Racing and Riding in the Rain

Rain changes things, but it doesn't have to keep you off your bike. Coach Marianne shares some tips for those rainy days.

It's a Battle Out There: Using a Power Meter to Win

Bike racing is a game of the strong-willed and tough-minded. Hunter offers four tips to stack winning odds in your favor using your power meter.

Changing Your Mindset About Nervousness

Are you nervous before your big events? How do you deal with it? Hunter shares some tips to reprogram the way you think about nervousness and receive its energy in a positive way.

Three Common Racing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

It's hard to win. And in all our efforts to win, we make mistakes. Read about three of the common errors made in racing, plus tips on how to avoid them.

Race Strategies and Tactics

Hunter shares some race strategies and tactics to help you get to the top of the podium.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Racing and Riding in the Rain

by Marianne Holt, PCG elite coach

Peaks Coaching Group Racing and Riding in the Rain

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
- Bob Dylan

Whether you love rainy days or hate them, it’s very likely that you will find yourself riding in the rain at some point; probably racing in it, as well. And rain changes things. As you watch the weather report, here are a few things to keep in mind when faced with the drips.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

By Jen Sommer, PCG nutritionist
Don't try this at home. Or anywhere else. Ever.
It’s a diet-obsessed world out there. It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness. Working in the eating disorder field, I’ve grown to hate the “D” word. But I’m not here to talk about the pitfalls of our society. No, I’m here to talk about finding the balance between managing our weight for sports performance without sacrificing our mental and physical health in the process.

There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits. In fact, athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders. This is not surprising, seeing as the reality is that weight does to some extent affect endurance sports performance. Some runners talk about their racing weight as if it were a holy grail they would do anything to obtain. You hear stats like “your mile time improves by ten seconds for every pound lost” and other crap like that. Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much; I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care. I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun. It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight. You probably started running or riding because it was fun, too. Sure, there’s a correlation between weight and performance to some extent, but I challenge any athlete to cut off a hand (that weighs about a pound, right?) and suddenly drop ten seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves. Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly, and your performance will actually suffer. Plus you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill-in-the-blank-kind-of-athlete, you need to stop right there. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m a firm believer that we should never modify our diet and/or exercise just to change how we look. If your only motivation for weight loss is that you think you “have to” or that you want to look better in your underwear, you might as well stop reading right now.  Trust me; it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full-blown eating disorder. I admit to my eating disorder patients that sure, you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far. It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete and an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject. I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well, your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time. However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start, read on to learn how to do it as healthfully as possible for both mind and body. I could probably write a book on this topic (and maybe I will someday), but here are some of my top tips.

Don’t count calories. Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you’re eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs. You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream, for heaven’s sake! Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels. Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats. Everything else (desserts and alcohol, for example) falls into the category of extras, and you wouldn’t have a target for those; you just aim to not have too many of them! (If you’re not sure how many of each group you need, consult a registered dietician!)

Keep a food journal. But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you. Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you’re getting from each of the food groups mentioned above. Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups and possibly less from others. Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems. A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and seeing it on paper helps put it in perspective.

Keep an eye on portions. Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we’re served in some restaurants. For example, a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving. One serving of pasta is actually only ½ cup, the size of half a baseball.

Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less. The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day. It’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of than what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally don’t have room for or crave the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine, mmmm).

Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not. You’ve probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains. There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages, though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely. When buying packaged products, aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e., if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this: “Ingredients: brown rice”).

Don’t make food rules. If you make rules, you’ll quickly fall into the good-food-bad-food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat “bad” food. Stop. Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods. It’s just food. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.

Don’t skip breakfast. I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day. Studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers. This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.

Listen to your body. Try to check in with your hunger. If you’re hungry, eat. If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger. Don’t wait until you’re starving, though, as you’ll be more likely to reach for high sugar or more processed foods and more likely to overeat. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

Plan ahead. Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand. I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy; I’m doing takeout. Same with snacks; bring your own snacks to work so you don’t have to rely on the office doughnuts for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Drink up. Water, that is. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so make sure you’re meeting your fluid needs. Not sure if you are? Hint: Your urine should be a very pale yellow.

Know when to use sports nutrition products. Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately, but if you’re drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45-minute runs, you’re taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.

Be safe. DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.

