Filled with the stoke from the Mission Crit fixed gear criterium race in San Francisco, I penned this little number for the fine folks at Chrome Industries to help get everyone else just as excited for the 2019 race season as I am:
Last weekend was Mission Crit, which for many folks marks the beginning of race season. On top of that, the WTF race was billed as the feature event this year, which for even more of us marks a major landmark in drawing attention to Women/Trans and Female identifying bodies in sport. My teammates at Shadow Elite Racing and myself have written this post in the interest of stoking the stoke that is building around this race and our collective future in cycling, and encouraging more new faces of every type to get out there and shred. Here are some tips for training for the races ahead and tricks for excelling at the fast, technical courses that characterize criterium races, on the fixed gear bikes that make Mission Crit so uniquely thrilling.
1. Hydrate and Sleep
Bike racing is often portrayed as a competition of brawn, and the popular representation of the race often leaves out the self-care and mental preparation that will take you from being a strong rider to a great racer. My philosophy is that most everything (including your cycling skillz) are made better with more hydration and sleep. This only increases in importance as race day approaches, so beginning a week before your race, (and even before that – take care of yourselves!) hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A dehydrated body equals a higher heart rate. If you remain hydrated, you can keep the high stress situations you will encounter at bay.
When you are training, you want to make sure you ENVISION this race, so there’s no huge surprise to your body day of. Watch race videos – past races, new races, of this specific course or ones similar to speed and grouping. You’ll see lots of folks jump out of the saddle and attack in quick, short sprints, trying to drop the racers just behind them. Practice sprints like this, imagining the thrill of sprinting around the cyclist you’ve been chasing down. Exercises like this are called openers.
Team crusher Chelsea Mattias offered to share her super top secret opener routine, which she does the week before a big race:
‘You don’t want your legs to stiffen up, so do a simulation of your race around where you live or on a trainer. You can simulate a course like Mission Crit by doing a 30 second uphill sprint, 30 second easy to simulate the downhill, and 1 min hard for the long straightaway at the backside.’
Through your training, make sure you listen to what your body needs and take care of it. Try to foam roll or stretch every day. This is important, when you get to the course you want your body to be 100% in connection with your mind. They are constantly listening to each other. A nimble body is a fast reacting, fast sprinting, fast to the finish line-body.
4. Don’t Get Spooked & Change Your Setup
When selecting the gear you will need for any race, the most important thing is to have something YOU are comfortable riding. “No last minute dramatic bike changes!” Says our organizational maven Kate Von Merwitz. “Sometimes this is unavoidable, but sometimes new adjustments can completely throw you off. If there are changes that need to be made to your setup, aim to get it sorted at least a week before the race so you aren’t fiddling around with your fit the night before or day of the race.”
5. Choose Your Tire Pressure
Fixed gear bikes are super simple speed machines, so put some thought into the two elements of your rig you have the most control over: tire pressure and gear ratio. Lower tire pressure helps you ‘grip’ the corners better, but higher pressure rolls faster, so you want to find the balance between these two. I generally run 70-80 psi. Another thing that helps in the corners is running slightly wider tires and rims. All around stellar cyclist Evelyn Sifton’s sweet spot for events like this is 25-28c.
6. Choose your Gear Ratio
For your gear ratio, choose something that fits your fitness level and your strengths. 49 tooth Chain ring and 15 tooth cog, resulting in a ratio of 86 gear inches, is the most common gear ratio for fixed gear crits. However, some people have stronger legs and others can spin their legs faster. These two people would have to choose different gear ratios to go the same speed. More gear inches make you go faster, but a ‘lighter’ (= less gear inches) ratio allows you to accelerate faster, so keep this in and consider the specific challenges of the race while you select your ratio. Unlike most races on the road or track, there are few straightaways in a criterium and the corners are tight. You want to select a gear that allows you to keep up with someone in your field who is ‘attacking’ so you can stay in their draft, or if you are less confident in cornering, allows you to slow down to make it safely through a sharp corner and then quickly accelerate again.
No matter what your skill level, everyone will generally you want lower gear ratio for more technical courses. If you are on the fence about which ratio to choose, remember that your lungs recover faster than your leg muscles, so better to choose a gear where you will be spinning at a very high cadence than one where your leg muscles are going to cramp up and die.
7. Pack and Prep
You don’t want to be stressing when you get to the event. Pack all the gear you need the night before. That includes plenty of snacks (Evelyn Sifton is powered purely by chocolate chip cookies, while I prefer sweet potatoes, and a few Shot Blox right before the race), and make sure your water bottle is filled with Nuun or whichever hydration pack you use. A change of clean, warm clothes is crucial to slip on in between qualifiers and the main event. Finally, have chain rings and cogs you think you might need for your desired gear ratio.
And now tuck yourself into bed and sleep tight. Tomorrow, we race!