It's summer criterium racing season so, here’s a guide to what to expect at the various events around Melbourne. We boast the best racing in the country with various circuits to suit your strengths and taste in coffee.
WORDS - GLEN O'ROURKE IMAGES - ERNESTO ARRIAGADA
Let’s get the basics out of the way
A criterium road race is typically held on a circuit between 1 and 3 kilometres, with the race over a period of time and then given laps to the finish. For example 60 minutes plus 3 laps. Be prepared for fast a fast pace and sometimes technical cornering.
What do you need to take part?
You need to join a club and have a license to race. Cycling Australia offer a 3 race license to try out before committing to the full year and if you are new to criterium racing giving it a try first is always a good idea.
You must have a helmet that complies with Australian standards and for some races you need to have a rear light even for day racing, so check club's website.
Beyond the basics - What grade should I ride?
Touchy subject this one and most riders, that I know at least, have been accused of sandbagging (riding a lower grade than your mates think you should). Honest self-assessment is clearly the key here and respecting the club that you are racing it, as the standard of racing does vary from club to club and it’s not unusual to get a lower grading at a club like St Kilda than you would at a smaller club with smaller races . As far as I see it the pleasure of winning a race is best if it’s hard earned.
The general rule is that you get to win two races before being bumped up a grade.
From year to year race in the same grade that you were in at the end of the previous season regardless of how little you claim to have trained over winter. There was a time when the handicapper would say give us a look at your legs and make a call. These old boys have long gone and your Strava records tell the real story.
How about the subject of team mates?
Race as an individual and no collusion…..right! These days are also long gone. If you have a few mates on board to chase a break down and lead you into the final corner then go for it. Everyone else is doing it. Just buy them coffee afterwards.
When and where are the races?
You can race almost every day of the week and most races are commutable from the CBD. Take your pick from the glamorous (say St Kilda) to the gritty (Footscray). Here are just some of the highlights.
The week kicks off with Tuesday evenings with Carneige Caulfield Cycling Club. All races start from 6:30pm on the 3.2km Sandown motor racing circuit. This is an ideal location for bike racing with a wide open circuit. You can spot the breakaway up the road and on windy evenings the race is often put in to the gutter. Strong fields out here that suit the good all-rounder rider and sprinters.
Wednesdays are Hawthorn Cycling Club who put on a really nice race at the tear drop circuit Yarra Boulevard in Kew. It is the same circuit used by cycling central’s hot laps that you may have seen on SBS TV. It is essentially an uphill sprint every lap. You have just have enough time to recover down the back straight, tear into the tight slight off camber left hand corner and sling shot back up the incline. Racing here has a really good atmosphere and you usually find other grades watching on the bottom corner. I suggest that you race this one a few times to get your mojo. There is a real technique to taking the best line around the corner with enough momentum to carry you into the final finishing sprint. Best tactics are to watch the others burn their matches early and fizzle. Save it for the final few laps and perfect those cornering skills. Skinny punchy climbers rule the roost here.
Footscray CC – new this season Thursday evenings (was Wednesday) and Sunday mornings
Victoria University out west on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings are a low key affair. The circuit is a little baron and cross winds play a big part because the exposed nature of the area. If you want your racing to be a more relaxed affair then this is the place to be. Now on Thursday’s.
Riders are mostly Footscray cycling club members but there are plans to attract riders from across the city especially in January with the Bike Bug race series. They also have a change in race venue from January and move to the popular Drake Boulevard in Altona. This circuit is one of the best around and when the large loop is used it offers changes in direction, a chicane, long straights into cross winds and wide open roads and hot mix road surface. It is probably the best circuit in Melbourne - a shame it’s not used all summer. Check out FCC website for more details. There is usually a group that rides back towards the city via Altona and Williamstown to make it a worthwhile hit out.
Saturdays are Coburg Cycling Club run regular Saturday morning racing at National Boulevard, Campbellfield.
National Boulevard is another nice safe circuit with minimal braking required on the mostly sweeping corners and wide roads. When the wind blows it can play a part in racing on this circuit. The straights are longer and with a slight rise coming into the final corner is a bit of a softener before the full tilt wide open road sprint to the finish line. For those that have raced here before the finish line position has changed from recent years. Great racing opportunities for juniors and riders of all levels on this circuit due to the fact that the roads are wide and open.
Sunday at Carnegie Caulfield Cycling Club
Criteriums are held on Sunday mornings throughout the summer (October to April) season at the fast, wide and safe 1.1km Glenvale Crescent circuit.
The circuit here is a beauty particularily if you like fast and sweeping cornering. You can keep the pace high and the bunch really strings out. The great thing about racing her is that the racing feels nice and safe. There is room to manoeuvre and less jostling for position going into the corners. Nice honest grunt and speed wins these races and you regularly see Australian pro continental racers testing form on a Sunday morning. A good ride out from the city ensures you deserve that Sunday afternoon sports drink or two.
Also on Sundays St Kilda
If you like the latest floral cycling jerseys, carbon bling and a café latte with your bike racing then St Kilda is the place to be on a Sunday morning. This is probably the best quality racing field in Melbourne across the higher grades and the infrastructure required to put racing on is really impressive. PA system, music, coffee van and even an inflatable finish line arch has made an appearance. The circuit is good and roads are wide enough. St Kilda CC do an amazing job here and the highlight of the year is the Super Crit in December that attracts some of the country’s best professional cyclists. It’s fair to say that this is the bench mark in criterium racing in Melbourne.
A quality set up means large numbers and a broad range of bike handling skills. I suggest you fasten the shoes nice and tight and stick your elbows out of you want to be competitive here. There is generally lots of jostling for position and diving up the inside into corners. Sprint finishes are the norm and don’t be surprised to see the odd lead out train in any grade. Racing here is serious business and a great place to get guidance in the lower grades.
A special mention of the fact that women’s racing is at its best here with good fields across all grades.
If that’s not enough, you can also find masters and veterans racing around the city so check out websites for more details.
Over the next few months we will be providing you with an insight into the racing scene. If you have any stories you want to share we would love it if you get in touch.