From the mouthy ones getting in your head, to the gung-ho wheel wiper cleaning you out on a corner, we reveal the ways to beat the dark art of road race sledging.

Criterium racing can be a bit like Sunday League football: your opponents can range from passive-aggressive pseudo psychopaths looking for a (negative) energy release, to wannabe pros who have all the gear but only some idea, right through to very handy riders who could’ve made it in the paid ranks but had a penchant for the sorts of vices that prevent progress to the next level.

Whoever you come up against, and at whatever ‘cat’ level you are plying your ambitious trade, the world of fast-paced crit-style racing is an intense and unforgiving one.

Here are our tips on how to sharpen your racecraft and ensure you are a well-oiled racing machine when you roll up for an event.

1. Do your homework on opponents

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This ain’t the NFL, and you don’t have your own video analyst providing you with a detailed breakdown of your rivals, but you can do a quick bit of homework yourself. Check out the start list as far in advance as possible (yeah, we know, at a lot of crits it’ll only get confirmed on the day of the race) and see how much of a profile you can create of your fellow racers.

The crit-racing community isn’t huge, so riders become known amongst one another. Making friends fast will help you understand who’s who, and will also provide you with a network of info. Plus, if you’re piling into corners at up to 50kph with a bunch of guys, you really want to know in advance who the gung-ho wheel wiper is…

2. Make your start-line routine a thing

As nonchalantly badass as rolling up seconds before the start looks, unless you’re Peter Sagan and have a neutralised zone plus 150km of a stage to sort things out before the moves really start getting laid down, in a circuit race it’s banging from the off – so you need to be well-prepared and on point from the word go. Know the course layout like the back of your hand.

And don’t forget to visit the facilities before you head to the start – there’s no time for a break mid-race…

3. Keep cool in the early stages, and don’t spend it all

If you’re the jumpy type, you need to work on maintaining a calm approach to the early part of the race. A lot will happen, there will be moves and attacks, but stay cool as these rarely stick and a crit is very seldom won in the early laps. It can be lost though, so stay fully focused.

Conserving energy is the key, because the explosive stuff will come later on.

From the mouthy ones getting in your head, to the gung-ho wheel wiper cleaning you out on a corner, we reveal the ways to beat the dark art of road race sledging.

Criterium racing can be a bit like Sunday League football: your opponents can range from passive-aggressive pseudo psychopaths looking for a (negative) energy release, to wannabe pros who have all the gear but only some idea, right through to very handy riders who could’ve made it in the paid ranks but had a penchant for the sorts of vices that prevent progress to the next level.

Whoever you come up against, and at whatever ‘cat’ level you are plying your ambitious trade, the world of fast-paced crit-style racing is an intense and unforgiving one.

Here are our tips on how to sharpen your racecraft and ensure you are a well-oiled racing machine when you roll up for an event.

4. Make some allies

That network we alluded to earlier has multiple benefits. One of those is knowing who to work with. Having a few mates in the race will help all of your chances of getting a better result. Alec Briggs runs his own team, Tekkerz, and espouses the importance of buddying up in a race:

“Pick a friend, help each other out. Racing is an intimidating environment to be in, riding with your crew or even just someone you strike up a few words with on the start line can give you some confidence out there.”

5. Know the etiquette

Play hard and adhere to the rules, as they’re there for everyone’s safety. Cowboy-ing this will quickly turn you into a target in the race. Most importantly though, play clean. Contact can be inevitable, especially when things get narrow, but knowing the difference between what’s unavoidable due to a genuine misjudgement of space and an intentional swipe/elbow/shoulder/lean is really important.

Never, ever, overtake on the inside of a corner. This will make you very, very unpopular.

Two more important ones: your front wheel is your responsibility, so don’t overlap it with someone else’s rear wheel. And be careful where, and how, you spit or clear your nose out; conversely, if you’re on the receiving end of some unwanted fluids, keep your cool and race on.

6. Have a plan (A, B and C), but be adaptable

Only you know what your true capabilities are on the day. Listen to your legs, have a game plan, but also know that things can change in an instant, so you’ll need to adapt. Never panic.

Being able to read the race is essential. Therefore, your first few races will be experience builders as you understand just how this whole thing works. If you’re past that stage, then being observant is a skill worth developing. Tie it in with your profiling of other riders (as per point #1) to develop a mental note if whose attacks stick, and whose don’t.

7. Know how to fake it

Watching the pros is a real learning curve on this one. Seeing a rider all over their bike with their tongue hanging out, only to spring an attack shortly after is awesome. You can do it too, but choose your moments carefully. And of course, be aware of everyone else pulling the same one.

Trickery is a solid tool to be able to use, but use it sparingly, because it has limited effect. Once you’ve shown your cards, it’s hard to use the same ruse again.

8. Know when to talk, and when to shut up

The silent type is usually the strong type in a crit, and like many walks of life those who make the most noise will be trying to overcompensate for a shortfall somewhere else. The guy spinning away and with a calm, exterior is usually in good shape and not worried. The gobby one who’s trying to get inside other riders’ heads is most likely experiencing some level of pain or doubt in their own race.

A little bit of chat can work in a race, if you want to try the unsettling tactic, but be careful because there will always be someone who can do it better – and more effectively – than you can.

“Mind out for the mouthy ones, they’re the ones to swing first,” reveals Briggs. “I have some mouth on me, I like chatting to people when racing because I’m a doughnut like that. If I start getting grumpy, basically get off my wheel or attack me, because chances are I’m proper messed up. Noticed this in other riders, too. A strong rider is usually pretty calm and quiet, as they know they’re probably going to be in with a good chance of a win, so they’re just chilling.”

9. Position yourself well, but not on the front

Don’t get right on the front, even if you can. Aiming to be inside the top 10 in the second half of the race is key to a good result, and being in with a shout of achieving the unthinkable: a win!

This element of racecraft will only develop and improve with experience, but making sure you are always gaining at least one position per lap or two means you’re making progress.

“It’s easy to get swamped and bullied in the final stages of a race, so setting yourself the challenge of not dropping any further back than say 5 wheels, keeps you on your toes and prepared to act as quick as possible leaving you in the best possible position to win the race,” says Briggs.

10. Enjoy it

More often than not, competitors who cycle angrily will stay that way – and don’t sweat about not finishing first because competing is a victory in itself.

Happy cycling Peeps. Happy cycling!

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