Criterium Bullshit during Stage Races

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I’ve written about the “tactics” that the “PRO Teams” use to control the fields in criteriums. If you happened to miss it, at every criterium during a stage race the leading rider’s team rides a slow tempo at the front, riding the inside of the course and chopping/hooking the entire field every corner of every lap. It totally disrupts the flow of the race, as it is supposed to, but is so dangerous to everyone but the team leading. Here is a quote from Ben Jacques-Maynes from the Bissell Team talking about his team’s “tactic”. He was winning last weekends Merco Classic and was talking about the criterium.

“This is really an extension of our training camp,” Jacques-Maynes said. “It is actually much better than beating up on each other during training rides. The guys rode fantastic today. We didn’t want to ride a super hard tempo all day but just enough to stay safe. There was an 180-degree turn on the course so it was much safer to be at the front anyway, I was ninth wheel and I wouldn’t have wanted to be any further back.”

They didn’t want to ride hard, but just enough to be safe? And, he didn’t want to be riding farther back than 9 riders for safety reasons? And the 8 guys in front of him were on his team. How fucked up is that? Really fucked up! I’m not even sure why they had 9 riders in the race in the first place. It wasn’t the Tour de France. But that is a whole ‘nother rant. They finished 7 guys in the top 15 in GC. Some race. Maybe it was safe for him, but it was very unsafe for the other 100 guys. Try it with 200 riders. It is just stupid.

At Nature Valley a few couple years ago, when Tom Zirbel was leading, Frank Pipp or whoever happened to be at the back of the Bissell train would look back over his shoulder and tell his guys which way to swing to chop the field. This was about the worse I’d ever experienced. The problem that day for them was that Tom could not stay connected to his guys at the front, so he was 50 guys back in the field doing the brake/jump thing, getting wasted like the rest of us. It would have been so much better for them just to ride a fast tempo at the front of the race, taking the corners on a normal line with their GC leader sitting on.

I don’t have an answer for the problem. I don’t know how you make a team tempo the “correct” line of a criterium course at race speed, not “jack up the field tempo”. Maybe give one warning and then disqualify the riders one by one for riding dangerously. But, this tactic to neutralize all the criteriums in US stage races has to stop. It is too dangerous and on top of that, it is super boring to watch. Let’s get rid of any spectators that we manage to attract by showing them a team time trial instead of a criterium. And a slow TTT at that.

Criterium racing? I think not.

27 thoughts on “Criterium Bullshit during Stage Races

  1. Sean YD

    This is becoming the norm, particularly at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, which features more than one criterium. It is extremely boring for spectators new to the sport to watch.

  2. Charles

    Steve must be passionate on this subject, very rarely have I seen him drop so many f-bombs.
    Always a great insight on racing and my normal morning excellent read.

  3. Robyn Michelle Angeles

    I remember in Ottawa, ON way back in the 90’s them doing this to Gord Fraser before he was on a Major International Team! That day he crashed and destroyed his knee cap … I don’t know, I guess it’s just “[art of the game!?”

  4. tilford97 Post author

    Yeh Sean-It is the norm. Everywhere, not just Nature Valley. Every stage race I do. And you’re right, it is boring ass bike racing. For the spectators at least. For the field, it is just plain stupid.

  5. Ettore

    If you want to stop the Bullshit upfront, then we can’t ban radios! How else are you going to warn the riders? I agree it has to stop and I remember in my racing days this crap was going on all the time. Radios must remain in my opinion. Keep up the good work I enjoy reading your post very much.

  6. Chris

    Would it help if the crits were always on the first day of the stage race? You’d eliminate an opening TT, but there wouldn’t yet be a race leader.

  7. KB

    I guess what you need to do is throw caution to the wind w/ some sacrifical lambs and just start atttacking and not worrying about how you finish to f’ things up.

  8. Marty

    It doesn’t sound like any of the Bissell riders crashed…. It sounds like the Bissell team was strong and dominant.
    As a rider in the group you have choices: Ride off the front; sit on the the last Bissell riders wheel or drop back through the peloton.
    The last position is safe place to be.

