Cyclocross is America’s fastest growing bike racing discipline. As the name implies it’s a “cross” between road and mountain biking both in the type of riding and the type of bike being ridden. It consists of many short laps over different and unpredictable terrains such as pavement, wooded trails, grass, mud, gravel, steep hills and obstacles. A rider must be ready for anything that race organizers have up their sleeves and may require the rider to quickly get off their bike and carry it whilst climbing stairs, hopping over logs or navigating sand pits and then gracefully remounting only to hit a steep hill.
So how do you train for a sport like this? With so many variables such as strength, agility and speed that you need to become proficient in, it’s hard to know just what you need to do.
Training for cyclocross involves a combination of on the bike cycling training, including both sprint sets and longer rides, with resistance/strength training.
I’m going to break this down into two categories, Pre-Season/Off Racing Weeks and Cross Racing Weeks.
The Pre-Season/Off Racing Week schedule is simply before the season starts or weeks when you do not have a race the coming weekend with the only exception being if you had a race the previous day. Modify the following day after a race to just include a gentle recovery spin and plenty of extra stretching and skip that days training.
For Pre Season training I recommend at least 7 training sessions a week to prepare for the cyclocross season. This ideally should encompass two long rides, two tempo rides and three half hour sessions of strength/resistance training.
“See Also: Our Ultimate Strength Training Guide for Cyclists where I teach you why strength training is important for cyclists and provide a sample workout and how to modify that workout for maximum cycling gains.”
Here is an example of a pre-season training layout, which you can modify to fit your current life schedule.
For the week before races, I recommend reducing training sessions to 5 a week and leaving at least 2 days recovery before race day. This will include 2 tempo rides, 2 half hour strength sessions and 1 long ride at least 40 miles.
Week Before a Race Weekend
Your long rides should be at least 40 miles depending on your existing fitness level/available time frame. If you are just out of road biking season, have loads of free time, or are just in great shape, feel free to increase the mileage. I recommend a route that includes variable terrain with some climbing and some flat straights. Don’t be afraid to open the pace and get some sprints in as you will reap the benefits during your races.
Tempo rides should be a mixture of really fast all out sprints and longer aggressive holds.
All out sprints should be held for 10-15 seconds followed with short recoveries which replicates straight away and short sharp hills that you will encounter on the cyclocross field. Combine this with longer aggressive holds at a pace that you can hold for 45 seconds to 1 minute and 15 seconds.
Here are two example sets, but modify this to the number of watts you can hold in the time frame:
Strength training should include high intensity sets followed by short recovery times as the cross course usually permits very little recovery. Combine high intensity exercises such as running sprints, burpees, squat jacks or mountain climbers with harder body weight exercises such as plank, squats,and alternating step back lunges. Since cyclocross involves short bursts of running, make sure to include a lot of sprints.
“For a more in depth look into strength training and sample workouts check out our Ultimate Strength Training Guide for Cyclists.”
Armed with this training plan and an good bit of stretching you will be sure to have a successful cross season. I'd love to know how this is training plan is working for you. Post comments and questions below.