4 Ways to Improve Your Cornering Skills
Spring is here, and so are criteriums. Here are some helpful hints.
(Wrote this a while ago ………)
April is upon us, and if you race in the United States, that means criterium season has started. Criteriums (crits) are the staple of American racing. They are fast, exciting and challenging. Just like a road race or a time trial, the crit race is a breed alone. It requires special preparation, special training, special bike handling skills and, to do well, an aggressive approach to the race itself.
Typically most crits are held on a venue that offers lots of turns, brief straight-aways and maybe even a short hill or two.
Because of the intense nature of the race itself, crits can be a buzz of energy. From the moment you pull into the parking lot, you can feel the static in the air. Because of this, it is good to be well prepared for the event. Have a “race bag” checklist. Make sure you have everything needed at your disposal. Better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.
If possible, get there early to pre-ride the course. Memorize the turns, road deviations and where the finish line is after the last turn. Being familiar with the course will be a benefit when the race starts.
99.9% of all crits are full gas from the gun, so a solid warm-up in crucial. Make sure your legs and cardio are ready to perform at the very start of the race. Timing for your warm-up is key. If you do it and then sit around and wait for the start for 25 minutes your muscles start to relax. Start your warm-up too late and you risk lining up in the back row. Target a 30-40 minute warm-up. Some bring their trainers to warm-up on. Doing this means you don’t have to worry about finding a place to ride and your warm-up can be very structured. Finish your warm-up 10 minutes before your start time. Do your final race prep; fill your bottles, put on race wheels, etc. This should be enough time to get to the line and get a good starting position. Lining up in the front row means you have less of a chance to be hindered by others around you.
Be in a good gear for accelerating. Too small and you will spin out quickly and gaps could form. Too big and you will struggle to get up to speed.
If the first turn on the course is a right, line up on the left side. The group will naturally bunch up on the turn side. Being on the outside will allow you to carry more speed and pass all those riders having to break for the first turn.
Riding in a pack on your local group ride or even a road race is one thing. You are inches from the wheel in front of you, maybe bumping an occasional elbow. Now in a crit, you are getting ready to do all this AND MORE – approaching a turn at speed, slamming on the brakes, diving into the corner then accelerating out of it to get back up to speed. All this with a group of riders with the same goal as you, to get into the turn fast, go through fast and come out of the turn fast.
You might even have someone yell, “HOLD YOUR LINE!” This means that you might have deviated from your “expected” path. You are expected to follow the same line as the person in front of you NOT choosing your own line. Picking your own line can be dangerous to those around you. Simply put, you maintain your spot in the pack.
Keeping as much speed as possible and lowering your center of gravity are two essentials to “railing” a corner, or going through as quickly as possible. Always putting the outside foot down and putting pressure on that foot will help lower your center of gravity. This is cornering 101.
Staying in your drops throughout the race not only keeps your more aero but also lowers your center of gravity allowing for more speed in the turns.
The next step is counter steering. Countersteering is a skill that needs to be practiced before applying it in a race. It is simply defined as putting slight pressure on the handlebars on the side you are turning into. If you attempt to make a right turn on your bicycle before first leaning your bicycle over to the right, centrifugal forces will cause you to crash by falling over to the left. Leaning the bicycle to the right allows gravity to cancel the centrifugal forces. But how do you get the get the bike to lean to the right? By countersteering, i.e. by turning the handlebars to the left. In other words to make a right turn, you first turn the handlebars left. The centrifugal forces will then lean you and your bicycle in the proper direction. Doing this lets you carry more speed through a turn.
Get a feel for this before doing it on the race course. An empty parking lot with traffic islands, etc. makes a great practice course. Go through a few turns as your normally would. Then start to apply the countersteering technique. Not too much pressure or speed in the first few turns. Get a feel for it. Then build up to point where you are countersteering effectively.
There can be a large learning curve when you are trying to get good at criteriums. Being prepared, knowing what to expect and working on skill sets on your own are a few things will help you be a better crit racer.