With the season ramping up in SoCal and beyond, it’s time that many bike racers want to improve their crit racing fitness and make the most of workouts in the coming heat. The best way to improve your criterium skills is to mimic the demands of the racing itself. Crits are fun, FAST, and short. Applying specificity of training to your cycling intervals to get fast makes for fun, speedy, but challenging intervals sets.
Crit power file
As this example of a power file from a 1/2/3 local criterium shows, crit racing requires constantly fluctuating power, with over twenty 30-second efforts at 450+ watts. In this case, that equates to over 120% of FTP. Throughout the race, the power requirements remain the same, so it’s important to be able to recover between these shorter bursts. The following is one of my favorite workouts to mimic the demands of criterium racing, with some guidelines for power, although the bulk of the session should be done more on feel than riding to numbers due to the sheer intensity of the efforts.
So, here’s one of my favorite ways to prepare athletes for the rigors of crit racing. One nice thing about this workout is that it can be done in as little as an hour with proper planning.
Warm Up:
20-30 minutes at endurance pace, 60-80% FTP
During Warm-Up – 5x5s spin up sprints, starting at speed in an easy gear at ~90rpms and ramping up to 120+ rpms.
Main set:
5 x 30s ON/ 30s OFF
Straight into –
5 minutes tempo @80-90% FTP
5 x 30s ON/ 30s OFF
5 minutes easy spinning @55-65% FTP
5x30s ON/ 30s OFF
(Optional additional set after a few sessions)
5 minutes easy spinning @55-65% FTP
5 x 30s ON/ 30s OFF
Cool Down:
10-20min easy spinning at 55-65% FTP
You’ll notice that there’s no goal for % of FTP for the 30s ON/ 30s OFF period. Instead of using power, you’ll want to do this on feel. The goal is to maximize the power and consistency of the intervals across each repeat. I typically recommend athletes do the workout with each interval as hard as possible for the first few workouts, which results in a lot of decay in power over the set. After getting a feel for the workout (it’s an impressively difficult effort), you can set power goals by adjusting based on the last set, where you’ll start to level off in the power you can achieve for each ON period. This is a maximum effort sprint every time, with the first 8-15s being an out of the saddle sprint to get on top of the (big) gear, and then staying on the gas through the rest of the 30s. On each OFF period, it’s important to breathe deeply, spin quickly, and recover as well as possible for the next interval. The 5-minute tempo effort in the middle of the workout is designed to replicate the intensity of a real crit, where you’ll be forced to maintain speed even after a surge in the race.
This workout has several advantages over a traditional sprint workout with full recoveries. Throughout the set, you can focus on out-of-the-saddle technique for the sprints, using your arms and core to drive power into the pedals, while spinning up to high rpms as quickly as possible. Watching great sprinters is a thing of beauty because they’ve mastered how to accelerate maximally and maintain speed throughout a full sprint. 30 seconds is longer than a typical sprint. However, this workout does double duty as aerobic recovery practice by keeping your heart rate high and forcing you to ride hard even when you’re fatigued from previous efforts in the race.
At under an hour and a half of ride time, the workout is short, sweet, and challenging. Short anaerobic intervals such as this can take your crit racing to another level. Supplement with threshold riding to get to the end of the race fresher and true sprint practice consisting of shorter sprints and long recoveries to facilitate maximum power, and you’ll be a criterium racing weapon by the time Summer crits are in full swing. Make sure to get in your recovery drink immediately after the workout because this is a very high stress ride. Additionally, the workout should be performed a maximum of twice each week while fresh to allow for full recovery from the intensity of the training.
Mitchell Sides As an Exercise Science student at the University of
Texas, Mitchell Sides assisted coaching the university
cycling and triathlon teams. Since graduating, he raced
professionally for Elevate Pro Cycling and started his
coaching career at Source Endurance. Mitchell has been
using TrainingPeaks and WKO4 analytical software to
help optimize workouts for each athlete. His athletes
range from masters to college freshmen in cycling and
triathlon. Learn more about Mitchell.

1 Comment

  1. […] Intervals any time of year can have short-term gains. Have a particular weakness? A carefully prescribed regimen of specific intervals can target your weaknesses while still leaving you enough energy to feel good for the weekend races. For example, Coach Mitchell Sides recently wrote and shared one of his favorite crit-specific workouts. […]