Finally, after months and months of training and waiting, the criterium season is here. It's always an eagerly anticipated weekend when daylight savings begins again in October and the big cycling clubs around Melbourne begin holding their crits again. Many people don't like crit racing, instead opting for climbing or waiting it out for the bigger tours of the season to roll around. I love it. The atmosphere at meets is great and the racing is intense, even in my lowly C grade.
I had a mate introduce me to criterium racing a while back (incidentally, he was also the one who got me into cycling), forcing me to do C grade on my first try. Needless to say, I got dropped and lapped twice before I pulled out.
Let me give a small tip, if I may. If you're new to racing, no matter how strong or fast you are, start off in D grade. Whilst starting in C grade might shut your mates up, it can also ruin your confidence and set you back a few weeks. If you're too strong for D, chances are you'll either out-drag everyone in the sprint or smash them in a breakaway. If that happens, the handicapper will likely put you up a grade. Hence, starting in D is always a good way of building confidence.
Thankfully, after that rather nightmare-ish first outing, I gradually improved and became more fond of circuit racing. This is a good thing because you're spoilt for choice for racing in Melbourne over summer. St Kilda Cycling Club (SKCC) and Carnegie-Caulfield Cycling Club (CCCC) both hold criterium meets on Sunday mornings in South Melbourne and Mulgrave respectively. Hawthorn Cycling Club usually holds a crit once a month on a Saturday morning but this changes depending upon demand. Otherwise, you can race out at Coburg CC's Campbellfield circuit, located behind the Ford factory, which is the best circuit in the city, in my opinion. During the week, one can also race on Tuesday nights at Sandown Raceway as part of CCCC's twilight crits. Wednesday also offers up Hawthorn's weekly twilight crits on the Kew Boulevard circuit.
Whilst its good to show loyalty to one meet, it also pays to branch out. Attending CCCC's criteriums will give you more of a challenge owing to the higher quality fields and wide, fast circuit. The Kew Boulevard course used by Hawthorn gives you a rougher road experience as well as a tight hairpin and an uphill finish. Coburg, similarly has an uphill back straight, which will give an advantage to lighter and more powerful riders. So whilst you might always head to White St, South Melbourne on a Sunday morning to race, make sure you give National Boulevard or Glenvale Crescent a go, once in a while, to challenge yourself on a different course.
My favourite thing about the racing season is the fitness that its involvement brings. Its not just a saying when people tell you "racing is the best training". After only three weeks of crit racing, I'm already noticing a difference in my speed and endurance. What's more, you don't have to race A or B grade at high speed to benefit. C and D grade offers plenty of opportunities to develop endurance, strength and speed, whilst also honing your positioning, tactics, awareness and bike handling skills.
Whether your a Beach Road regular or someone new into the sport, there is benefit in racing, even if you're not in it to build up an impressive palmares. Check out the links below to club websites to find out more about racing.
Coburg Cycling Club
Carnegie-Caulfield Cycling Club
St Kilda Cycling Club