Post-Tour Criteriums

With the Tour de France over the post-Tour criterium season begins. These are exhibition races put on by entrepreneurial race organisers who seek to capitalise on the high profile of the sport following July. Riders are invited to take part in these races and the stars of the Tour de France command big appearance fees, some can collect €50,000. Not bad for an evening’s work.

These races have a rich history. For a long time they were an essential part of a rider’s income, for decades the stars of the peloton did not earn much money from either salary nor prize money and instead these criteriums and the cash appearance fees formed a big part of a rider’s income. The public would flock to the races because even those who were lucky enough to see the Tour de France ride past in July only caught a glimpse of the champions, a criterium meant repeated laps of a circuit where the crowd could see the riders up close again and again, especially in the days of early television coverage.

It was also a form a patronage where a star rider would insist that lesser riders take part and collect appearance money, often earning vital income. These invitee riders could be team mates but also others who’d done a good turn in the Tour de France. There are fewer races today but in times past a rider who had a good Tour de France could spend weeks on the road, driving from one event to the next with their bike and a change of clothes. Today the number of events is drying up. We’re a long way from the days when champion cyclists could pack out a velodrome, the post-Tour criteriums don’t hold the same appeal either. People can see the show on TV, appearance fees are subject to wrangling and some teams don’t want their riders to take part, for example Movistar have blocked Nairo Quintana. But there are still many races and last night’s Aaslt criterium in Belgium looks popular.

The economics means a captive crowd pays for tickets to enter the circuit or a race gets intensive local sponsorship, often hundreds of small shops who each chip in €50 in return for a symbolic advert in race programme as well as more money from the municipality – the mayor gets a photo op with the champ – as well as corporate sponsors. There’s a circular logic where a race that attracts more stars will attract more people and therefore more sponsorship which allows more stars to be hired for the evening.

The Rules
In the past these have been unofficial races but most are now registered on the UCI calendar because pros are supposedly forbidden from riding wildcat races. Despite the UCI registration it’s all a show. No teams take part, just riders on an individual basis. There’s no support either, riders make their own way to the race and take the bike out of the back of a the car and pump up the tires themselves.

The link to the Tour is obvious, no more than when riders who wore distinctive jerseys from the Tour de France wear them. For example Chris Froome sported his sequinned yellow jersey from Paris last night. Other riders who have done well in the Tour are also in demand, for example in Belgium we can imagine Jan Bakelants is in demand while in France Christophe Riblon is a draw. Sometimes locals amateurs take part too, helping to swell the ranks on the cheap and provide some regional flavour.

The format is simple, a short loop in town that allows the spectators to see the riders pass by many times, usually over an hour. There will be amateur races before plus some other exhibition events, maybe a race of retired riders. There’s often a victory lap and maybe some other event, a beer festival or a music concert too.

These “races” are normally fixed, the result is determined by the riders in concert with the organiser. The public have come to see a show and they’ll see some famous riders attacking before the big names dispute the finish. Here you’ll often see a climber out-sprint the sprinters, all in the name of a “dramatic” result. The unspoken rule is that the local rider never wins because this would be too obvious.

It’s not as wrong as you think, imagine if you went to see a race and the regional kermesse lord chopped the Tour de France winner on the final bend to grab the win, this lèse-majesté would disappoint and undermine the sport’s hierarchy. Just because it’s fixed doesn’t mean it’s not fast, after all the show looks even better when riders hit 50km/h and if it’s not ideal training, it’s still a workout but hardest part is the travel and being forced into taking snack food on the go.

The best laid plans
In the late 1970s one amateur thwarted the pros. This rider was so strong he was hurting the pros. Frustrated at the strong riding the pros had words and decided to gang up on the amateur but the rookie hit back, dropping them. His name? Bernard Hinault, a future five time Tour de France winner.

All year
It’s criterium season now but they’re not exclusive to late July. You’ll find races throughout the season in France, Belgium and beyond.

Cycle Sport Mag have a good piece about a “Day In the Life” of Robbie McEwen from 2011.