Monitor your body fat too, not just weight. Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:


Males Females Rating
5-10 8-15 Athletic
11-14 16-23 Good
15-20 24-30 Acceptable
21-24 31-36 Overweight
>24 >37 Obese
from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD,
and Michael Gleeson, PhD; Human Kinetics

Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day. Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day, and seeing those fluctuations may psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.

Be realistic. Set small and slow weight loss goals. If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly, you’ll sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than one or two pounds a week. You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay, too; it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.

Monitor your sports performance as you lose. You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals. You may also need to accept that your body is built a certain way and that to change it may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise. If you find you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight, your body is telling you something. Listen to it.

Train right. As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process. Try to focus more on your training then your weight.

Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season. Your performance will likely suffer if you do so. The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.

Your best weight on race day (or any other day) is when you are most healthy, both in mind and body!


Jen is a registered dietitian, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great tips, recipes, and articles at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Podium Preparation: Tips for Strong Racing

by Marianne Holt, PCG elite coach
Peaks Coaching Group Marianne Holt Racing Tips Podium Preparation

Have you ever tried moving up through a large field in a crit but just couldn’t find your way to the front? Maybe you get halfway through the pack then get gapped off by other riders and fall off the back. One way to avoid this is to know the course ahead of time and find the best places to move up. The straightaways typically give you the most room to move up, but sometimes it takes less energy to move up in the turns when other riders slow. Give yourself objectives to achieve during a race, such as passing one rider in each turn. Talk to your teammates or other racers who have raced the course before and ask them about the best places to move up. It’s also especially important to pre-ride the course so you can determine the best, fastest lines in the turns and know the wind direction in the straightaways.

Another thing to consider is staging or lining up before the race. If there’s a large field, be sure to line up on or near the front. If you start a crit in the back of a large field, you create additional work for yourself. It’s easier to stay at the front than to fight your way up through the field to get there. You’ll need enough fitness to be able to stay near the front, but that’s easier than working your way to the front around dozens of other riders. That takes not only fitness but great handling and often nerves of steel. Remember, in criteriums with large fields, if you’re not moving up, you’re moving back!

In early-season, longer road races, the pace sometimes slows to a very “recreational” pace. This often happens when most riders don’t have the fitness to put in the work at the front and are happy to let others do it. But don’t let down your guard; just when the pace slows and riders start looking around at each other, an alert rider will attack and a break will likely go. Instead of hanging with the slackers, make the attack yourself! You just might establish the winning break.

If you do miss the break, rather than going to the front and dragging the entire field up to them, attack and bridge up to the break by yourself. You increase your odds of having a good finish if you’re in the break rather than sprinting with the entire field.

As always, you must train for your races. Build up your fitness to the level necessary to win. Buy a training plan, hire a coach, work hard. If you know you don’t have the fitness to go after the win with confidence, you’ll probably be happy just to sit in and wait for someone else to do the work. And that is not the path to the podium.

Good luck out there!


Marianne lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, where she enjoys all types of riding, including criterium races, road races, gran fondos, mountainous centuries, time trials, and the occasional cruise on her mountain bike or cyclocross bike. She is a Category 1 racer with the PainPathways Women’s Team and a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach. She has extensive road racing experience, including NRC and International Stage Races, UCI races, and elite and masters nationals championship races. She is a former masters nationals time trial champion and has numerous silver and bronze medals from masters nationals criteriums and road races. Marianne can be contacted through info@peakscoachinggroup.com or www.peakscoachinggroup.com.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Solestar Insoles

By Tim Cusick, PCG President and Elite Coach
The ability to measure left/right pedaling is all the rage in power training right now. The mystical search for efficiency is looking for data to unlock its secrets and make us better cyclists. Here at Peaks Coaching Group we’ve been testing different forms of left/right pedaling measurements for years, and though I’m still a little conflicted about how to use the data for efficiency rating and improvement, I was able to use our research history to learn something I didn’t expect.

Flash back to Interbike 2013, where I met Oliver and his Solestar team. Oliver convinced me to let him make me a pair of custom insoles to help deal with a long-term issue of left/right imbalance that I had always attributed to a hip and pelvis issue I have. After a few measurements, my insoles were ready! I returned home and began my test.

First Impression

I immediately felt what they call “stabilization-delta” in the shoe. The insoles have a unique shape and support that make you think they’ll feel odd as you stuff them into your shoe, but as soon as you put the shoe on your foot, you feel the insoles’ support platform building up and supporting your foot. The insoles were immediately comfortable. I took a few spins around the driveway and from the very beginning felt better connected and more solid in the pedals.