  9. C.P.

    Yep. Indeed. and yes please Open with a Crit. Say Friday night Athens style (logistics be damned) Not middle or end with one. phooey on that. I think circuits are ok to end with. Still controlled but opened up just enough for *some* racing.

  10. tilford97 Post author

    Marty-I’m not sure you’re understanding what is going on at the front.

    You think it sounds like the Bissell team was strong and dominant? Of course it was. It had 10% of the riders in the race. But, if Ben is being interviewed and saying it is dangerous to be riding farther than 9 riders back in a criterium, then there is something wrong.

    And the reason is the unorthodox tempo setting at the front. Which his team is setting. They ride slower than the normal pace of the race at the front and jam the field at each and every corner.

    In Nature Valley in St. Paul, they were riding the inside of the course even when two corners were less than 50 meters apart. No one in their right mind would ever take that line normally. So, when someone in the field behind them decides to take the correct line on the outside, the Bissell guys leading will swing out at the last moment to negotiate the corner, thus hooking everyone behind them.

    A strong and dominate team, in my opinion, would ride the race at the front, taking the correct line. At race pace. Not at 27 mph.

    The reason they ride the screwed up way at the front is to be able to ride at a slower pace than a normal criterium. This wastes the rest of the field because the rest of the field is constantly jamming it’s brakes and then jumping.

    I wouldn’t call this a strong position. I think it is lazy and dangerous bike racing and it needs to stop.

  11. Adam

    It sounds like the equivelant of fouling at the end of a basketball game, or kneeling at the end of a football game. Lame and boring, but legal and effective. Except in cycling it appears to be dangerous.

  12. timmer

    it makes the unsanctioned gravel road races more and more appealing does it not? i love a good crit, hate the bad ones. i’d love to see more middle distance ciruit races.. 100k, 3-5k loop. that’s a euro style crit.. room for all and a distance that doesn’t favor a team effort or control. I remember the old Moline crit.. it was a keeper, big crowds, beer, money, huge field.. then one year they narrowed the finish stretch to accomodate the crowd barrier and fuct it to hell. if a race (a crit specifically) is decided in the first 10 minutes of an hour of racing it ain’t a race. it’s a stupid crit.

  13. Nathan

    Send a note to Shawn Ferrel referencing these two USAC rules. It would be up to him to contact the NRC level officials and help clarify how to enforce them:

    1Q7. No rider may make an abrupt motion so as to interfere with the forward progress of another rider, either intentionally or by accident [relegation or disqualification; possible 20 days suspension if a crash results].

    3B10. Foul Riding. A rider near the edge of a road who leaves a gap sufficient for an opponent to pass may not suddenly close the gap upon being overtaken [relegation or disqualification].

  14. anonymous

    All NRC Crits should be 100km. Make them ridiculous where no one team can control.

    Enforce the current rules; really.

    Limit NRC races to 6 man teams. There is no reason to have a TdF size squad for a 3 stage race, or anything less than 10 days. Sorry PRO riders. Man up like the UCI amateur guys do.

    That outta do it.

  15. Texas rider

    I think this has more to do with “not enough strong teams” than anything else – if there were one or two or three other strong teams in the race, Bissell wouldn’t get away with that stuff; they’d have to be covering attacks all day instead.

    Reminds me of the 7-Eleven / Coors Light / etc days… one dominant domestic team beating up on the others. Steve, weren’t you a part of some of those teams back in the day?

  16. Ted Lewandowski

    I remember hanging at the back of the field at the Tour of Somerville (50 Mile Crit) with and average finishing time of 1:45min – by far the FASTEST CRIT on the race circuit in the 1980’s and watching Paul Pearson open up a gap of 50 meters off the back going into every turn – then riding riding the same speed as the pack when he opened up the gap through the turn catching the field as they re-accelerated back to speed – AVOIDING THE ACCORDION AFFECT FOR THE ENTIRE RACE.
    I copied that tactic after I seen him slingshot from the back of the field just as the field slowed down with 2 laps to go – looking at each other – to WIN THE RACE SOLO!!!

