Make a Successful Transition to Your Cyclocross Season

Make a Successful Transition to Your Cyclocross Season

Build fitness on a realistic schedule with The Weekly Workout Stack™

Get your free copy of this time-saving planner.
Download Now

With the Australian ‘cross season one third of the way through, and the northern hemisphere about to kick of theirs, This week it’s about 3 ways to make a successful transition to your ‘cross season. The 3 best things to focus on for the best return, starts, running and skills.


For those new to the discipline of cyclocross, is it just another excuse to buy a new bike, or for you to be sold a bike? It’s been trending in the USA with the hipster/fixie movement pulling it out of obscurity and putting on successful events.


There are plenty of reasons to love the sport of cyclo-cross: The format has such a wide appeal. Not only does it sit in the intersection of road and mtb, it also is a short (but hard) race for the masses.


Everyone that has raced any summer road crit series can attest to their popularity. The very reason that crits are popular is the same reason I think cyclocross can have big number races. It all comes down to how much training you need to do to compete. Not necessarily to do well, but to just finish without embarrassing yourself.


The potential variable in road races is massive. But a 30min race is not so bad, especially one that uses a small circuit rather than a long road in the middle of no where. If the races roll off the back end of the crit season I believe there is potential to get the numbers.


The only way i have survived winter in the past is by turning it into a battle of the hard men. Having a few weekly rides in adverse conditions and thriving in the challenge. This is the next level of that, racing in cold mud, how fun doe stat sound!


What I’m looking at today is making the transition from other forms of cycling, mainly road and MTB. What skills you need to think about if you want to incorporate them into your training program. Which ones will make the greatest difference for the least effort?


What are the Differences between cyclocross racing and road racing and mtb?


Event length is between 30 minutes and 1 hour with the exception or short criteriums or time trials cross races are shorter for someones cross race category than when they race on the road in their category. The bike handling skills for cyclocross include getting off and running. That never happens in road races. The effort put out in cross races is dictated just as much by the course as by the other racers. In cyclocross tactics, in general, do not play as much of a role in the outcome of the event as they do in a road race.The cross season lasts from April to Sept in OZ. road April to December. MTB October to March.


Training:  Your general routine for ‘cross shouldn’t be that different from what you might do in the road or mountain bike season, with the exception of your workouts on foot. As with any event in cycling you want to train specifically for the disciple. If we analyze when you have to go hard in cyclocross and mimic the frequency, duration, and intensity of those efforts in your training. This becomes your training.


What does that mean in cyclocross?


The physiological demands of cyclocross are high and design workouts that mimic the power demands of the event. The data from an average cross race looks something like this: The longest continuous stretch of power output was for 23 seconds. Most segments were in the 4-8 second range and 125-200 percent greater than the rider’s threshold power. A third of the race was anaerobic and another third less than 170 watts: basically flat stick or nothing. That’s just how cross is: pedal hard for a short period of time, negotiate an obstacle or barrier and get back on the “gas,”! Go hard, jump, run, jump, run some more, accelerate, slow down, accelerate, and go hard again. All in little high-powered anaerobic periods of time.




Unlike road racing where the final lap is the most important, often in cyclocross the first lap and getting the “hole shot” is key to having a great race, so being able to clip in and sprint from the gun are important techniques to learn. While it’s similar to MTB the start is more important.


Racers go from 80 beats per minute to 180 bpm and then hold that intensity for the rest of the race. That effort translates essentially to a sprint, even if it’s followed by efforts at VO2max and eventually functional threshold power. Start with your strong side foot up every time at the 2 o’clock position. Make sure your other pedal is turned to a position that’s parallel to the crank so that when you put your foot on it while it’s on the way up, you’ll clip right in when you begin to push down on the next pedal stroke.


2 choices of starting technique:


1. Is to sit on your saddle, with one foot on the ground, on your tiptoes, right next to the pedal and ready to step in quickly.


2. Is to stand over your top tube, ready to push off with the foot that’s on the ground before you clip in. You’re likely to start on the hoods instead of the drops. It will allow you to shift quickly and wait around easier.


Before you even get into position for the start, you should have your starting gear already chosen. If you use 2 chainrings, the big ring and one down from the easiest gear in back is a good guide, perhaps a 46 x 23 or 25. With a single ring, you’ll likely prefer to be 2 or 3 gears down, in a 23 or 21. Experiment with all these variables so that you know what will work best for you in the race.


