The Post-Tour Crits are a group of races that take place over the course of a couple of weeks around Europe following the end of the Tour de France. The races are usually city centre based and composed of short 3-5km circuits, while the total length is quite short, usually less than 100 kilometres and lasting less than 3 hours. They serve several purposes. They act as a gateway to fans who have followed the Tour on television and as a result want to go and see their new found heroes perform live.
Riders can also make big money here as sponsors of the Crits will pay well just for big names to turn up which in turn draws in the crowds. It's often based on Tour form and those who performed well in France will get paid well to turn up here - this in itself is an unusual race format as paying for riders to turn up and 'race' is not the norm. The race usually only fields 50 odd riders, with most being locals and armatures, then a handful of the well paid big name pro's. When I say paid well, I mean well. A high quality rider could be paid in excess of 60,000 Euros for showing their face - far more than they would earn through stage wins in the actual Tour de France.
Of course people not only want to see the stars, they want to see them perform. Tired legs from a three week tour probably won't make for an exciting race. But there is a guaranteed way to make it more exciting. It's a fix. The outcome of he race is decided before the race even begins. Everybody has a job, they know who's to go in the break, who's to jump from the bunch in the final km, who's to contest the sprint and obviously who's to win. This will usually centre around the fan favourite at that particular race, who much to the thrill of the fans will heroically attack and win in what would be, in any normal race, a jaw dropping victory. Notable results include an ageing Carlos Sastra beating Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish and Lance Armstrong thrashing super fast man Mario Cipollini.
The outcome can often be amusing, but the crowds fail to be disappointed, as though they all know its a fix, they still are not told who will win and there is racing of a sorts taking place - often the top three will have been decided but the remainder of the peloton can attack each other and race as they please. The Criterium is also usually just the centrepiece of a day that is designed to put on a show, a spectacle and exhibition in much the same way as American Wrestling - there's always excitement, the nature of the fixing means it can never be a 'let down' for the fans. The main event is usually accompanied by some 'real' amateur races, so it's not all a bluff and of course for many its just the chance to relive the tour, drink loads of beer and enjoy the party atmosphere whilst getting close to some big names. It's nice that cycling can take a break from taking things so seriously, even if it still serves a purpose to the riders who use it to just keep the legs ticking over until the 'real' races come round again...