Keys To Success This 'Cross Season
If you listen closely, you can already hear the cowbells off in the distance. What's that? No, not a herd of cattle. It's 'cross season-- and it just around the corner! For those who live and breathe cyclocross, it's important to be putting in some hard work this summer to lay the foundation for success this fall. Whether you're a casual racer just looking for a good time, or whether cyclocross is your main goal of the year, there are some key areas of focus that put you on track for a great 'cross season.
Yes, even for a short cross race it's important to have a good aerobic base built. A good aerobic base will allow you to recover from and repeat the hard efforts common in cyclocross. It's all fine and well if you can put in a blazing first lap-- but if you blow up halfway through the race, you likely won't finish very well. When you go above your threshold while sprinting out of a corner or up a steep hill, you will be able to clear lactate more quickly if you've got a good base. With a good base, you'll post more consistent lap times.
If you race only cross, spending time gradually accumulating miles in your aerobic zones for 8-12 weeks during the spring and summer months will lay the foundation essential for cyclocross racing. During this period it's also a good idea to do some sprint work every so often to maintain the explosivity needed for 'cross. This is also the time to be hitting the gym (more on that later).
If you race road during the summer, you probably already have a great aerobic base (providing you built one when you prepared for road season). If that's the case, you're ready to dive into some more race specific training and skill work.
Cyclocross features many explosive efforts on a wide variety of terrains. The more technical the course, the more important your explosive power will be. Some efforts will be performed from a very low speed and low cadence, like when sprinting out of a sharp corner uphill. These efforts require the ability to put a lot of torque into the pedals. Performing big gear sprints are ideal for preparing for this type of effort. Conversely, some efforts may be at a very high cadence on a fast portion of the course as you try to maintain your speed or sprint for holeshot. Since most courses will feature a combination of the two, it's a good idea to work on both.
A good sprint workout can be done by performing 2-4 standing start sprints. Select a big gear and slow down to almost a standstill and accelerate as quickly as you can out of the saddle for 20 seconds. These can also be performed while staying in the saddle for a different stimulus. After performing the standing starts, perform 2-4 high cadence sprints, where you select a relatively light gear and spin it up as high as you can for 20 seconds. These can also be done in or out of saddle. Cadence should remain above 100 rpm the entire time and climb up to as high as 140 towards the end. Recover for a good 3 minutes between sprints. This workout will prepare you for both high cadence and high torque efforts common in cyclocross. If you find explosive power to be a limiter for your cross racing, it's a good idea to do this workout once every 1-2 weeks during the base season and preparation phases.
Full Body Strength
Any well rounded training program should include off the bike work. This is even more true for 'cross racers, who must run, jump, climb, and carry. Your training off the bike should feature upper and lower body strengthening, core strengthening, and explosive race specific movements.
Exercises that strengthen the shoulder and arms will give you additional stability as you navigate the course. On a rough course that features sharp turns, fast downhills, and unpredictable terrain-- the ability to control you bike is essential. If your upper body is weak, you may struggle to handle your bike effectively and lose valuable time. When your bike is buckin' like a bronco on a steep and bumpy part of the course, a strong upper body will help give you an edge. In the event of a tumble (and you're bound to have a few while 'cross racing), having strong shoulders and arms will help prevent injury.
Plyometrics such as jump squats and stair running will give you train your explosivity as you pedal the bike and as you run obstacles. Core stability will help to you transfer power to the pedals, and give you additional stability as you navigate obstacles. Some racers find that even mixing in some running can help to prepare their bodies for the rigors of cyclocross.
Want to get strong? Aspire Cycling Coaching features a weight training program included with your training.
Tailor Your Training
If you're aiming to perform well at a certain race during the season, make sure you know the course. Some courses will be very technical and resemble criterium racing. Other courses can be more open and suit a time-trialist. Find out the nature of the race that you're aiming for, and if possible, even recon the course. Then tailor your training to meet the demands. Racing an open course with long straights? Threshold work should be a large component of your training. A Technical course with lots of turns and obstacles? Your training should focus more on explosivity. Your training should feature some of both no matter what, but knowing your objectives will help you know where to place your emphasis.
So you've built a good base and done some good high intensity work to make sure your ready for the season-- now it's time to race, BUT it's also time to rest. The high intensity nature of cyclocross means that you need to be well rested heading into your events. Even just the slightest bit of fatigue can take a lot off of your top end. If you're racing every weekend, your mid week rides should look pretty easy to allow you to recover and prepare for the next weekend. You'll be getting in plenty of hard efforts from the races, so high intensity intervals should be used in limited quantities during periods of frequent racing. Generally you'll be better off focusing on cyclocross skills during the week rather than hard training rides. Mid week training rides look different from rider to rider, and vary based upon on your objectives. A coach can help keep you on track throughout the year.