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a great time to jump on the course and get to know it. Note the corners and how to properly take them, any potholes or imperfections that could cause a puncture or crash. If warming up on a trainer or rollers, try to visualize the course and how you are going to take the corners.

Be predictable. You should be riding in a predictable manner at all times. At no point during the race should you move side to side abruptly. Quick movements like this may cause others to overreact. You could be one of the best bike handlers in the world, but the guy next to you might not be. The rule is that you own the space in front of your front wheel. The space next to you is owned by the person whose front wheel is behind it. If you need to move over, or get out, wait for a time that it is safe to do so. Don’t wait until the whole field has passed you to move over, but don’t move around as if the whole road is yours.
Brakes are for emergencies. If there is a pile up in front of you, yes you are going to need to grab “a fist-full of brakes.” Other times, racers should be able to judge what is going to happen by being aware of their surroundings. After a few times into a turn, mark where you stop pedaling so you can save energy by coasting into it rather than sprinting in, jamming your brakes, then sprinting out. As you are corning, watch the people in front of you. If they are slowing out of the turn, be prepared to not jump out of the turn. Again, this will save you the energy you were going to spend accelerating into the back of a slowing field.

Letting gaps open is a no-no. When races get fast, they get very strung out. If you are at the back, you might not see it, but people are probably attacking at the front. If you are at the breaking point and feel that you MUST quit (don’t quit), make sure the person behind you knows your intentions. You can flick your elbow and quickly move over, or before pulling out wave the person behind you on. Do not just sit up and force the person behind you to sprint around. This is rude and can be the difference between the people behind you finishing and not finishing.

Don’t “chop” corners. “Chopping a corner” is what some people do in order to make a quick gain in position. If you are in the pack, about to make a right turn, you will notice that the right side of the road is empty and you may feel that you could easily pass a dozen people and slip into the corner. What you may not realize is that you are going to have to accelerate rapidly to get there, then hit your brakes to make the turn, and then accelerate rapidly to get out of the turn. Chances are, the person you were next to is going to coast through the turn and end up right next to you or right behind you, while you wasted a ton of energy sprinting into and out of the turn. Chances are also that you only have the fitness to do that a few times during the race.

This article hopefully covers the fundamentals needed to start participating in criteriums, which for many serve as the first jump from passionate commuter to competitive rider. Like other things, practice is key. People often go from getting lapped multiple times their first race to finishing in the top 10 within a few months. There is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of in getting dropped from your first crit. No matter how fast you are there is always going to be somebody faster. The goal should not be to win, although winning is nice, but rather to gain experience and progress as far as you can as a racer. You have to start somewhere, sometime, and there is nowhere better than here and now. Good luck, be safe.

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