, this can be difficult.  Just remember, anything is better than nothing. If you shower at work, you can bring one of those foam pads used in aerobics classes to stretch on. Another important time to stretch is after your weight workout.  If you don’t lift weights and have no time to stretch after your ride, you can develop a 10-15 min. routine at home where you do sit-ups or crunches, pushups and then stretch.  You can do this after a hot shower to be looser.

The key to stretching is slow and steady pressure. Bouncing is bad.  Hold each position 20-30 sec. and then relax. Repeat 2-3 times. The key muscles to stretch for cycling are quads, hamstrings, gluts and neck. To stretch your hamstrings, the standard “hurdler’s” position stretch works well. To stretch quads, stand up and put one hand on a wall or other surface for balance. Lift one foot behind you and grab it with your other hand and pull your heel toward your butt. Your thighs should be parallel to each other. An advanced version of the quad stretch involves kneeling on one knee - say your left one. Put your right hand on the floor for balance. Grab your left foot with your left hand and slowly pull your heel toward your butt. Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor and your right calf perpendicular to it. To stretch your gluts, lie down on the floor on your back with your knees bent. Cross one leg over the other - say the right one. Your right ankle should be on your left knee with your right knee pointed sideways away from your body. Slowly bring your left knee up toward your chest with the right leg on top of it. To stretch your neck, look straight   ahead and tilt your head to one side - say the left. Put your left hand behind your head and pull your head slowly down, keeping the tilt. Do the   same thing with your head turned instead of tilted. Neck stretches can also   be done in the shower. Of course, all these stretches should be repeated   on both sides.

On a related note, you can also add a bit of self-massage to your stretching   routine. If you have knots, especially in your neck, shoulders or gluts,   you can use a tennis ball to work them out. To work on your gluts, lie down   on your side on the floor and put the ball under your hip. Slowly roll your   gluts over the ball, stopping and holding on especially tender spots. For   your back, neck and shoulders, stand up against a wall and put the ball   between you and the wall. Lean against it and roll over the ball.

Nobody has ever proven that stretching prevents injuries. However, everyone   agrees that stretching does increase range of motion. Cycling is not a sport   that requires a large range of motion, however crashing  sometimes does!   Also, achieving a low, aerodynamic position on the bike for time trialing   or any time you need to go fast on the flats, requires a lot of hip and   hamstring flexibility. Since cycling is in a limited range of motion, stretching   before a ride probably won’t help you much in terms of warming up.   You are better off waiting until after the ride when you are looser and   can stretch more effectively.


Effective Time Trialing

By Karen Brems, Masters World Cyclocross Champion 

In my opinion, time trialing is about 85% legs and lungs, 10% brain and 5% equipment. To train your legs, you need to do intervals of varying distance on a relatively flat or slightly rolling road (I use the Portola Valley Loop a lot), in your TT position. Time trialing requires both speed and endurance. To build speed, you need short intervals of 3-4 min. well above your race pace. and 5-10 min. intervals at or slightly above your race pace. To build aerobic power, do longer (15-20 min) intervals right around your anaerobic threshold (slightly below race pace). If your goal is to break an hour for a 40km TT (25mph) then try to work up to 3-4x15 min. @ 23.5 - 24mph. Do 8 min. intervals at 26-26.5 mph. Go 3 min. at 28mph. These are very difficult workouts if done correctly, so you need to be sure you are relatively fresh when you are doing them and recover afterwards. The rest interval should be such that you are recovered enough to put in a good effort on the next interval - roughly equal to the work interval when above threshold, 8-10 min for the long intervals.  A good way to gauge improvement is to do intervals of fixed distance and time yourself. Find a stretch of road that takes you approximately 5-10 min. to ride and time yourself on repeats on it. I used to do laps at Mission College for TT training. You also have to have a very good base fitness level before you start these. Motorpacing can also be an effective way of training for time trials, but it is difficult to find a driver and a place to do it. You can do things like 5 min. on, 10 min. off or 10 min. on, 5 min. off all behind the motor. You can also have the motor go a fixed speed, slightly higher than your goal race pace and alternate sitting behind it and coming around and riding next to it. As in all interval training, the shorter the interval, the faster you need to go for it to be effective. It is supposed to hurt!

