Criterium racing (or “crit racing,” as it is more commonly known) is coming back to a town near you.
In the year since COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season, we’ve seen teams form and fresh rivalries spring up between the sport’s top names. With the 2021 season kicking off next month, the country’s fastest bike racers can’t wait to settle their scores on the road.
And then, another reason to tune into the 2021 calendar: crit beef. A feud between the amateur national champion and the pro national champion over who gets to wear the national champion’s jersey promises to explode on the roads of Tulsa next month.
In other words, there’s never been a better time to get into American crit racing. Here, we give you the rundown on the races, the teams, and the riders, and we’ll cover the major racing series and the storylines that were put on hold by the pandemic.
How crit racing works in the U.S.
The biggest and most exciting crits span multiple racing series and include amateur and pro racers—but the backbone of the sport in the U.S. is USA Crits.
Now in its 15th year, the national criterium series—which is not affiliated with USA Cycling, the national governing body—travels to nine cities in 2021 between June 11 and September 11 this year to host races. In order to race in the series, you must be a member of one of the 14 men’s and 10 women’s “D1 Teams”—amateur or pro teams that compete for individual race wins and for season-long titles, including overall individual leader and the team competition. Teams apply through USA Crits to receive D1 status.
In December, series managing director Scott Morris told VeloNews that USA Crits will live-stream all 19 days of racing for free.
Separately, USA Cycling hosts the Pro Road Tour (PRT), which features eight top-level criteriums on its calendar. Some of these events are also on the USA Crits calendar, such as Saint Francis Tulsa Tough and the ASWD Twilight Criterium. The PRT opens at the June 5 Armed Forces Cycling Classic in Arlington, Virginia, and ends in October at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila.
USA Cycling also hosts the amateur and pro road national championships, which both have a criterium event. The current reigning pro national champion is Travis McCabe, and the current reigning amateur national champion is Justin Williams. Yes, this is confusing, and yes, we’ll get into it shortly.
Other can’t miss events not on the USA Crits and PRT calendars include Intelligentsia Cup, a grueling nine-stage omnium event held in Chicago in July, and the Harlem Skyscraper Classic, held in New York City in June.
Which teams race in criteriums?
Before we break down the country’s top crit teams, we also need to address the murky hierarchy used to classify pro and amateur squads in the U.S. We’ll start with the UCI teams —those affiliated with the global governing body—and work our way down.
Many of the best American racers are on UCI WorldTour teams, meaning they spend the season jet-setting around Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. These teams are not racing in crits, so don’t worry about them right now.
The next two steps down are Pro Continental and Continental teams, which are also recognized by the UCI. These teams, which are considered professional, split their time between domestic and international racing. Of the UCI teams that dedicate a significant chunk of their calendar to crit racing in the U.S., Aevolo Cycling and Elevate-Webiplex Pro Cycling are among the best returners on the men’s side, while Rally Cycling and Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank lead the women’s field.
Then there are USA Domestic Elite Teams, a classification created by USA Cycling in 2017 to “better organize the top level of road cycling in the United States.” Teams that want to score points in the PRT series must register as a UCI team or a Domestic Elite team. There are 20 men’s and 13 women’s teams registered as Domestic Elite for the 2021 season.
Domestic Elite teams to watch this year:
• Best Buddies Racing
• ButcherBox Cycling
• CWA Racing p/b Trek
• L39ION of Los Angeles
• First Internet Bank Cycling Team
Lastly, there are USA Crits Division 1 teams; as previously mentioned, teams apply through USA Crits for D1 status. Some teams are amateur teams, while some are also Domestic Elite or UCI Continental teams. Best Buddies and ButcherBox also race USA Crits, and other dominating forces include Colavita / HelloFresh Pro Women’s Cycling, DNA Pro Cycling Team, and Team Clif Bar Cycling.
These classifications mean little on the road because most major events pit amateur teams and riders against the pros. The co-mingling creates exciting racing throughout the summer, but also confusion when it comes time to crown a national champion, because we have two road national championships in this country. Amateur and pro racers often race in both championships.
