According to Merriam-Webster, a criterium is:
"A bicycle race of a specified number of laps on a closed course over public roads closed to normal traffic."
But a criterium is so much more than that.
As a spectator, your senses will be overloaded from the get-go. At the starting bell, whistle, or gun, at least 60 but upwards of 150 riders take off, vying to get the best position in the pack--in the front, controlling the speed. An audience of 20,000 spectators line the course, engaging in camaraderie over beer and food. The first 20 minutes of the race are fast and furious as the strong attack and others hang on for survival to the whip created at the back of the pack. Prime bells ring for races within the race, usually for product of cash prizes, and continue throughout the duration of the event. A typical crit course is usually the length of a half mile to a mile long, so unlike a road race, spectators will see the riders whiz by repeatedly, sometimes as fast as 30 mph, so the atmosphere provides plenty of chances for you to see your favorite rider. The winner of the race is the first person to cross the finish without having been lapped.
As a rider, you have to have a certain set of skills in order to navigate a criterium. You must have the ability to corner rapidly and sharply, with as little touching of your fellow riders as possible, holding your line on the road. In order to claim the best position, you have to possess pristine ability to decide to sprint at perfectly timed opportunities in order to make a successful attack. Not only do you strive to be the fastest with the best bike handling, you also have to ride safely inches away from a large group of opponents, on a short circuit, and not get caught up in crashes, which are almost inevitable in crits.
Criterium racing is adrenaline and oxygen powered stock car racing on bikes.
Criterium racing is proof that what goes around comes around.
Criterium racing is modern eco-urban gladiator competitions
Criterium racing is American street track racing.Gene Dixon, USA CRITS Series Director
It’s the last 3k of a road race for 80ks.Thomas Gibbons, Winner of the 2017 Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic (Stop #4 of the 2018 USA CRITS Series)
A crit is NASCAR on bikes…but not just any NASCAR. Bristol Motor Speedway. It is beauty and grace. It is emotion and chaos. It is everything we love about bike racing.Johnny Mitchell, Palmetto State Medical Elite Cycling Team
The difference between being a strong rider and a good rider are criteriums.
Criteriums need a combination of strength, speed, endurance, and tactics to win. The races teach you how to bike handle, bump elbows, corner, fight for position, and avoid crashes. All skills that everyone needs even as a casual cyclist.
In the races, partnerships are formed, then broken, and it becomes personal because no one wants to lose. These stories are played out every time the riders turn their pedals from the start to the finish.
Revenge is always on their mind.Frankie Andreu, 2018 USA CRITS Series Announcer and former pro cyclist