To train your brain, you need to do a lot of time trials. You have to figure out exactly how hard you can go for a given distance. It is usually harder than you think! You should finish a TT with nothing left. If you can sprint at the end, you probably didn’t go hard enough. You are better off spreading that “sprint energy” over the last few km. A heart rate monitor is very useful here. Some people don’t like to watch their heart rate in a race as it can limit you. This is where a computer downloadable model is nice. Personally, I like to watch my heart rate during a time trial to make sure it doesn’t drop. I’m not afraid if it goes really high because those are usually my best time trials. Also, on a hilly course, you can make sure you don’t blow yourself up on the climbs. You do have to blow up sometime either in a race or in training because you will never find your limits unless you exceed them. When I have a good TT, my heart rate will settle in after about 5 minutes and remain constant within a beat or 2 until the last 1-2 km where I will take it up another 5 beats or so. When I am fit, I can time trial about 8-10 beats below my max. heart rate, which is well above my AT. There are conditions that will affect heart rate: in extreme heat, it will generally be several beats higher than normal and if you are fatigued, such as in a stage race time trial, it will be lower than normal. You also have to learn to maintain concentration for the entire duration of the race. This is where doing practice time trials helps. These can be relatively short - 15km - 20km.

You should also practice starts and turnarounds at least once or twice. If you have an opportunity to see the race course before the race, look at the turnarounds and ride them if possible on the bike you will race on. At least be certain where they are! Time trial bikes handle much differently than a road bike. At world’s in ‘94, there were 3 turnarounds and I did them all at least 3 times on the day before the race. You can easily loose a couple of seconds in a turnaround.

As far as equipment goes, in order of importance (and price) you should get:

1. Aero bars

2. Fast wheels: a rear disk and an aero front wheel (such as a Specialized Tri-Spoke, Spinergy, HED Jet, Mavic Cosmic etc.) is the fastest combination. A regular spoked front wheel with few spokes (18-24) is a good (and much less expensive) substitute.

3. A TT bike.

The biggest advantage of a TT bike is you can get a better position. It is very difficult to get low enough on a road bike. Time trial bikes with short head tubes and long top tubes top tubes make this possible. If you time trial on your road bike, you should lower your stem as much as possible. If you have an old road bike, you can set it up as a TT bike using a Look ergostem to get lower. You may have to move your saddle forward to avoid hitting your knees on your chest, thus requiring a longer stem. You can also put shifters on the aerobars which is a big advantage on technical, hilly or windy courses. Reaching down for a shift lever is very un-aerodynamic. Also, you will shift more often if it is easy, thus spending more time in optimal gears. Many people also use longer (by 2.5mm - 5mm) cranks and a bigger chain ring for time trials. On a flat time trial, weight is much less important than aerodynamics. (Most time trial equipment is fairly heavy.)

It is important to train in the position you will race in (save the fast wheels for the race though). You have to be comfortable on your aerobars. At the very least, put clip-ons on your road bike for your time trial workouts.

Finally, pay attention to details. Look at how your cables and computer wires are routed. If you have long hair, braid it or tuck it into your helmet. Wear a skinsuit. Buy or borrow a TT helmet if you can. Use shoe covers. Remove any extras from your bike such as water bottle cages. I used to carry a water bottle in TTs, just in case, but I found that even in a 40km TT, I never drank anything and it disrupted my breathing too much if I tried. Use lots of pins to make sure your race numbers are secure. Both Rebecca Twigg and I sewed our race numbers on our skinsuites at World’s.

In many cases, time trials (and stage races) are won and lost by only a few seconds. In ‘93, in the final 14 mile TT at PowerBar, I beat Eve Stephenson by less than 1/2 a sec.! Likewise, backing off or losing focus for even a few pedal strokes can cost significant time. Every pedal stroke, you have to ask yourself “am I going as hard as I possibly can for this distance?”




By Karen Brems, Master World Cyclocross Champion 

In general, the shorter and the more intense the event, the longer the warm-up.        For a long road stage in a stage race, I usually just pedal around fairly        easily for 20-25 minutes and count on using the first 15-20 km of the race        as warm-up. For a pursuit on the track,  I warm up for at least 1 1/2 hours        and include some maximal efforts.  One day road races, time trials and criteriums        fall somewhere in between.

