A Handy Dandy Road Criterium Glossary!


A criterium, or crit, is a bike race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit, the length of each lap or circuit ranging from about 1 km to 2 km. criterium is usually calculated in time, or a number of laps. If it is a timed race, it will usually last between forty minutes to an hour. It can sometimes be longer or shorter depending on the skill level of the riders and the desires of the race directors. In my opinion it is the most watchable race for spectators and generally packed with more excitement for me as a participant! I'm so excited that you're considering supporting a criterium, so I've put together this handy dandy guide/ glossary to explain what's going on! Many of these terms apply to other types of racing, but they might still be new to you! I'm sure I won't cover all the things, so please ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them for you!


Peloton - The main group of riders in the race. 

Corner- A turn. Sharp turns usually 90 degrees  or more is what makes a crit so technical. At high speeds it is very challenging to corner well without experience and skill. The ability to corner is usually what separates the more experienced riders from the less experienced riders.  

Field Sprint- When the peloton sprints over the finish line as a group.  

Solo/ Break Away- A solo rider or group of riders that has separated in front of the peloton. There are a few advantages to this strategy:

  1. You are free to choose your own line for taking corners. In the group you are forced to hold the line with your given space in relation to the other riders. 
  2. If you manage to maintain "the break" until the finish, you can avoid a field sprint. 

Chase Group- The chase group can be the main peloton or a second break of riders who are working to catch the first break of riders. 

Lapping the field/ Getting lapped- If a break away successfully leaves the peloton, goes around the entire course, and passes them again, this is called "lapping the field'. For the riders who have been passed, it is called getting lapped. Getting lapped more commonly happens to dropped riders. 

Off the back/ dropped- Crits are fast, and if you're not having a great race you might find yourself falling further and further behind. If you are no longer a part of the peloton, you are now a dropped rider. Normally, race officials will let you continue until there is the eminent danger of getting lapped. Because of science, it's very difficult for a solo rider to maintain the same speed as a group of riders, for this reason, it's not uncommon for dropped riders to get lapped. 

Pulled- If the race official decides, he can take you out of the race. Usually for safety reasons. 

Mechanical- An issue with your bike that was beyond your control. Most commonly, a flat tire. 

Free laps- Because a crit is on a closed course, there is usually a substantial amount of the race where you will be allowed to re-enter in the case of a crash or a mechanical. If you find yourself in trouble, you can make your way to the support tent, and the officials will let you attempt to jump back into the race as the main group comes around. This is way more challenging than it sounds. Also, you can't stop and go as you please. The incident has to be something beyond your control, and you and you bike must still be in good working order to jump back in. You are also not allowed to go backwards on the course. You can exit and cut through, or ride around in the correct direction until you get to the support tent.

Aero(dynamic)- Positioning your body in a way that allows the air to flow around you as efficiently as possible. This can help you go faster.

Drafting- Racers are very close to each other in order to draft. If you are behind another rider, you can use them to block the wind, which in turn means you are doing less work. The closer you get, the more energy you save. 

Prime/ Prime lap- A prize. Primes can be money, merchandise, or points. During the race the official will ring a bell and/ or announce a sprint lap. The first person over the line at the end of that lap wins the prime. Money and prizes are nice, but points can also be helpful if you are participating in a race series.

Lead out- Cycling is a team sport! Each team will have a designated sprinter, the other teammates are responsible for protecting their sprinter and helping them get to the line before everyone else. A lead out is a teammate or a few teammates who allow their sprinter to draft behind them until the last possible moment launching them into the final sprint. Think Talladega nights "slingshot engaged". If you don't have any teammates, you can try and draft off of the competition. It's their job to prevent that from happening! 

Final Sprint- The grand finale, the last few laps of a criterium are probably the fastest in the whole race, the sprinters getting into position to try and pedal as strong and fast as they can to be the first over the line. 

Alright you fantastic spectator you! You're ready to cheer! If don't remember anything, that's fine, just yell supportive things really loud. Listen to the marshals and race officials, buy stuff from the vendors, and have a great time!