Riding with Solestar

Perfect! I knew by the time I was a mile away from my house that this was going to work for me. I immediately felt more stable in the foot/shoe/cleat attachment. Once I warmed up I was ready to get rolling through the test, but I’d started to notice something. I’m a Speedplay pedal user, and I love the ability to customize my float; I’ve had the same setting for years. Suddenly, however, my left heel wanted to be more out and was pushing against the float limit. I figured that since this was a test, I should test everything, so I headed back to the house, made a quick adjustment to the Speedplay float, and back out I went. I know items like insoles are personal “feel” pieces (like saddles), so I won’t go deep into how they felt to me except to say that they were very comfortable and very stable. I loved the feeling of connection to the pedals. Since that ride I’ve used my custom insoles in my road shoes and the Kontrol version in my mountain bike shoes. Quite simply, I love them.

Data Discovered

So back to my first point. Since that first ride I have noticed another benefit. My initial test ride showed a power balance rating of 50/50. Power balance is SRAM/Quarq’s way of measuring left and right that focuses on power generated on the downstroke segment of each pedaling revolution. There are a lot of confusing claims and measurements regarding left-right pedaling, but I focus more on the change. My balance went from a consistent 47/53 average pre-Solestar to a 50/50 post, and it still averages that today. This aligns with my impression, as my left leg gives me issues and the feeling of better connection to the pedal; now the data supports that (and it always gives me confidence when the qualitative feeling matches the quantitative data). I have charted this in a simple Excel chart that I’ll update soon with a new tracking system that will be found in WKO4, but for now you’re stuck with a vague chart of summary points. This is an average of my daily data recorded approximately every two weeks. Sorry, it’s not perfect science, but it’s a good overview.

Conclusion

For me, the Solestar insoles really work. Great feelings and data clearly demonstrate that they have helped balance my pedaling, as noted by the clear change. I do believe this has helped my efficiency, but it’s really hard to connect to the data, so just take it as a feeling. All I can CONFIRM is that they did change my pedal power balance. I believe their stabilization-delta technology was key to my success, as I was forced to adjust my left heel from day one of using the insole. I now believe that my foot was looking for that support and was leading me to run that heal more in, thus not correcting the issues in my left leg and hip.

Congrats to the team at Solestar, and thanks for letting us in on this great product!

PRE-ORDER TODAY!  Order Now

Recipe: Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

from the kitchen of Jen Sommer, PCG nutritionist
Peaks Coaching Group Beet Salad Goat Cheese

Perfect for a light lunch or a side at dinner, this hearty salad packs a nutritional punch with antioxidant-rich beets and greens, as well as heart-healthy fats in the nuts and olive oil.

4 cups arugula or mixed greens
2 whole beets, peeled and cubed
½ cup walnuts or pecans
2 oz goat cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

Toss beets in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Roast at 400°F until tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook walnuts in a lightly oiled (or use cooking spray) skillet at medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Spread arugula evenly on four plates. Evenly divide all other ingredients on top of the arugula and top with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

Serves 4.

Want to know more about the power of beets? Check out this article on the subject and give our BeetElite crystalized drink powder a try!


Jen is a registered dietician, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great recipes, articles, and tips at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Does it Take to be a Pro Cyclist?

PCG Elite Coach Omer Kem has been at the top of the cycling world in the USA as a professional cyclist and a team captain. We asked him what it takes to be a pro, and here's what he said.

Peaks Coaching Group Omer Kem professional cyclist

I wish there was an easy answer. It seems like talent is an obvious one, but honestly, in eight years of professional cycling and now fives year of directing, I would take determination over talent any day. It all comes down to who wants it more, who is driven to succeed, and who will give anything and everything to achieve their dream/goal. It's much, much easier to stop and take a break instead of suffering to the end.

My time as a pro and director gave me the opportunity to work with some real talents, but only a couple of those talented athletes have actually had a successful career in cycling. Most find cycling way too hard and give up. The key to success for those who did make it was talent coupled with an undying desire to never give up and never settle for less than everything they had. The same is true for the less talented racers who became pros; their drive was so great that in the long term it more than made up for any lack of natural talent or ability. They learned their opponents, they dissected their own strengths and weaknesses, and they took ownership of every aspect of their success.