    So to me, if I were racing again – I would light up a nice cigar sit at the back of the field and enjoy the race – then jump the gutter when the field hesitates – as it always does with a couple of laps to go – everyone looking at each other.

    These pretty boys have a lot to learn – and I bet they still would not be able to match the speed of Somerville from the 1980’s.

  17. David

    I remember racing against Steve in California and the southwest in the 80’s as an ICN rider.

    Steve was racing for Levi’s/Raleigh. His team and 7-Eleven dominated races they attended, but not in this way. Teams like Steve’s would launch a rider and the rest of the team would try to latch on to attempts to catch the break. Even little teams could do this.

    7-Eleven introduced us to the concept of riding a ‘false tempo’ at a criterium in the Vuelta de Baja in ’86. But – very important – they had a rider off the front, and they were not chopping the field! Just riding smoothly at the front a little slower than the break…

    It did not feel heavy-handed on those teams’ part. On the sliding scale running from time-trial on one end to roller derby at the other extreme, this was in the middle.

    The tactic Steve describes here sounds more like roller derby. It doesn’t sound like anything to aspire to. Yet, I normally hear racers talk about how “we won the race” or “we got in the five”, instead of “Fred won the race” and “I got 5th”. So I suspect enough guys have been brought through the ranks knowing nothing but these tactics that it is now the norm.

  18. tilford97 Post author

    Yeh-There are rules to be enforced. But, no one complains. They think it is “normal” bicycle racing.

    This is nothing like the 7-11, Levi’s, Schwinn, Coor’s Light days. We raced criteriums during stage races. Not one time during the Coor’s Classic was a race controlled by a team.

    The GC guys watched each other, as they should, and the rest of the field raced for the $$$’s, and stage placings. The bicycle racing was offensive. Not lazy defensive.

    It doesn’t matter how many strong teams there are in the race. As soon as one team goes to the front and starts the silliness, then it is pretty much over.

    Criterium racing is such a exciting part of the sport for spectators, it is a shame that the initial introduction to most newbie fans is to watch a 8 man TTT jack up the rest of the field.

  19. dirty_juheesus

    Bissel may get the win, but it drives potential spectators away with boring racing.

    Common sense dictates that once a team goes to the front with this BS, another team won’t attack.
    A full-frontal assault won’t work out. A very low probability of winning/placing well and wasting yourself too. So, most pragmatic racers sit in and enjoy the ride.

  20. ML

    Moving past 8 riders controlling the field is impossible during a crit. That’s 8 of the stronger riders in the country all working together to slam the door on any rider with aspirations higher than 9th place. Steve’s nailed this one.

  21. tilford97 Post author

    Dewey-Think of Stillwater. They tempo that course so easy. The harder the course, the more slicky effect, thus the harder it is for the field to sit.

  22. Chris deHahn


    I rememberthe two of us lapping the field at Ninigret Park in RI, a windy, wide open course with no shelter or cover for out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Just put the pedal down and suffer. One of my favorite memories of my early career.

    I hope life is treating you well. I started Masters racing this year after a long layoff. It would be great to have you back racing in New England.

  23. Joe_Beer

    Late to the party here. Sorry. But I’m having a hard time understanding just what the problem is. Are the teams actually riding dangerously? Slow riding and bad lines are not necessarily dangerous, not always anyway. Typically when a team blocks you either accept it, work through it, or attack the sh*t out of it. Perhaps the root problem is too many riders on a team? Would a max of six allow other teams to do what’s gotta be done? I’m in no position to disagree w/ Steve on bike racing…just trying to nail down the potential change(s) required to deal with the problem he’s pointing out.

  24. David

    Joe, what Steve is complaining of is not ‘blocking’ in the traditional sense. Traditional blocking is disrupting a chase by not pulling through. Traditional blocking is certainly not exciting for spectators, but neither does it didn’t nullify a race by providing a hazard. I think the solution will come from stage-race promotors re-jigging criterium awards to encourage faster racing. Maybe by putting more $$ toward crit primes and less toward GC. Or by instructing the announcer to point out the negative racing and shame teams that do it. They’ll get the message.


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