What to do after crashing in a criterium

By: Coach Kent

When you pin a number and toe the start line, you’re accepting the fact that crashing is part of the sport, and if you race long enough you’ll more than likely hit the deck at some point.

In criteriums, there are unique rules and situations specific to this style of racing that will impact what happens in the moments after crashing. The goal of this article is to break down the various steps of the post-crash and act as a mental walkthrough for those moments when your adrenaline is spiked and the world is moving at lightning speed.

Don’t Freak Out

The vast majority of crashes consist of nothing more than road rash, torn clothing, some bruising, and occasionally a bit of shattered carbon. Riders will pick themselves up, head to the pit, and get back into the race almost as if nothing happened.

Occasionally crashes are more serious, and if your in excruciating pain it’s safe to assume you’re day is done. You’re not competing in the Tour de France, and gritting through the rest of Wednesday Night Worlds with a broken clavicle will not go down in history as one of your finest moments. I won’t get into what happens after a more serious crash, because it’s usually not in your control (I’ve been there a couple times unfortunately), and you just need to ride out whatever the situation is as best possible.

Now, assuming you’re crash is nothing more than a basic slide out or tumble over another rider and you’re not in excruciating pain, the next step is to start collecting yourself and avoid freaking out!

Things not to do:

  • Get angry and start throwing things. Yes, this happens and it’s not a classy look.
  • Jump back on your bike without checking things over and sprint back to the pit like a crazy person. 20-30 seconds is all it takes to look over bike and body.
  • Lay on the ground longer than needed. I understand you might need a moment to collect yourself, but I recommend not laying on a race course any longer than necessary.

Check yourself, collect yourself,  and make a decision

At this point you’ve crashed, you don’t have any obvious major injuries, and you’re back on your feet. Here’s what to do next.

Step 1 – Take inventory of your body. 

  • Did you hit your head – is your helmet okay?
  • Do you have any lacerations – are you bleeding anywhere?

I’m not a medical expert and won’t tell you what is right and wrong here, but as humans I believe we all have a good idea of “no” and “go” when it comes to injuries. If you’re helmet is totaled, or you’re bleeding profusely from a cut or road rash, I think it’s safe to say you should call it a day and head to medical. You may be able to keep pedaling, but at some point sprinting for $50 bucks and a pair of socks isn’t worth the risk of further injury.

Step 2Check over your equipment. 

  • Are there any obvious dents or cracks in the frame or wheels?
  • Does your drive-train appear to be in working order?
  • Are your handlebars and shift levers straight?

This won’t take more than a few moments, and it’s an important step that shouldn’t be skipped. Once you’re fairly certain the bike isn’t compromised get back on and start pedaling towards the pit. While pedaling back to the pit shift through your gears and pump your brakes a few times to make sure everything is working properly.

Step 3Make a decision

  • Is your body okay?
  • Is your equipment okay?
  • Are you ready to continue racing?

By the time you make it back to the pit you’ll have a good idea of whether you’re ready to continue racing or not. If you’re feeling beat up and your equipment took a thrashing, it might make more sense to call it a day, even if technically you could continue racing. With that said, the best criterium racers are gladiators, and it’ll take more than a little road rash to keep them from getting back into the action.

Cole Johnson from the Lindenwood Universey team crashed mid-way through the Purdue collegiate criterium. He did an excellent job collecting himself after the crash, calmly getting to the pit, and jumping back into the race. After finding his groove again in the field he worked his way back towards the front and was able to have a positive influence on his teams strategy during the final laps.

Making your way to the pit and what to do once you get there

A quick primer on USAC rules and regulations

These are rules that apply to free laps / wheel pits. They were copy/pasted directly from the USAC Rulebook.

3D2. Riders may only ride in a forward direction on the course but may dismount and run backward to a repair pit when it is safe to do so.

3D5. Free Lap Rule. Riders shall normally cover the distance of the race regardless of mishaps and must make up any distance lost on their own ability unless a free lap is granted for mishaps. Unless the official race announcement states that no free laps will be allowed, one free lap may be granted for each mishap subject to the following rules. On courses shorter than 1 km, two free laps may be allowed for a given mishap.

(a) Bicycle inspection and repairs must be made in an official repair pit. If announced in advance by the Chief Referee, riders are permitted to cut the course to get to a pit, but only while the Free Lap Rule is in effect. There should be repair pits at intervals of 1 km around the course.

(b) There must be a referee stationed in each repair pit to determine if the mishap was a legitimate one and if the rider is entitled to a free lap.

(c) A rider who is granted a free lap must return to the race in the position held at the time of the mishap. A rider who was in a group shall return at the rear of the same group the next time around. A rider returning to the race after a free lap shall be ineligible for sprint prizes for one lap thereafter. (d) A rider granted a free lap must re-enter the race before the final 8km of the race; after that point in the race a rider in the pit is losing ground on the field.

Getting to the pit

Most courses have one repair pit, and occasionally a longer course will have two. It’s important to know where these pits are so you can get there as quickly and calmly as possible. Much of the time it’s easiest to follow the course, but depending on where you crashed it may be faster navigate backwards on a sidewalk or cut through a side street. You may not be allowed to cut the course, so make sure ask the Chief Referee what the rules for the day will be if it wasn’t addressed.

It’s 100% okay to ask the referee questions on the start line if something isn’t clear

What to do in the pit

Your adrenaline is probably spiked at this point, but try and stay calm. The referee will ask if you need anything for your bike. Once your bike is ready to roll, they will line you up in position to jump back into the race with the group you were at the time of the crash. If you were in the breakaway, you’ll get back into the breakaway, and if you were in the main bunch you’ll be put back in the main bunch. You’ll want to make sure the referee knows you were in the breakaway just to be sure so they don’t accidentally try to put you in the main bunch.

Next steps:

  • Shift into a good starting gear, just like you would for the start of the race.
  • Take a drink of water
  • Take a few deep breathes and mentally refocus

Thinking about what you need to do once back into the race. What are your personal goals and team goals? Remind yourself of those goals and repeat them in your head a few times to help get your mind back in the game.

Jumping back into the race

When the field comes around, the referee will signal when it’s okay to start pedaling. Be prepared to sprint out of the pit in order to try and match the speed of the group as they come by.

Your adrenaline will help you out for a lap or two, but once you’ve found your groove again take another moment to repeat your goals for the race in your head again. You’re in the race, you know what you’re goals are, now make it happen!


Criteriums are a lot like Nascar in that you can crash, head to the repair pit to get fixed up, and jump back into the race. It’s a part of bike racing that nobody likes, but it’s not a matter of if you’ll crash, but when you’ll crash. Being prepared mentally can go a long way in helping you handle the situation and stay in the action.