Road racing in Illinois consists of three sub-disciplines: road races, criteriums and time-trials. Some road events feature all three disciplines in what is known as an omnium or a stage race. The following descriptions of each are adapted from USA Cycling’s EnCYCLINGpedia, which is an excellent resource for more information.
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Criteriums, often referred to as just crits, are fast-paced events, usually 15-50 miles in length which last between thirty minutes and two hours. The short, closed circuit course features several corners and gives spectators the opportunity to view most of the race.
Although not an internationally-recognized discipline, criterium racing is purely American and one of the most common forms of competitive cycling in the United States. Designed for spectators, criteriums are races held on short circuits, typically in an urban setting.
In criteriums, the pace is fast from the gun as riders can average up to 30 miles per hour for the duration of the race. Quick acceleration and keen bike handling skills are paramount to success in a criterium.
Road races are team-oriented, mass-start events. Road races generally take place on public roads and can be point-to-point races or multiple circuits of a loop anywhere from 5 to 25 miles in length. In Illinois, road races are always on a loop, not point to point.
During a road race, team members generally work together to gain an advantage over other riders, usually designating one person as team leader. The team leader is determined prior to the race and can be based on several factors including the course’s terrain, a rider’s fitness level and the competition.
Road races are a great way to try out racing as they are not as corner intensive as crits and because they are longer keeping the speed a little lower. You can think of them as a fast paced group ride, without the halfway stop at the coffee shop, of course.
Time Trials or TTs pit individuals against the clock instead of each other. It’s the most basic form of competitive cycling and the rules are simple: the athlete with the fastest time over a given distance is the winner.
Like road races, the time trial usually takes place on public roads and can be a point-to-point race or multiple laps of a circuit. In a race against the clock, results are often determined by fractions of a second. Some time-trial racers choose to use very aerodynamic equipment, such as specially shaped aerodynamic helmets, one-piece skinsuits and special handlebars which allow a rider to get into a more aerodynamic position.
Stage Races & Omniums
Stage Races and Omniums are multi-day events which combine the three disciplines in any number of ways. And omnium can be several days of criteriums in different locations, or a Time-Trial, road race, and criterium over the course of two days in the same town. Each separate event has its own winner, and additionally there is an overall winner who has the lowest cumulative time for all events. This means that an overall winner might not have won any of the separate events.
The primary difference between an omnium and a stage race, is that in an omnium each event is a stand alone event itself. A participant can choose to race in only 1 event or all of them or any combo. Also, your over all time does not effect your ability to continue racing. In a stage race, you cannot compete in the events separately and you have to finish each event to race in the next event. For instance, if a racer were to crash in the road race and be unable to finish it, they would not be able to participate in a criterium happening the next day. In an omnium, each event stands alone so they would be able to come back the next day. Also during a stage race there is typically a time cut-off. If a racers does not finish within a specific cutoff time after the winners, that racer will be cut from the race.