Some know that criteriums are around the corner from the delicate blossom on the still Winter strangled trees, others know it when they find a hole in the shammy of their longs. Most of us, on the other hand, can tell the circuit racing we love so much is fast on the way by the reappearance of that strange and elusive creature: the crit specialist.
The crit specialist in truly a sight to behold. Here you are, having buried yourself on the cold, dead roads that is the road season all winter, when suddenly, these loud and chipper fellows appear, as if from nowhere. Conversation's between crit specialist range from choice of deep section wheels this season, to what beer they are currently sinking (crit specialists are always sinking beers). Please note that if you ask a crit specialist what racing they did over winter, you will receive a blank look. This is not because the crit specialist is embarrassed he did not race over winter, it is because he is not aware that there is any racing over winter. To the crit specialist, bike racing consists of criteriums, and criteriums only. The only other racing he will accept is sinking beers, but that happens in the arvo, after criteriums.
As a skinny, gutless roadie, who happens to like crits, I have made it my duty to come to recognise the criterium specialist from afar, so that I can suck his wheel and then win. Please note that I never win, because I am a skinny, gutless roadie. It is with pleasure, then, that I put to you the most recognisable characteristics of our beloved crit specialist. Long may you hold his wheel.
1. Size. Crit specialists are always, how should we put this, of the larger variety. They tend to hold to the old training moniker of 'saturated fat for saturated power'. Witnessing a crit specialist come out of hibernation is akin to witnessing a bear stagger out of an all-you-can-eat diner. Only they are wearing lycra. Of course, the crit specialist will get down to 'race weight' by the middle of the season, but don't be fooled. If he takes you down, you won't get back up.
2. Cankles. Crit specialists always have cankles. This is related, it is assumed by this author/journalist/hack, to the girth issue discussed above. The crit specialist will attempt to hide the cankle issue by either adhering to the track fashion of very short socks, thereby signalling a distinct fashion faux pas, or the roadie fashion of very high socks, which is perhaps even more obscene, given the total lack of roadie ribs showing through the jersey.
3. Bike creaks. The crit specialist puts down some serious watts. This is the guy that, when he inevitably attacks three laps in, you are chewing bar tape just to hold this suckers wheel. As you manage to sit in, you will hear that rhythmic creak, as this strange specimen lays it all out on the road. That is his carbon frame/un-torqued crank bolts/bar-stem combo literally groaning under the force of this animal. As you sit there, wondering how this functioning booze hound is thumping you so hard, despite you training all winter when he was literally knee deep in pies, you will have that creaking to keep you company. It will haunt you.
4. Can't stop/don't wanna attitude. The crit specialist stops for no one. Barely even the finish line. When in a race, this guy will be the bloke who is yelling from the back of the bunch to 'close that gap' even though you are on the front, literally puking up a lung to get that U17 prodigy to please, you know please, come back. He is also, it should be noted, the only kind of cyclist who can take on the Beach Road Clam (note: the Beach Road Clam is a driver who swings their car door open, gets out of their car, realises a bunch is coming at them flat chat, and attempts to fit themselves back into their car, closing the car door, without actually sitting back down in their seat). Such is the power and girth of the crit specialist, they would knock clear through this car door, then curse the headwind which is, 'arking up a bit at the moment'. Meanwhile, you the roadie, will be sitting on his wheel, wondering which fucking planet this guy was born on.
5. Laughing in the face of danger. Face it. Most of the time in crits, you're shitting yourself. Nothing says shitstorm more than a scenario where a bunch of amateurs race very fast in tight s trying to cross a line before everyone else. If you are a normal, sane, human being, each crit race will have at least one moment where you are sure, nay convinced, that you are about to die. It's just racing. If you are normal, you will probably yell something like 'woah, hold your line mate!' then discreetly shit yourself. The crit specialist, on the other hand, will merely snort, then tell the offending person to 'pull a fucking turn you cvnt', before he dives into a corner on the inside of the bunch, proverbial, or literal, moustache, billowing in the breeze.
6. Not winning. The crit specialist rarely wins. This is not because, as you the roadies suspect, because of his lifestyle habits off the bike, bur rather because 'all these young kids don't know how to race or show respect' That is in fact true. All these young kids are very, very fast, and don't give a shit if some fat bloke with cankles is demanding they respect their elders.
Love or hate them, the re-emergence of the crit specialist signals one thing for sure: crits are coming! And really, what else are crits, other than a celebration of summer, and riding in the good weather.
Bring on the cankles.