The purpose of a warm up is not just to heat up your muscles, but  to activate        the physiological systems you will use in the upcoming  event. The most critical        warm-ups are those for times events where  you have to be ready to go at        maximal effort right from the start.  If I am doing a time trial or prologue        in the afternoon or evening,  I actually start my warm-up in the morning        with an easy 30-45 min.  spin. If I have been tapering, traveling or recovering        from the previous  race and have not gone hard for more than 2-3 days, I        actually start  my “warm-up” the day before the race by doing        some short efforts at  race intensity. Racers call this “opening up”      before a race.

The concepts I am addressing in this column are really most applicable  to        time trials, including track events, prologues and hill climbs.  People are        pretty individualistic as far as what they like to do for  a warm up. It        is a good idea to develop your own routine. This has  2 benefits: first,        you can figure out what makes you perform the best  and second, it can eliminate        pre-race nervousness and increase your  confidence level to do the same thing        you’ve done many times before.  You should not test out a new warm-up        in an important race. This is  one reason it is a good idea to do “practice”      time trials like the low key hill climbs.  Many racers prefer to warm        up on a stationary  trainer. There are a lot of benefits to this: it is a        controlled environment,  you don’t get a flat on your race wheels and        if the weather is cold  or rainy you can stay warm and dry. The biggest disadvantage        is that  if you are flying to races, lugging a trainer is a real pain! I        know  people who fit them in large Samsonite suitcases or garment bags. I      actually sort of prefer to warm up on the road if there is a good area available      or especially if I can warm up on the course. This way I can figure out        gear selections and make sure everything on my bike is working OK. In a        track event, I like to do a few laps at race pace to make sure I know how        it feels. Also, somehow everything hurts more on a trainer, so I sometimes        feel better about my upcoming performance when I warm up on the road. A        trainer is a good substitute though if you can’t warm up on the course.

The following is a sample TT warm up protocol based on heart rate  zones.        For reference:

Zone 1 =  HR < 65% max. HR
        Zone 2 = HR  65-72% max. HR
        Zone 3 = HR 73-80% max. HR
        Zone 4 = HR 84-90% max. HR
        Zone 5 = HR 91-100% max. HR 

Warm up:

20-25 min. easy on road

Trainer or road:
        5 min. Zone 3
        2 min. Zone 1-2
        5 min. Zone 3
        4 min. Zone 4
        3 min. Zone 2
        2 min. Zone 5
        3-5 min. Zone 1

Since the majority of the time in a time trial is spent above your  anaerobic        threshold, you want to activate this system in the warm up but ideally you        don’t want to load up your legs too much. The best  way to do this is        with very high rpms. This way you can elevate your  heart rate and while        your legs will still burn, they will not fatigue  as much as when you push        race gears. This is  a warm up you could  use for a longer TT. For a        pursuit or prologue, I usually split the  Zone 5 segment into 2 x 1 min.        all out efforts.

Be sure to leave enough time between your warm up and your start time to        get back to the start if you are on the road! You also want time for last        minute clothing and/or equipment changes such as putting  on your race wheels,        putting on a dry skinsuit (especially  if  you warmed up on a trainer),        putting on your aero helmet, shoe covers  etc. Ideally you can have rollers        or a trainer set up close to the  start so you can stay warm while waiting        to go. This is especially  necessary on the track where you don’t have        an exact start time.


Planning your Training

By Karen Brems, Master World Cyclocross Champion 

Planning an effective weekly, monthly or yearly training schedule  is something        that requires a fair amount of trial and error, but can  really pay off.       If two people follow exactly the same schedule,  they will not necessarily        achieve the same results. It is a good idea  to talk to other riders and        find out what they are doing as far as  training, but everyone has to figure        out for themselves what works  the best for them. Also, remember one workout        does not equal a training  program. Training is a package deal and everything        is cumulative. If you do a certain top rider’s favorite workout every        time you ride without any knowledge of what else is in their schedule, chances        are you will not receive the same benefits. Unless you are independently        wealthy or riding your bike for a living, your training  will be the        result of trade-offs with your “real” life. Each person has        to determine for themselves how many hours a week they have to devote to        cycling and make the most of them. To achieve the greatest benefits from        your training, you have to stress your body as much as possible and then      give it enough time to recover and adapt to the stress. Your rest periods      are actually when you grow stronger. As you grow stronger, you have to stress        your body more and more to continue the adaptation. If you do the same thing        every week all year, you will eventually just reach a performance plateau.        Stress is cumulative as well. Professional cyclists do a tremendous amount        of training and racing, but when they are not on their bikes, they are most        likely sitting or lying down somewhere relaxing or taking a nap (except        when they are traveling all over the world!). They also probably get 8-10        hours of sleep a night, a luxury most people trying to fit cycling in around        a full-time job and/or family life cannot afford.