Start announcements will be made at 1 minute, 30 seconds and 15 seconds before the start.  The start can be announced at any time after the 15-second warning by pistol shot or whistle. So you have to be ready to go at any time. Practice your race starts on an imaginary start line at your local cyclocross course. Accelerate as hard as you can, clipping into the pedal as smoothly as you can. Go hard for 1 minute. Real hard. Try 125 percent of your threshold power hard; maybe even 150 percent. Attempt to click into the pedal quickly and shift down through all the gears as you accelerate until you reach your top speed.


Add a barrier section to this 1-minute race simulation, a deceleration, acceleration, or a run-up – combine all the technical elements of ’cross into this full-gas effort — because there’s a big difference in your technical skills going easy and going full tilt. After the initial 1 minute, keep the pressure on and perform 2-3 hot laps while working on your technical cross skills. Because it is a short race thing breaking it down like this becomes much more important. It may seem wanky at first but give it a shot and let me know if it works.




You might find that a little more focus on your running is the biggest 80/20 of the list. A little training turns a place you once suffered into a place you can attack. Don’t begin until after your last important road or mountain bike event of the year. A mountain bike racer might be able to handle it a bit sooner, and may even include running as part of their plan already. But for a road rider, nothing will kill your leg speed worse that running, so wait as long as you can. You should reach the ability to run 20 minutes consistently without pain or soreness. This can build to 45 minutes over the course of the season, but no more. Time should be increased in five-minute increments as your running fitness improves. Always wait until the soreness subsides before you undertake another running workout.


Once you can do this, it’s time to start adding speed. Again if the running parts of cyclocross are broken down it usually happens in short bursts fewer than 20 seconds, so to specifically prepare for this you need to do short bursts in your training where you’re at maximum intensity for about 15 seconds or so, and the longest a run should be in a well-designed ‘cross course is 80 meters.Doing some uphill running intervals in your off-road cycling shoes, as well, starting easier at first and then working up to speed, focusing on making the most of the traction your cleats offer on steep, loose terrain. Try them without carrying the bike at first, later adding the extra weight and burden of the bike on your shoulder.


Workout: Find a steep hill, ideally off-road, that takes you 10-15 seconds to sprint up. You’re aiming for 100% effort, from rest, with the sprints being no closer than one every 2 minutes. How many you do will depend on how many quality efforts you’re able to complete. If you consider your average ‘cross race: how many laps is normal, and how many runs per lap? If you have 2 decent runs in a race that will be about 10 laps, then you should be prepared to build up to 20 solid sprinting efforts in your workout.


Two ways to approach the efforts:


1. Start the workout without your bike, where you simply jog at a light intensity to your sprinting spot and jog home.


2. Do it as part of a ‘cross ride where you do your warm up on the bike, and then include a dismount and mount as part of your sprinting effort.


Go between the two depending on this.


If your technique is good and you want to isolate the specific fitness aspect of the sprint, then chose the former approach. If you feel you still need work on your skills and ability to run well with the bike on your shoulder, choose the latter.




Practising techniques. One intense day of training per week is plenty for the average racer to make greater gains on the race course. Better transitions, cornering and sand riding techniques than can ever be achieved by training fitness alone.


5 areas to work on:

1. Mounts and Dismounts

2. Off-Camber Turns

3. Barriers

4. Run Ups

5. Cornering


Workout: Do a 60-minute technique workout. Choose two skills per session: dismounting, remounting, climbing stairs, cornering, whatever.


A quick acronym to help you get over obstacles. It’s from a guy called Geoff Proctor. Just remember this word: GAPE.



Enter the transition (any section that requires you to dismount) in the gear you want to exit in.



To dismount: Slow, unclip one foot, swing that leg back around to the side from which you’ll dismount, and unclip the other foot.



Grab the top tube like a suitcase handle (smaller riders can grab the down tube) and hoist it along or shoulder it. Grab the centre of down tube with the right hand and lift the bike onto a shoulder, keeping left hand on the handlebar. Then reach under the tube and grab left handlebar drop, freeing your left hand. Remount after clearing the obstacle.


[E]xplode out of the transition.


A quick side note, some type of strength training is going to help you out here. There are loads of body weight training efforts you can do, check some out here.




Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

Get your free copy of The Weekly Workout Stack™

Leave a reply


Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

Get your free copy of The Weekly Workout Stack™

Build fitness on a realistic schedule with The Weekly Workout Stack™

Get your free copy of this time-saving planner.
Download Now
Download this comprehensive list
& get the best brands in one place