That is the type of rider I look for. I can teach anyone how to race, but I can't force anyone to suffer. And that's what it takes.

If you want to be a pro, give everything you have, every day. Never stop reaching for what you want, because with enough drive and time, you just might get it.


Omer Kem was a professional cyclist from 2002-2009 and a team captain. He has served as the sports director for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team and consulted for Santiam Bicycle, Castelli USA, Breakaway Promotions, and Upper Echelon Fitness. He is also the sport director and coach for the Capitol Velo Racing Club junior cycling team and the membership director for the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association. Omer can be contacted directly at info@peakscoachinggroup.com or via www.peakscoachinggroup.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's a Battle Out There: Using a Power Meter to Win

By Hunter Allen, PCG Founder/CEO and Master Coach
Peaks Coaching Group Using a Power Meter to Win

When you’re in the peloton and fighting for the win, you’re in a war. It’s you and your team (if you have one) against everyone else. There are no holds barred. Everything goes. May the best man win. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you’ll start winning races. Those who never learn this are destined to finish out of the money and probably will be out of the sport within three years.

Cycling is hard, and racing is harder still. Sure, we all love to ride our bikes, and that’s the greatest part of it, but some of us also love to compete, to fight, to win. I often wonder about the best competitors, the winners, the guys and gals who consistently stand on the podium—if they weren’t bike racing, would they all be in the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge?” Bike racing is a game of the strong-willed and tough-minded, gritting your teeth, pushing yourself harder than the guy beside you, digging deeper than anyone else.

What can you do to stack the odds in your favor to make this war a winnable one for you or someone on your team? Train harder, train smart, and race even smarter are some of the keys to succeeding in cycling. Let’s talk about four ways (two in training and two in racing) that you can use your power meter to help you win the fight.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Focus on the Finish with Optimized Nutrition

By Namrita O’Dea, PCG nutritionist
Peaks Coaching Group Focus on Finish Optimized Nutrition Namrita O'Dea

Whatever your event may be, the goal is usually to cross the finish line as quickly as possible while feeling strong and confident along the way. To help you get there, I’ve put together a few important tips to make sure your nutrition is doing its part.

The pre-race meal

It is ideal to have your pre-race meal two or three hours prior to the start of your event. If you’re doing a running event, duathlon, or triathlon, aim for closer to three hours prior to the start in order to minimize the chance of feeling too full on the start line. I usually recommend that athletes eat a high-carbohydrate (CHO) meal low in glycemic load before a race. I also recommend they make sure to try the foods before simulated race workouts to make sure the chosen dishes are tolerable to your GI tract.

Whether or not you’re an avid coffee drinker, you might benefit from caffeine ingestion of 3-6 mg/kg on race day, but taking any more than that doesn’t appear to result in further performance gains. My recommendation is to start your morning with a caffeinated beverage of your choice with the goal of getting 3 mg/kg into your system before starting the race. Depending on you and your race, it may also make sense to include caffeinated drinks and/or gels as part of your fueling plan (up to 6 mg/kg total intake). The good news is that you don't need to avoid caffeine in the days leading up to the race to attain its performance benefits on race day.

Warm-up nutrition

Once you start warming up, it can be beneficial to take in some additional CHO in the form of your favorite sports drink and/or a gel or chews with a few sips of fluid according to your thirst.

Fluid intake during the race

It's a good idea to formulate your hydration strategy during the training phase so you have a clear plan on race day. Always arrive at a race well hydrated and, if the event is long enough to warrant fluid intake during the race, aim for ingesting somewhere between (depending on your body size, pace, and environmental conditions) 16-24 ounces (473-710 ml) per hour of a sodium-containing drink. Adjust the amount based on your thirst.

CHO intake during the race

Whether or not you train with low or high CHO intake, it’s a good idea to include some high-CHO training sessions so you’re confident your gut can handle the carbohydrate load on race day. For optimal race performance, up to 30 grams of glucose can provide a performance benefit in a race less than an hour in length. For events lasting up to two hours, 30-60 grams of glucose per hour is recommended, and for events longer than two hours, you may be able to utilize around 90 grams CHO (glucose + fructose blend) per hour. Sports drinks and gels are the most convenient types of race foods, but for longer events, low-fiber bars and other solid food can also be used in conjunction with drinks and gels.

Fuel up well, and good luck!