When we are at national team training camp, we tend to do all our  training        in “blocks” : 2 days hard, one day easy, 3 days hard, 2 days        easy etc. Days of the week have no meaning. In “real life”,        however, I think it is easier to dedicate certain days of the week to certain        workouts. Most cyclist the world over sort of fall into a general plan during        the racing season of: race Sat and Sun, Mon. easy, train Tues.-Thurs., easy        Fri. If you use this plan, Tues. and Wed. should be your hardest workouts        since that is when you are freshest. When you are first starting out, you        may find that you can only go hard every other day. As you get fitter though,        you will have to start going hard 2-3 days in a row to continue the adaptation.       You should always keep at least one day a week completely easy.

You can then put the weeks together to form monthly blocks. I find  that        a schedule of  3 weeks hard, one week easy works well for  me. That        means that approximately once a month, I will take at least  4-5 days in        a row very easy. Where you fit these “rest weeks” in can  depend        on your race schedule or other obligations. For example, if  you know that        because of your job, you will not be able to train much  a certain week,        schedule that as your easy week and go as hard as you can the few weeks        before it. There have been times when I felt like I didn’t need the        “rest week” and skipped it, but I almost invariably  regretted        it later... I also find that in general, I ride the best  the 2nd week of        the block. After more than 1-2 days of easy riding,  you may become “blocked”.        In general this means after a period of rest, your body will sort of shut        down and start up its repair processes.  You may feel pretty sluggish the        first time you go hard again. This  is completely normal. Most top riders        like to do a “race opener” type  workout the day before a race.        This is usually a few short, high intensity  intervals and/or some jumps.       You can use smaller gears than normal  to save your legs while still getting        high heart rates. In a long stage race such as the PowerBar Challenge or        even, I’m sure in the Tour de France, if there is a rest day in the        middle, most of the riders will be out doing a few intervals that day. You        need to keep your race systems active - otherwise you will really regret        it the next day.

The key to a good training program is variety. To be a successful  road racer        takes many different skills and energy delivery systems.  If you only train        one system all the time, your race tactics will be very limited. The basic        requirements for road racing and the types  of workouts that develop them        are the following:

Aerobic capacity: Long rides (at least as long as your longest  race)        at a steady (but not hard) pace. HR less than 80% of max. These  will help        you be fresher at the end of the race and teach your body  to use fat for        fuel and thus spare precious muscle glycogen

Aerobic power: Longer intervals (10-30 min.) at or just below  your anaerobic        threshold. Rest about half the work time. These will  help your climbing        and time trialing as well as allow you to spend  more time riding aerobically        when just going along in the pack as opposed to being anaerobic most of        the time and then when the pace picks up, you have nothing more to draw        on.

Anaerobic power: Very short (20-40 sec.) very high intensity intervals        with complete recovery in between (4-6 min.). These must be a maximum effort        the entire interval.

Anaerobic capacity: Short (1-2 min.) very high intensity intervals.        Rest about 3 times the working time.

Sprinting: 10-15 sec. maximum effort. Full recovery in between.  This        will train your creatine-phosphate energy system. You can also  get a lot        of the benefits of a sprint workout without the fatigue (for example if        you are not really a pure sprinter and training that system is not your        highest priority) by just doing very short (8-10 sec.) jumps in a relatively        small gear. This will also help your leg speed.

Strength: Lift weights. Or, you can do hill repeats of  3-6 min.        in a large gear (45-60 rpm) at moderate heart rates (80-85% of max.). Don’t        do this if you have knee problems.

Threshold training: medium length intervals (4-10 min.) above  your anaerobic        threshold (hard time trial type intensity) with incomplete  recovery (3-5        min.).  These should be as hard as you can go for  the given amount        of time.

You can also train your body’s ability to clear and buffer lactic        acid by doing short, high intensity efforts (30 -45 sec.) with short  recovery        (1-2 min.).

