A criterium, or “crit”, is a bike race, usually less than 5 kilometers in distance. Races are generally held on city streets that have been temporarily closed to traffic, usually covering about a quarter of a mile in distance.
Because they are short in duration (generally less than an hour, compared to other road races that can last several hours or even days), crits are high speed, high intensity events. They remain the most common form of bike racing in the United States.
While not a mainstream sport for many mothers, we interviewed one mum for the inside story on criterium racing. Here, Susan Lewis Glick shares her journey into—and through—a fitness activity that is not for the faint of heart.
Can you give us an overview of crit racing?
Races are usually thirty minutes, plus five laps. There are typically “races within the race” where a bell goes off after the racers pass by. This bell signals a “prime”, a prize for the cyclist who crosses the start/finish line first. It is a tactic used to keep up the speed in the race.
How did you become involved with crits? You were part of a racing team—how did that materialize?
As part of my triathlon training and in an effort to improve both my bike handling skills and endurance, I rode with the San Diego Bike Club. Each ride was challenging, as the group would “attack” (accelerate aggressively) at specific sections of the ride. It was during one of these group rides, I met some women from a local racing team. They were interested in bringing other female cyclists into the fold to increase their team strength. Most people think of cycling as an individual sport, but when you’re involved with crit racing, team strategy is critically important to win.
What were some of the advantages of bike racing, both individually and as part of a team?
I loved the competition of racing, especially when I was in peak form. Racing with a team has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was I was able to be part of the greater good, attacking when I needed to in order to advance my teammate.
What about the disadvantages of crits?
Sometimes I had to sacrifice my own race for the greater good of the team. If I needed to attack at a certain point to tire out other teams, I had to do it, even though I knew it would cause me to finish last. Additionally, racing lasts for an entire “season”. Unlike triathlon, you don’t peak in fitness for just one or two races. I found it difficult to race, recover, and race again, weekend after weekend.
Another huge disadvantage is the danger involved. With crit racing, you are riding in a very close pack; one wrong move can cause you to crash.
At what point did you become disenchanted with racing, and why did you ultimately decide to leave the sport?
My turning point came when I was involved in a crash in the final sprint to the finish. Two cyclists converged on me and I went over the handlebars, breaking my elbow. Thank goodness for helmets, as mine cracked upon impact, preventing a more serious injury. I tried to get back into racing, but my bike fitness had dropped off during my recovery. Then, I witnessed an intense crash where a cyclist almost died and I realised I couldn’t take that kind of risk anymore.
With the knowledge you have now about crit racing and beyond, what is your relationship with you bike now? Do you still enjoy cycling for fitness?
I developed a love for riding back in my college days while riding with a club team at UNH, and then I discovered triathlon in the mid-eighties. But, I have a love/not love relationship with my bike. It takes several hours in the saddle to be good, and with my current schedule, the time just isn’t there. I have kept one of my racing bikes, along with my bike shoes and helmet because I know I’ll get back out there one day—maybe not crit racing, but certainly triathlon.
With your busy schedule as a single parent and maintaining a career that requires you to travel frequently, what is your favourite way to stay fit?
With my schedule and being a single parent, the easiest, most convenient way to stay fit is running! All you need is a good pair of running shoes and a good running bra! I can take my workout with me almost wherever I go.
Do you have any advice for encouraging other mums aspiring to gain fitness while juggling everyday life?
My only advice is try to change your body clock to wake up early and get it done! I have tried over the years to workout at night, but something always seems to come up that makes it impossible. Once I get my workout in, I know the day is going to be bright!