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Training Center: Prepping for a criterium

  • By Joe Friel
  • Published Apr. 26, 2013
Work on sprints in the weeks leading up to your criterium. Photo: Matt James

This is the second of a three-part series by Joe Friel, co-founder of TrainingPeaks.com and author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible. In this series, Joe explains how to train specifically for your upcoming event, whether it’s a time trial, criterium, or a road/stage race. Part 2 of this series prepares the rider specifically for racing a crit.

In preparing for an A-priority criterium race, the most important part of your preparation is the Build period (the six periods are Prep, Base, Build, Peak, Race, and Transition). This period starts about 12 weeks prior to race day and ends about three or four weeks before.

Within the Build period, the most critical time is seven to three weeks prior. During this time, your fitness should be brought to its highest level with workouts that closely simulate the stresses you anticipate in the race. All of your training prior to seven weeks before the race is to get you ready for these critical five weeks.

For racing a criterium, anaerobic endurance is the key ability to develop during the Build period. This is the capacity to repeatedly produce a very high effort with short recoveries. A competitive criterium usually includes sprints of zone 7 power or 9-10 RPE (on a 0/low to 10/high scale) of 10-20 seconds duration with short recoveries.

These sprints last throughout the event, which is typically 30-60 minutes long. Typically there will be more frequent sprints in the first several minutes, with the intensity settling down with fewer such sprints, but more decisive ones, in the latter half of the race. Meeting these types of demands is what you must prepare for in training.

The most basic anaerobic endurance workout is the club ride on the weekend. During the race season, these group rides usually involve very hard efforts that also fall into the anaerobic endurance category. These rides should have commenced at least by the start of the Build period some 12 weeks or so before your A-priority race. They should continue into the critical 5 weeks.

The best way to train for an A-priority criterium is to do several C-priority criteriums. If there are any available on the weekends, do them. They will build your anaerobic endurance. Also, many cycling clubs offer mid-week, crit-style practice races. If these are available, do as many as you can in the crucial five-week period. When possible, race at least one crit or one club practice race weekly in addition to your group ride.

In those weeks when there are no C-priority crits or club practice races, do one or two anaerobic endurance workouts instead. Here’s how to do such a workout. This workout is best done with a training partner, but may also be done alone.

Following a warmup of at least 15 minutes, go to a section of road where traffic is very light and there are no intersections to cross. Select a course that requires frequent cornering, as this is a crucial aspect of crit racing. For example, such a course may be a block in a business park or in a housing development that is still being built. Another option is a large, empty parking lot.

Safety is paramount for this workout. It can be dangerous. The above suggested workout locations are usually safest after work hours and on the weekends. Again, avoid any location with heavy or unpredictable traffic. Do not sprint with your head down looking at the timer on your handlebars or wrist. Keep your eyes on the road ahead just as you will do in a race.

The sprints are short and duration may be estimated or the time counted down in your head. Single-side pedal revolutions may also be counted assuming 15 for a 10-second block of time.

Start with a two-minute set by doing 6×10-second sprints (all sprints in this workout are done at zone 7 power, or 9-10 RPE) with each followed by a 10-second recovery. Recover for two minutes. Then do a two-minute set of 4×15-second sprints with 15-second recoveries. Recover for two minutes. For the third set do two minutes, including 3×20 second sprints with 20-second recoveries. Again, recover for two minutes.

Then do 10-second sprints followed by 20-second recoveries for three minutes, followed by a three-minute recovery. If your goal race is a 30-minute crit, that finishes the intervals. If racing for about 45 minutes, repeat this last set. For a one-hour or longer crit, do it at least two more times, or until sprint power begins to noticeably decline.

Some riders can manage two such anaerobic endurance crit events or workouts along with the group ride in most of the critical five weeks. You’ll quickly learn if you can’t handle that much workload because performance will diminish as fatigue settles over you. It’s better to do fewer such challenging sessions (one or two per week) with high quality than to do three each week and fade quickly during each one. When in doubt, leave it out.

Realize also that in the five-week period, you will undoubtedly need a recovery break. This could be 3-5 days of greatly reduced training, meaning the workouts are much shorter than you have been doing and the intensity is zone 1 only. There is no anaerobic endurance training during these recovery days.

During these five weeks, keep the volume of your training low. The emphasis must be on sprint intensity. Piling on the miles will only detract from the quality of your anaerobic endurance workouts while providing no greater fitness.

Read Part 1, How to train for a time trial.

Editor’s Note: Joe Friel is a co-founder of TrainingPeaks.com and is the author of several books on training for endurance athletes, including The Cyclist’s Training Bible.

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