All these intervals can be done either uphill or on the flats, except  for        sprints and anaerobic power intervals which are best done on the  flats.        Where you do them depends on what your priority is. In general,  doing them        on the flats is harder - your legs will hurt more for the  same heart rate.        Ideally, you should do some of both, or you can do  the shorter ones on a        varied loop so within a workout, you will sometimes  be climbing and sometimes        going on the flats.

Obviously, nobody can train every system every week. This is where  the theory        of periodization comes in. The basic premise here is that  is takes less        to maintain a system than to train it. Therefore, you  can train each system        individually and then just do a minimum number  of workouts to maintain it        while you train the other systems. So, for example, you can work on strength        and aerobic capacity in the winter. Then you can work on aerobic power and        threshold training for a month while doing one long ride a week to maintain        aerobic capacity and maybe hit the weight room once a week or do a few climbs        in a bigger gear than normal. Then the next month you can keep your one        long ride (which will eventually become your road races as the season starts)      and one aerobic workout and add some anaerobic ones. Once the season starts      in full force, you may do one aerobic, one anaerobic and one sprint workout        a week. Or you can fit your sprints into an aerobic ride, or ride your bike        to work and do some jumps or sprint out of every stoplight you hit and then        have space for another type of workout in your week. The emphasis you put        on each type of workout depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses        and your particular race goals.  Everything is a trade-off - the more        emphasis you put on one type of training, the more other areas will suffer.        Even at the highest level, NOBODY can do everything all the time. For example,        if you are training specifically for the district TT, you may do 2-3 threshold      workouts a week and sacrifice your sprinting. Same thing for training for        a hilly RR. If you want to specialize in criteriums, you need to emphasize        sprinting and anaerobic intervals.

So where does the noon ride fit in? There is nothing inherently wrong  with        group rides. Their big advantage is that you can use other people  to push        you harder than you can push yourself. Plus, they are fun,  and after all,        that’s the reason most of us got into cycling in the  first place!        They are also a chance for newer racers to test out tactics.   However,        if you are doing the same group ride 2-3 times a week plus  racing on the        weekends, you are basically training the same thing all the time. Also,        NEVER do a group ride on your easy day - you will invariably get sucked        into going harder than you should. When you first start riding, as long        as you just ride your bike, you will get stronger. Then, you will need to        go harder to continue getting stronger, and this is where group rides can        come in. However if that is all you do, you will develop significant “holes”      in your overall ability. The closer you get to your potential, the more        you will need to add specific training to your program.

What about “double days”?  The advantage of fitting 2 workouts        into one day is you can put more stress on your body for greater adaptation,        and get more rest days to grow stronger in. For working folks, it also has        the advantage that often it is easier to schedule 2 shorter workouts than        one long one. This is especially true after daylight savings time hits.        For example, you could do a double day on Wed. and still get your 3 workouts        in for the week. Then you could take an extra rest day on Thurs., do some        jumps on Fri. and be that much fresher for your race on Sat.

Part of racing is just learning how to ride through pain. No matter  whether        you are a cat 5 or Miguel Indurain, going hard hurts! As you  get fitter,        you just go faster for the same effort - the effort is  always there. The        fresher and stronger you are, the harder you can  go and the more it will        hurt. It is usually my best races that have  hurt the most. It takes time        to develop the ability to suffer on a  bike. So, if you are just getting        into racing, you will probably be  better off doing most of your hard training        in a group setting until  you learn to push yourself hard enough on your        own to benefit from  interval training. This is also where having a training        partner comes  in. If one person is stronger, they can start the interval        later and  chase and everyone can benefit. Be careful when doing any kind        of intervals where you are trying to stay at a particular heart rate that        is less than your max. Here, having a competitor next to you can cause you      to go too hard and be “out of your zone”.

You also have to keep your training fun and interesting. If you are  not        motivated to train, you will get nothing out of it. Do not be afraid to        take extra rest days if you feel you are getting tired. Mental attitude        is a big indicator of overtraining. Most of us basically look forward to        getting out on our bikes everyday. If training is becoming a chore, you        are probably tired. Find a way to measure your progress – seeing improvement        is the biggest motivator of all no matter what your level. The intervals        I describe above are based of time. You can also find a hill or stretch        of road that will take approximately  that amount of time to ride and time        yourself on repeats.