63 thoughts on “Post-Tour Criteriums”

  1. Laurens ten Dam is cruising the Dutch criteriums with his Chevy van, sleeping on nearby campings with his girlfriend and son. BBQing every night I presume. Like the way he does this.

  2. Really timely article Inrng – thanks! I was just wondering yesterday what the deal is with criteriums now and no one seems to talk about it. I was aware of what things were like 20-30 years ago from reading books, but not these days.
    So does the likes of Chris Froome and the other jerseys really drive themselves around Europe for the next month with their bikes in their cars?! (or something like it)
    Sky would probably shuttle Froomie around in style I imagine.
    I love the idea of him doing it on his own with a floor pump, some snack bars and his sparkle jersey!

  3. I personally love these events. There was a pre-tour one in London (the “IG Nocturne”) that featured most of the Great Britain women’s track team (the likes of Jo Rowsell, Laura Trott, Dani King) as well as Dowsett and Intxausti, who’d both just had decent rides in the Giro.

    Great fun, what’s not to like? Beer, close up ‘racing’ and (in the case of the Nocturne) a penny farthing and Brompton race!

    • In theory, the London Nocturne was a proper race, unlike the traditional post-Tour fixes. I say “in theory”, because it seems the organisers got a bit confused and temporarily awarded Laura Trott the win in the women’s race, as she was undoubtedly the star turn, even though she actually finished second.

      • “temporarily awarded Laura Trott the win in the women’s race, as she was undoubtedly the star turn, even though she actually finished second.”

        Acutally they did award Trott the win. When the replay showed that she was second, they relegated the rider who won, into second place, for taking her hands off the bars when she celebrated…. LOL

        • A friend of mine who was at the Nocturne and has some inside information told me that Laura Trott was named as the winner because the (incompetent) announcer immediately called it her way on the night, before viewing the finish-line photo or the transponder data. Whether it’s a coincidence that she rides for one of the event’s main sponsors I’m not sure. Certainly my friends felt Team Wiggle Honda employed dubious tactics based on strength (literally) of numbers and weren’t called to account by the organisers.

          • To be fair – and factual – Wiggle Honda had the same number of riders as one or other of Matrix Fitness or MG – MaxiFuel, in the race – namely 8 riders.

    • ooops! On the 3rd of the 4 vids Roger De Vlaeminck asking Porte if he knows who he is; giving him a list of the classics he raced and won. I knew that Froome was quite ignorant in this area in comparison to Wiggins who is an absolute encyclopedia on cycling history. Is the rest of the Sky team as ill educated or is it that De Vlaeminck is still bitter after all these years basking in Merckx’s shadow?

      • Porte comes from a small regional city in Tasmania and came to cycling in his early twenties after a stint as a triathlete.

        He’s unlikely to have seen any race other than the Tour de France broadcast on television as a youth.

      • The British riders like Wiggins, G, Swifty, Kennaugh etc, are all well steeped in cycling history, as I’m sure are most of the other guys on the team. A couple of exceptions are the likes of Froome and EBH (who had to be told who Eddy Merckx is).

        No different from most other teams, I’m sure.

        I know some people might find this difficult to believe but not all riders pour over old videos and read every cycling book ever published, like some fans do

  4. Britain has a series of criterium races as a championship that’s growing in popularity. See also the Redhook Crit series that holds events across the globe. Very fast past, exciting racing that is ideal for an audience’s bang-for-buck.

    • Those are real events, the same with the Bay Series in Australia too and a good way to take the race to the public. The post-Tour races, as pictured above, are part sports, part celebrity spectacles and certainly different.

  5. “Chris Froome sported his sequined yellow jersey from Paris last night.” Really? Sequins? I thought the see-through stuff worn by SKY was ugly enough! Where are the UCI rule makers when we really need them?

  6. is Cav still un-invited to the Dutch Kermesses after officially not riding into Veelers?

    c’mon, every wrestling match has to have a masked El Hijo del Santo…

    • He’s not on the start list for the Raboronde Heerlen this year, but Veelers is. It’s a shame – I saw Cav there a couple of years ago and got some nice photos. It would have been good to see a rematch on the mean streets of Heerlen…..