That brings us to crit beef.
So, what’s crit beef?
Williams makes no apologies for flaunting his national champion jersey, which he won at the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships in Hagerstown, Maryland in 2018 and defended in 2019. With the race canceled in 2020, Williams remains the champ heading into the 2021 season.
In 2019, Williams founded L39ion of Los Angeles, a crit racing team and development program with a stated goal of bringing diversity and equity to the sport. As his team has gained sponsorships and visibility, Williams and the stars and stripes jersey have become synonymous with the top step of American crit racing. In front of his 104,000 Instagram followers and in Rapha ads, Williams is America’s crit racing champ.
For a long time, McCabe, the other national criterium champion, took this well.
After winning the 2019 pro national championship with Floyd’s Pro Cycling, McCabe jetted off to Europe to race with WorldTour team Israel Start-Up Nation, where he notched three top-10 finishes at the Tour of Colombia in February before COVID-19 shut racing down in the spring. McCabe raced the BinckBank Tour in September and October and by the end of 2020, the 32-year-old returned stateside to compete with Best Buddies Racing.
L39ion announced late last year that it would take out a UCI Continental license, giving it pro status, and therefore putting the pro national champ and the amateur national champ on a collision course.
On May 4, crit beef started on Instagram. The cycling podcast Criterium Nation posted a headshot of former U.S. champion Danny Estevez wearing a Best Buddies Racing jersey, signaling that Estevez had transferred teams from ButcherBox Cycling. The caption reads, “This🙌changes🙌everything🙌”
In a comment, with more than 200 replies, Williams retorted, “It. changes. nothing… haha.”
“You’re right. We were going to win no matter what,” McCabe replied.
“Many have tried, results are the same,” said Williams. “You guys will win 1/10 which is something.”
That was it for McCabe, and the pair went back and forth in a lengthy thread that you can find here. Williams said McCabe should be racing master’s (read: you’re washed), McCabe accused Williams of lying to people for two years about the jersey on his back, to which Williams said, “Stop blaming the confusion of this sport on me.”
However, even though L39ion applied for pro status, it’s uncertain if we’ll get to see Williams challenge McCabe for the pro national champion jersey. On his From the Gun podcast, Williams said in April that he may switch nationalities and race for Belize, saying he felt the weight of the jersey after George Floyd was killed.
“It’s a heavy thing—one side of this is amazing and great, and I’ve worked so hard for it,” Williams said. “And the other side feels like I’m representing this place that doesn’t want me, or can’t even get on the same page.”
But no matter what happens with regards to the stars and stripes jersey, you’ll want to keep up with the action.
Must-watch events this year
Use this event lineup to follow the crit racing this summer.
June 5, 2021: Armed Forces Cycling Classic (Arlington, Virginia)
June 11, 2021: St. Francis Tulsa Tough (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
June 18, 2021: USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships (Knoxville, Tennessee)
June 27, 2021: USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships (Clay County, Florida)
July 3, 2021: Sunny King Criterium (Anniston, Alabama)
July 10, 2021: ASWD Twilight Criterium (Boise, Idaho)
July 16 - 25, 2021: Intelligentsia Cup (Chicago)
July 17 - 18, 2021: Salt Lake Criterium Gateway (Salt Lake City)
July 31, 2021: Littleton Twilight (Littleton, Colorado)
August 14, 2021: Birmingham Hammerfest (Birmingham, Alabama)
Aug 20, 2021: Spartanburg Criterium (Spartanburg, South Carolina)
Aug 21, 2021: Athens Twilight (Athens, Georgia)
Sept 3-6, 2021: Gateway Cup (St. Louis)
Sept 11, 2021: Sun City Crit (El Paso, Texas)
Sept 12, 2021: Bucks County Classic (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)
Sept 24, 2021: Winston-Salem Cycling Classic (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
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