Sprint Workouts

Sprinting utilized a different energy delivery system than other forms of racing. Your muscles use mainly creatine phosphate when sprinting.  This form of energy allows for very high power output, but it is gone  in 10-15 sec. To replenish creatine phosphate stores in your muscles  requires a relatively long time - 5 min. or so. This is why it is important when doing sprint workouts to recover fully in between efforts. You don’t want to train yourself to go slow.  You should do your sprint workout early in the week when you are freshest. Sprinting also requires coordination and upper body strength and therefore must be practiced.

A good sprint workout consists of a thorough warm-up, maybe with a few short, small-geared jumps and then 5-8 all-out sprints of 15-20  sec. with 5 min. or so between efforts. To work on pure speed, get  yourself rolling (say 18-20mph) and then sprint as hard as you can  in the gear that allows you to go the fastest.  To work on strength  and acceleration, you can do “power sprints”. This is where you start  at very low speed (5 mph) in a big gear (53x13 or 53x14) and accelerate  as hard as you can for 15 sec.  Sprinting requires a lot of strength  and a winter weight program can really benefit here. Track sprint specialists hit the weight room year around.  It is good to do sprint workouts with a partner or a small group for extra motivation. You can also look at max. speed on your cycling computer for each effort to gauge progress.


Contrary to popular belief, climbing ability is determined much more by time spent climbing than by natural ability. Most “natural climbers” spend the majority of their training time going up hills. Climbing is hard, even if one is good at it. It is supposed to hurt! Most race climbs are done in Zone 5, so this must be simulated in training.  Most of the climbs in races are relatively short (1-10 min.) and very intense. Long, moderately paced climbs to Skyline will help increase aerobic capacity and are good for building strength in the off season, but shorter, high intensity hill intervals are usually necessary for improving race performance. Long climbs are essential if you are training specifically for the Mt. Hamilton RR or something similar.

Doing weekly timed repeats on varying length hills is good for gauging progress. Find a hill in the 2-5 min. range and time yourself on repeats up it. When your times increase by more than 15-20%, it is time to quit for the day.  Another good workout is doing intervals up a long, steady climb (my favorite is Hwy. 9). Go 4 min. hard, 4 min. easy all the way up. You can vary the times: try 1 min. on, 3 min. off. The shorter the interval, the harder you go. The effort for each interval should be such that you can barely complete the time. This is good training for the “surging” that goes on in races on longer climbs.

Tactics on climbs in races can make a big difference in your performance. If you are not a strong climber, you should begin every climb at or very near the front. Sometimes you can set a hard (for you) steady tempo at the front and lull your opponents into going at your pace at least for a while. A pace that is moderately uncomfortable will somewhat discourage attacks. Also, if you start at the front, then as the pack strings out, if you start having trouble keeping up, you will have the entire length of the pack to slide backwards before you are actually dropped. If you start at the back, if you open a gap on the person in front of you, you are already dropped. Also if someone else in front of you opens up a gap, you will have to move around them and close it. Otherwise the field will be split and you are in the wrong half!

If you are a strong climber, attack hard from mid-pack on the climb. It is usually better on a longer climb to wait a little until people are already tired before attacking. Quite often a breakaway will happen very close to the top when nobody has the strength left to react. In the case where there is a long descent after the climb however, you should generally attack near the bottom so as to gain as much time as possible on the field before the descent. On a very short climb, such as in a circuit race, it is often a good idea to attack right before the climb, especially if there is a corner. You can get a gap out of the corner, maintain it on the climb and surge again over the top to increase it.



Criteriums are pretty much an exclusively American form of racing. They can be rather frightening for beginning racers because of the pack skills required. Once you get used to them though, they can be a lot of fun because there is always something going on in the race. Often you get spectators to cheer and usually some primes to sprint for during the race. Criteriums are popular with people who have limited training time because they don’t require the mileage base that road racing does. They do require a lot of high intensity training though.  Criteriums are a good place to test race tactics. You can try making attacks and going for the primes without too much fear of getting dropped if you get tired. If you are comfortable in a pack, it is relatively easy to sit in and recover.  Practice your sprint by going for primes. The first skill necessary for a good criterium is getting a good starting position and getting clipped in when the gun goes off. Practice clipping into your pedals without looking at them and accelerating whenever you get stopped at a red light. You don’t want to have to spend the first couple of laps trying to chase or move up.