    • Kind of difficult for him to be un-invited as he’d never been invited to this crit in the first place. Nice PR stunt by the organisers.

  7. Obviously way off topic here, but I was wondering if anyone can answer some questions for me. CAS just ruled that the UV treatments that an un-named rider (Kittel) did weren’t banned at the time so he is ok. From what I understand, he removed his blood, treated it under UV light (no idea what this does so if someone can shed light, please do) then re-infused it into his body…. Isn’t this a blood transfusion? And I thought those were illegal except for medical procedures?????

  8. The difference is time: if you take blood out, wait for your body to bring the red blood cell (RBC’s) count up to normal levels, then add back in the RBC’s you took out, you have more RBC’s, and thus more ability to convert oxygen to power for a period following the transfusion.

    If you take blood out, “clean” it with UV light, and then immediately put back in the blood, you don’t increase your RBC count. I think this is pseudo-science, and maybe even dangerous to the rider if the UV light damages the DNA in the blood cells that are put under the light… but it shouldn’t have any significant impact on RBC level.

    As stated above, all covered in Inrng’s earlier post.

  9. Cavendish accelerated, came around Veelers to handle him a tackle on his right arm that took him straight down into the tarmac. He could have killed the guy. The biggest shame is on the organizers who didn’t take him out of the Tour.

  10. I’m off to the cantal for a week, there’s a local hamlet called Marcoles that hosts a criterium each summer. Last year I saw Voeckler and Rolland, this year it’s Gilbert. Great fun! My question is, why can a village in France manage it but the city of Manchester can’t. It seems to me the cycle events in England avoid population centres, but that’s surely where the money is?

  11. Thanks for the explanation of the crits and for the link to the cycle mag page really interesting.

    I love the thought that McEwan downs a pint at the finish line……….Good Call! though I suspect it was a Belgian Trappist beer rather than the amber liquid he’s probably partial too!

    While I’m here …excellent coverage by The Inner Ring during The Tour as ever btw, required reading before and after every stage. Many thanks for your efforts, much appreciated.

  12. Cool! Froome is coming to town Friday…and Kittel…and Purito!
    Don’t care who wins! Everyone knows they are fixed! Always a good
    atmosphere though! Had VIP tickets a few yrs ago…hung out with a
    crowd of boring, pretentious types…no longer interested in VIP tickets!
    Much more fun hanging out with non-VIP’s!

  13. Is there a directory of criteria with named riders, if any of us happened to be in europe at this preciser moment and fancied a bit of Jeremy Roy tearing up a sprint?

  14. Being a long time fan of the Tour Series in the UK (which are very definitely real races), I’ve been slightly baffled by reports that Chris Froome won a crit a couple of days ago. I mean, honestly… how? He’s totally the wrong kind of rider. But after reading your report it all makes sense. I’d never realised the post-Tour crits were fixed. Thanks.

    And while I’m here – a big thank you for your Tour coverage. Always balanced and considered – the only one I read every day.

  15. is the Ride London Classic part of the crit circus? (ok I know it’s not a circuit etc). Just wondered if it will be a real race or whether a Sagan win in already decided?

    • It’s got a proper 1.1 classification, so it’s not a crit.

      And like most 1.1 races, there’s a huge contingent of Pro-Conti and Conti teams there to challenge the big boys and keep the racing honest.

      Also, the finish is on the Mall. If it comes down to a sprint, Arnaud Demare, Gerald Ciolek, Matty Goss and Romain Feillu (all of whom are in the current long list) might have something up their sleeves.

  16. Thanks for the great explanation, wish we could see these in the states. What happens when you have competitors at the same race e.g. if Contador showed up at the same crit as Froome?

    • All decided by the race organiser who would tell the riders the finishing 1-2-3 order they want, the intermediate sprint winners etc. This year, they’d say Froome to win over Bert.

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