Perform accelerations. Criteriums involve constant accelerations and recoveries, so your body must be conditioned to handle them. High-intensity intervals on the bike can help you master attacks and breakaways. For example, after a five- to ten-minute warm-up, sprint as hard as you can for one minute and then recover at an easy spin for another minute. Repeat the intervals for 10 to 20 minutes, and then end the workout with a moderately intense, steady-state ride of 20 to 30 minutes.
Participate in short, intense group rides. Since criteriums rarely last longer than an hour, it's not necessary to do four-hour endurance rides as a part of your training. Instead, opt for shorter rides of one to two hours with riders who maintain an intense pace for the duration. As a bonus, practice your attacks and breakaways if you train with other racers and the group permits it.
Practice your technical skills. Criteriums usually involve tight turns and require excellent bike handling skills. Having a friend or group of cyclists helps you get comfortable with the close quarter contact of criteriums racing. At low speeds, practice your recoveries by making light handlebar or shoulder contact with other riders. If you're new to cycling, do this in a grassy field in case you fall.
Train off the bike. Although the majority of criterium training should be done in the saddle, resistance training and plyometrics will help you to further develop the explosive, anaerobic power you'll need to perform well. Use moderate to heavy resistance when weight training and incorporate plyometric exercises such as box jumps and wind sprints to dial in your criterium training.
Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Always keep bike safety in mind and never ride without a helmet. Respect the rules of the road and avoid training in high traffic areas. If you must ride with traffic, keep yourself visible to drivers by wearing bright-coloured clothes, and don't ride in low-light conditions. Criteriums can be intimidating for someone new to cycling, and it's important that you're completely comfortable with your bike handling skills before taking on a race. Close-quarter riding when you aren't confident on the bike can cause crashes.
If possible, ride the course before the race. It's good to familiarize yourself with the turns and the course length ahead of time so you can plan your accelerations and recoveries. If you can't ride the exact course, at least study it and practice your turns on a comparable course.
Nutrition before the Race
When competing in sports that require high-intensity exercise for a long duration (60 minutes+, such as in a criterium), performance is improved when glycogen stores are full prior to competition. Traditional approaches used to advocate a glycogen depletion period (reducing glycogen stores through training or reduced carbohydrate intake) in the days leading up to the competition, followed by a 3-day ‘carb-loading’ period. However, many athletes found this protocol uncomfortable and more recent studies challenged the approach.
Based on the more recent evidence, many nutritionists now suggest that a rider should consume 7-10g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight the day before a race. This could require a 70kg rider to consume 700g of carbohydrate the day before a race.
Individual's tolerance and requirements may vary according to preference, how you respond on what your level of activity has been leading up to the event, so it’s important to ascertain what works for you and ideally, seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist.
Nutrition during a Criterium
Criteriums are generally only 60 minutes in duration, so there is likely no need to take on additional carbohydrate for the purposes of providing fuel. However, studies have demonstrated that during exercise lasting approximately 1 hour, a mouth rinse containing a small amount of carbohydrate can result in a performance benefit, likely due to its impact on the central nervous system, increasing central drive or motivation (Carter et al. 2004). Practically, a rider could mix up a single bottle with a dilute carbohydrate solution (30g of maltodextrin powder in 500ml of water), take a swig and rinse it around their mouth for 5 seconds, once every 5-10 minutes.
Nutrition after a Criterium
What a rider eats after a criterium race depends on how soon they need to ride hard again. If the rider needs to perform at a high level in training or racing the same or next day, it’s important to consume carbohydrate and protein soon after to replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Studies suggest that ingesting protein (0.2-0.4 g.kg) and/or an amino acid mixture (around 9g) with up to 0.8 g/kg carbohydrate accelerates post-exercise muscle glycogen repletion and should have a positive effect on subsequent exercise performance. Practically, for a 70kg rider, this could translate to a post-race shake containing 28 grams of whey protein and 56 grams of carbohydrate. If you don’t have to train or race hard, soon after, the need to consume protein and carbohydrate immediately after the event is likely less pressing