Good cornering ability is essential for being successful in criteruims. You should never have to brake in a corner if you follow the right line. There is a flow to the pack through a corner and you should follow it. Generally, corners are not a good place to move up. You may make up at most one position, and you will probably make someone mad! The best way to learn how to corner is to follow someone who is good. This can be by doing the twilight training crits, group rides or doing races that include higher categories. When going around a corner, relax your upper body, bend your elbows, keep your hands on the drops and have your outside pedal down with your weight on it. It is actually much easier to ride near the front of  a pack that at the back. At the back, you will almost certainly have to brake in the corners (because someone else did) and accelerate back out of them. This takes a lot of energy and is known as the “yo-yo effect”. The front of the pack goes a constant pace and the back strings out and comes back just like a yo-yo.

The last essential criterium skill is sprinting. There are 3 important things about sprinting: 1) position 2) position and 3) position. Unless the course has a very unusually long start-finish straight, if you are not in the top 3 out of the last corner, you will not win. Ever. In many races, the race actually comes down to a race for the last corner. You will not be able to improve your position by more than one or two places after the last corner, even if you are the fastest sprinter in the field.  During the last few laps, do not be afraid to be out in the wind a little if it keeps you in good position. The basic rule for the last laps of a crit is to always have access to the front in case someone decides to surge.

If you have several members of a team at a race, you can lead out the best sprinter. The purpose of the leadout is to maximize the chances of the best sprinter winning the race by keeping them in a good position in the final laps without the sprinter having to expend a lot of energy. For this to happen, the leadout must be FAST! Usually a leadout will start with one or two laps to go, and it may take several leadout people to keep the speed up: for example, the first person goes as hard as they can for half a lap with 1 lap to go, then they pull off and the next person goes as hard a they can for half a lap and finally the sprinter goes at 200m. This is known as a “train” and you will see it all the time in Pro races. You can also have a “sweeper” which is a teammate who sits on the sprinter’s wheel and makes sure nobody else is on it. If the sweeper stays on the sprinter’s wheel all the way to the line, they can get 2nd or 3rd, thus maximizing the team placings.  The sweeper has to be aggressive about holding their position though because everyone wants the wheel of a good sprinter.

The leadout must be fast enough to stifle any urges of other teams to attack or swarm around the leader. Often you will see teammate from team A leading out her sprinter for a lap at some relatively fast pace, only to have team B swarm up the side with half a lap to go some 2-4 mph faster. One of the best ways to learn how to sprint is to be a leadout rider. This is because it will give you a mission to get to the front at the end of a race. It is always easier to ride AT the front than NEAR the front.  It will also help you build up your own speed.

Sprint workouts

Sprinting utilized a different energy delivery system than other forms of racing. Your muscles use mainly creatine phosphate when sprinting. This form of energy allows for very high power output, but it is gone in 10-15 sec. To replenish creatine phosphate stores in your muscles requires a relatively long time - 5 min. or so. This is why it is important when doing sprint workouts to recover fully in between efforts. You don’t want to train yourself to go slow.  You should do your sprint workout early in the week when you are freshest. Sprinting also requires coordination and upper body strength and therefore must be practiced.

A good sprint workout consists of a thorough warm-up, maybe with a few short, small-geared jumps and then 5-8 all-out sprints of 15-20 sec. with 5 min. or so between efforts. To work on pure speed, get yourself rolling (say 18-20mph) and then sprint as hard as you can in the gear that allows you to go the fastest.  To work on strength and acceleration, you can do “power sprints”. This is where you start at very low speed (5 mph) in a big gear (53x13 or 53x14) and accelerate as hard as you can for 15 sec.  Sprinting requires a lot of strength and a winter weight program can really benefit here. Track sprint specialists hit the weight room year around.  It is good to do sprint workouts with a partner or a small group for extra motivation. You can also look at max. speed on your cycling computer for each effort to gauge progress.

Sprinting is a combination of leg speed and power. To work on leg speed and coordination, try some of your sprints on a slight downhill or with a tailwind. To work on power, do them uphill or into the wind. A few tailwind or downhill sprints are a good way to “wake up your legs” the day before a race or as part of your criterium warm-up.