5 Things You Need To Know About Criterium Racing

Jul 12, 2013

Cyclists race at high speeds close together for a fixed period of time in a criterium.
Credit Boise Twilight Criterium

More than 200 cyclists compete in the 27th Annual Anderson Banducci Twilight Criterium Saturday. They’ll race through downtown Boise at speeds guaranteed to generate a cool breeze when the cyclists fly by you.  

Criteriums, or “crit” racing, are great to watch because cyclists compete on a circuit for 30 to 60 plus minutes. That means you can really watch the action.

“It can be one of the more dangerous parts of bike racing,” explains Mike Cooley. He founded the Twilight Criterium in 1987. Why is it dangerous?  Because the racers are riding close together “and you’re turning every couple of blocks,” says Cooley. One wrong move by a rider and it’s nearly impossible to avoid a crash.

As with any sport, there’s a whole dictionary to go along.  We’ve put together this glossary of essential terms so that when you watch Saturday’s Twilight Criterium you’ll be among the crowd that knows what’s going on.  

Peloton: Think swarm of bees except this swarm is made up of cyclists. That’s a peloton. During the Twilight Criterium you’ll see teams work in the peloton to protect their top riders so these racers can sprint for the win. This is also where crashes can happen because racers ride close together at high speeds. 

Primes (pronounced preems):  Prizes, often cash, get offered to encourage racers to sprint during crits. Saturday you’ll hear an announcer call for a “prime lap” and often you’ll hear a bell too. This signals that the next lap, racers will pick up the pace to win say a $100 prize. Mike Cooley says during the Twilight Criterium that  “This is the most common term you’re going to hear.”

Breakaway:  Teams work to get their riders into a breakaway. This can be a lone cyclist or a group of riders that take off together and leave the peloton behind.  The peloton will work to chase these riders down or in some cases, let the breakaway go. It all depends on team tactics.

Draft:  USA Cycling’s EnCyclingpedia defines the draft this way: “Riding in the slipstream of another rider ahead. A rider drafting off another generally expends 30 percent less energy.”  You’ll see a lot of cyclists Saturday night riding closely behind others to catch this slipstream and save energy.

Echelon:  You’ll see this especially during the professional cycling races Saturday night. Riders will position themselves one behind the other in a long line to protect themselves from any wind. So, like drafting, this is another tactic to save energy and race smart. 

Now it's your turn. What essential cycling term would you like to know more about? Or maybe you have your own cycling lingo you'd like to add.  Share your thoughts below.