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Criteriums! I saw this post last nite, but had to put my son to bed while watching Bernstein Bears. Anyways, there are several different ways to shoot criteriums. First, depending on what lenses you have, my suggestion is have a wide angle (14-24), standard zoom (24-70) and zoom (70-200) and a flash. Got two bodies? Use a tele on any non-full frame dslr, and a WA on another, with a flash on the WA.
I have been a bike racer for 30 yrs, and can tell you that using a flash is not a problem...and racers love their pics taken. The best races to shoot are the mens & womens Pro 12 races. They are faster and more dynamic. The best places to shoot from are inside corners using a wide angle w/flash & backlight, the outside corner about 50 meters as they are coming out of a corner at you using a tele lens...If you have a flyer or race info, they will provide a map of the course. with that I could have a better idea where to shoot from as well. The best are technical courses with lots of back to turns where you can capture a string of riders going left & right at the same time coming out of both sets of turns. Race dynamics are important too. If you see the pack racing in single file, they are going VERY fast...if bunched up, they are going slower. Knowing that will help you adjust your shutterspeed a bit. Often, a breakaway will for numerous time during a race. When a break happens, you may want to use an aperture...say f/4 to f/2.8 to capture the break with slight blurring of the chasing field behind (my style anyways). Also, another thing, setting up on the inside corner as riders come through can yeald the best photos, but can be nerve wracking as crashes sometimes happen...but, usually when a crash happens, the riders who fall will maintain the momentum in the direction they are traveling...usually away from the curb (you).
Settings: I usually shoot 2 or 3 bodies, with 2 flashes at the ready. I usually shoot with Nikon D700's and a D300, Nikon lenses & flashes, but have been playing around with a D7000 lately for video. I always shoot Manual. Why? I am a control freak. For a panning motion with a wide angle & flash (TTL), I like a sens of motion. I shoot between 1/125 to 1/160. Also, I often use spot metering and focus on the racers eyes. I love to use backlighting & flash. When using flash, try to avoid the "deer in the headlights" look by not overexposing or by using a diffuser. When going wide or using a standard zoom, using a flash is awesome, but takes a little practice to figure out the settings. They yield some of the most dramatic images. I agree with the other poster...mid day lighting, especially during summer months can be very harsh! ugh! To freeze the action, I would recommend a shutter speed of 1/1000ish or greater. Also, watch your background.. Because criteriums are often held in urban or industrial type settings, you can have ugly backgrounds which can be very distracting. So, doing a pan or using a f/2.8 will help reduce background clutter. RAW vs JPEG? I shoot RAW. Why? Because highlights are easily blown out and I freelance for magazines. So, quality of the shot is equally as important as capturing the "moment". Another thing, don not be afraid to machine gun you cameras. Why? Because bike racing is lightning fast and things happen in the blink of the eye.
Another thing...bike racing is just more than about racers. LARGE crowds going wild & cheering as racers going by adds to the energy. If there thousands or very large crowds at the race, try to get a shot using the crowd as part of the pic. Here is an example of using the crowd & scene to enhance the race image:
or this http://www.sportifimages.com/Cyclocross2011/CrossVegas-CX/Elite-Men/i-pZ7mG24/0/M/CrossVegasCX-0940-M.jpg
Bike racing is different than ball sports...You need to focus on the action, usually the riders or a select few to tell the story. It is a very elegant sport with lots of lines, lots of action...always changing...and, you get to actually hang out with the stars afterwards or before.
I hope this gives you a starting point. There is more I can talk about, but it is 0300 hrs and need to post process a few hundred images from a race last Sept. in Las Vegas (CrossVegas)...yeah, I missed a few and the promoter has me coming back for 2012, and he just updated his website with more of my images.