Cyclocross is starting very soon in Colorado and if you haven’t started training you are all ready behind. I love cross. I have often said that if I could pick any one bike racing to be good at it would be cross. I combines all the things I like about bike racing into an hour or less. The amount of suffering in cross is just beyond any other bike event (at least for me) and I have so much respect for those that do it well. I have coached several athletes that race cross over the years. I remember not that long ago that it was more of a way to stay fit in the fall than a focus. Now so many people race cross only and really have it down to a science.
There are several training elements that are very specific to cyclocross for bike racers.
- Technical Skills
- Short/Intense racing
Many people have referred to cross as being like criterium racing and that the training is similar. Well it isn’t. If there is any type of racing that is similar it is mountain bike. The bike handling skills and the accelerations are much more like a mountain bike course than any criterium. Most mountain bike racers can transition to cross pretty seamlessly, while a ton of good crit racers struggle. (me included) So let’s break down the new skills required:
Cross requires phenomenal bike handling. Unlike a mountain bike, a cross bike has no suspension. Therefore the room for error is much smaller. I’ve always used ALL of the give my suspension allowed for due to average bike handling, but on a cross bike one miss step and you are on your can. Getting out and riding single track will pave dividends for roadies making the transition. It will also strengthen those core muscles that are totally weak from sitting on your bike and just pushing with minimal lateral control needed on a road bike.
Mount and dismount. Cross is all about efficiency. The races are just to short to make up lost seconds due to poor dismounts followed up by poor mounting of the bike. For the riders who make a living racing cross, getting on and off the bike is just like clipping into your pedals for a roadie. Watching the real pros do this is amazing. The only solution to this is simple: PRACTICE. You have to practice this maneuver thousands of times to get that smooth efficiency you see when a pro dismounts and runs barriers just as fast as the guys riding them.
Let’s face it. Cyclist can’t run. Just like triathletes have poor bike handling and folks from Iowa “warsh” their clothes, cyclists aren’t runners. Generally running during your season has a negative affect on bike racing. But now is the time to start. Good thing is it isn’t really running anyway. Getting out a couple of times a week for a short run/walk is even good enough to get the legs used to impact and the effort. Start out super slow to prevent soreness from screwing up your other training. I mean 5 minute jogging, adding 5 minutes a week. Run the uphills and walk the downhills at first. Eventually work up to hill run sprints to get the legs used to the efforts in races.
This area is similar to criteriums, but rather than roll around and have accelerations from 20mph to 30mph and hitting sweeping corners, you are stopping and starting at intervals in the seconds for turns, barriers and run areas. Changing speeds so many times in a race is exceedingly taxing on the system. The key is to have a very high Lactate Threshold There is no time for recovery in cross and keeping below the red line is important. You will notice that the best cross racers are the best criterium racers (sprinters) but are usually good at time trialing. (which mtb bike racing is in essence) So work on a combination of things. First work on raising that Lactate Threshold so that you can hold this intense effort for up to an hour. Then work on short all out efforts followed up by even shorter recovery.
Good luck. I hope to be out there at some point, but as I mentioned in my transitions post a while back I always seem to have bad luck in the fall. Sure enough I broke my arm again right as I would be getting ready for cross. My fitness is pretty good right now, so hopefully I can hang onto some of it and get out there soon.