Namrita O'Dea Peaks Coaching GroupNamrita's racing background is primarily in endurance mountain biking and, more recently, some XC distance racing and XTERRA off-road triathlon. She works with triathletes, ultra-endurance mountain bike racers, self-supported ultra racers, marathon runners, and more. She is an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Professionals in Nutrition for Exercise & Sport (PINES), and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) Honorary Board, and she is a founding member of the Georgia High School Cycling League. Namrita can be contacted directly through Peaks Coaching Group.



References:

Burke et al. Caffeine for Sports Performance. Human Kinetics, 2013.

Ormsbee et al. (2014). Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Nutrients (6): 1782-1808

Stellingwerff and Cox (2014). Systematic Review: Carbohydrate Supplementation on Exercise Performance or Capacity of Varying Durations. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: 10.1139/apnm-2014-0027

Friday, June 13, 2014

Recipe: Quinoa with Spinach, Almonds, and Cranberries

from the kitchen of Jen Sommer, PCG nutritionist
Peaks Coaching Group Nutrition Quinoa Recipe Spinach Cranberries Jen Sommer

You’ve heard by now that quinoa is good for you.  Whole grain, high protein, high fiber, gluten free….need I say more? Plain quinoa is a little boring, however, so spice dinner up with this delicious combination. It saves well for leftovers and can be served with a protein and veggie of your choice (try tofu and Brussels sprouts) for a complete and delicious meal.

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups spinach
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth

Cook quinoa based on package directions using vegetable broth instead of water (usually 2 cups liquid for 1 cup quinoa and simmer for 15-20 minutes). Add dried cranberries and almonds during the last two minutes of cooking and stir.

While quinoa cooks, wilt spinach in olive oil over medium heat. Add cooked spinach to cooked quinoa mixture and stir to fluff. Serve warm.

Serves 4.


Jen is a registered dietician, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great recipes, articles, and tips at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Criterium Primer

By Todd Scheske, PCG elite coach
Peaks Coaching Group Scott Moninger Criterium Crit Primer

It’s finally summer, and with the season comes a good selection of criterium races around the USA. Criteriums, or “crits” as they’re often referred to, are short course races from 800 meters to 5 kilometers in length, with race distances usually from 20 to 100 kilometers (for elite level). Crits offer high speeds and are perfect spectator events, with great opportunities for some exciting action. While newer racers may find them a bit intimidating at first, by keeping a few things in mind they needn’t avoid these really fun and exciting types of races.

One of the golden rules I use for riding a criterium is to not chase unless you absolutely have to. Attack and counter-attack instead. Use features on the course to help create distance from the pack and/or gain ground on rivals in the break; things like a tight corner or a small hill can help to amplify the attack you might make as hesitation from the field results in you opening an instant gap. The field also tends to line out more during such times, so there are fewer people up front to respond to the attack right away. The break may also be going a steadier pace through these features, which allows you to get across more quickly with a short burst. If you wait too long after a break to go, you might have to co-opt a few others to chase a bit to get close enough to counter and get across, but make sure you aren’t the biggest engine in the chase or you won’t be able to counter once you’re close.

Attacks and counter-attacks are what split the field and create breaks, but the first attack almost never makes it. Everyone is fresh then, and most of the time it comes back. Of course there are rare times when it does stick, but the probability is low, so it’s usually better to hedge your bets and join or launch a counter attack. You might try to make the first attack if it seems the field is tentative, but even if your attack works, leave something in the tank for the counter until you have a large gap. Keep in mind that the first fifteen minutes of the race can be some of the fastest and hardest. Be patient.

Be aware of the “accordion effect” in the pack. Tight turns and the features above that you use for attacking also bunch up the riders at the back of the field, who then accelerate hard again after the turn to make up for lost speed. Being at the back and subject to this effect can blow you up; it takes a lot more energy to ride the back like that than it does to ride further forward. Unfortunately, tentative riders usually end up toward the back and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The most important thing to remember in a criterium is to relax; flow with the race and the course. Criteriums are super fun to race, but it does take some time to develop the skills for success. Be patient and keep at it!



Todd Scheske is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and a category 1 cyclist. He has won several masters national medals, state road championships, and regional victories. Over the past twenty years he founded four different elite cycling teams and served as their program director and team director, while also promoting bike safety and healthy lifestyles to youth in community programs. He runs a successful junior program and produces a USA Cycling Talent ID camp. Todd can be contacted directly through www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com.