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How to train for Cyclocross
What is cyclocross
Cyclocross is an off-road discipline, combining the high paced competitive nature of road cycling with the technical elements of mountain biking.
Cyclocross often takes place in the winter months meaning that it can provide a perfect alternative to road cycling in those colder and icer months when it can often be unsafe to cycle on the road. We recently did a deep dive into everything you need to know as a beginner getting into cyclocross.
There are two main ways of approaching a cyclocross season. Either targeting it several months out and training specifically for it or simply using it as an off-season for your regular road cycling.
If you aim to be competitive in the cyclocross season, you need to start training for it around mid-august, so for the rest of the season, you can do your regular long-distance cycling or road racing.
So what are the demands of cyclocross?
The short sharp sprints, the grueling thick mud and repeatedly jumping over barriers. It can be argued that cyclocross is one of the most challenging forms of bike racing.
Whilst it is shorter than most other forms of cycle racing, it is far more intense. Being a successful cyclocross rider comes down to three things, your ability to repeatedly sprint out of corners, your ability to maintain a high tempo for short to medium durations (1-5 minutes) and your technical ability.
If you were to break down a cyclocross race and analyse where the winning move is likely to come from, you can easily see the most important aspects of fitness for cyclocross.
Sprinting off the start line and jostling for position into the first corner or technical sections can see riders move up or down the field and for most people, this decides the outcome of their race.
So to have a chance of winning, you need to have a good start. Training for the start of a cyclocross race is a specific skill.
You need to be able to quickly clip into your pedal and produce maximum power within a fraction of a second. So an easy way to train this is to simply repeat this process over and over again in one session.
Accelerating up hills and out of corners.
In scientific language, this is referred to as your anaerobic capacity. But in simple terms, it’s how many times you can peak over a more constant cycling intensity. A good analogy for your anaerobic capacity is a box of matches.
Each time you accelerate up a hill or out of a bend, you are using up a match, and you only have a finite amount of matches. Every time you burn a match it takes approximately ten minutes to make another match. How to take a corner on the trail.
One way you can train your sprints and accelerations to be more powerful and recover quicker is to try sprinting for 15-30 seconds every 3 minutes for a period of 20-30 minutes. Training this way will prepare your body to produce more power and recover quicker. Five interval training sessions.
High tempo for a few minutes at a time.
In complex words, this is your vo2max, the maximum amount of oxygen that can be used by your working muscles. In a cyclocross race, this could be riding hard through a sandpit or deep mud.
The type of training required to increase your vo2max is simple. However, the sessions can be physically very hard. One example may be to do 5 times 5 minutes as hard as possible with 3 to 5 of rest in between each effort. Mountain biking trails in Wales.
Over time this will give you the ability to produce more power and allow you to attack off of the front and win the race solo.
There has always been a question regarding the greatest off-road riders. What is it that makes them win, physical fitness or technical skills?
Technical skills are a fundamental aspect of any cyclocross rider. Every cyclocross course will have barriers to jump over and stairs to run-up.
Even if you are physically the strongest rider, you will not win if you can’t get through the technical elements. Practicing your technical skills is simply finding an object to use (this can be man-made like a barrier or natural like a fallen tree). If you practise the basic skills over and over again, you will eventually master them. How to ride a technical at a trail.
When should you start training for the cyclocross season?
In most northern hemisphere countries, the cyclocross season starts towards the end of September. So it is a good idea to start riding your cross bike in August to make sure you are comfortable riding and racing on it.
You can start riding your cyclocross bike on regular long-distance rides on or off-road to remember what it is like to ride the bike.
As you get closer to the start of the competitive season, you should practice some essential technical skills.
You should practice mounting and dismounting your bike and jumping over things. We will provide some examples of training drills to help you master the fundamental skills needed for cyclocross.
5 fitness sessions you can do to prepare you for the cyclocross season
As the name suggests, this session is all about training for the start of a race. You want to practise clipping in and sprinting as hard as you possibly can. A regular session could be 10 x 30-second starts, with 5 minutes of recovery between each standing start.
Seated power climbs
This will improve your uphill climbing ability. Find a hill around 1 minute in length and ride up it as hard as you can. You should aim to do 5-8 reps per session with 3-5 minutes of recovery between each interval.
Long endurance rides
Yes, cyclocross may be only one hour, but a robust endurance base is still essential. You should aim to complete at least 2-3 rides per week at a low intensity, either on-road or off-road. Long distance cycling tips by Robbi Ferri
Find a hill or a long section of trial and ride as hard as you can for 5-7 minutes. This should feel really hard. Try to complete 3-4 repetitions allowing for 10 minutes of easy riding between each repetition.
Cyclocross is short and intense. So the training for it is similar. So it is vital to do one or two easy riders per week to allow your body to recover.
Why not take your cross bike out into the woods and explore that trail you’ve always wanted to. Or take your road bike to your favourite cafe stop. You won’t get fitter if you don’t have enough rest.
5 examples of skill drills you can do
Mounting and dismounting your bike
The key to this one is to get on and off, on the non-drive side of your bike (the left side without gears). Simply swing your leg over the saddle and hop off your bike. Start slowly to build your confidence and as you improve you can speed it up.
Carrying your bike over barriers
For this one, you want to dismount your bike well before the obstacle and pick your bike up from the non-drive side and run along with it. Once you are clear of the barrier, jump back on your bike and start pedaling again.
Bunny hopping over barriers
The quickest way to get over small barriers is to stay on your bike and bunny hop over them. Try to lift your front wheel over the obstacle and jump by moving your body weight back and forth to move the back wheel over the barrier.
Learning to bunny hop can take a long time to be patient and start with small obstacles on a soft surface like grass at first.
Cycling through muddy or sandy ruts
When a lot of people ride through deep mud or sand ruts will form. These ruts are like small channels created by the bike’s tyres and the quickest way through the mud or sand is to follow the rut. Read Jacks debrief of the battle of the bowl.
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