With the end of the Tour there is always a quiet period of real racing as the top stars are either recovering from the Tour, hitting the criterium circuit, or in at least one case retired. There is some racing going on as the Tour de la Région Wallonne was held this week and won by Italian Luca Celli (results), and the ProTour continues this weekend with the HEW Classic being held this Sunday in Germany.
The criterium circuit has always been an interesting one. These are more show then races with start money being paid the riders. A lot of cities throughout Europe will have one. The races are not exactly fixed, but you wont find some lesser rider winning one. A big star will win, and a local rider will also get top 3. The top riders will put in an attack as well to make a show for the fans that paid to see them race. The racing itself is more serious then say the final stage in Paris for the Tour, but the results are a little more controlled and predictable.
Before salaries for the pros started getting larger in the mid to late 80’s the criterium circuit was where the riders would make most of their money often driving to many of them every week. The top stars would help out their teammates and tell organizers to have them race they would also have to pay for some of their friends as well. The best account of what the life was like for the pros doing these races in the mid 80’s can be found in the Sean Kelly biography by David Walsh. As salaries got bigger for the riders the need for them to ride all the criteriums got less, so many have disappeared. Also when the races in August like HEW and San Sebastian got World Cup status the riders had to prepare for those. The criteriums that are left are better organized, have better money, and often are better shows as the riders do fewer of them.
One race that had done well in the past was the criterium in Prague. Last year Armstrong came in 5th in this race. This year apparently the organizers did not have everything together and the top riders like Ullrich and Hincappie decided not to take part since there was no guarantee that they would be paid (news). I am sure the fans were disappointed as only Simoni took part and won the race.
The criteriums besides being great shows are when the business side of the life of a pro racer takes priority over the sporting side.