Getting into cyclocross this season? It’s one of my [Molly’s] all-time favorite things. I’ve written the book on it (literally), raced at every level, traveling around the world for races (and met my Canadian husband at a CX race in China!), managed an elite team for three years, covered World Championships many, many times, and basically live and breath the sport despite not racing much anymore. It’s the perfect sport for newer cyclists to try out: the atmosphere is all about fun, fun, fun; you can race on almost any off-road bike to get started, and the courses are nowhere near as intimidating as a long road or MTB course. So, let’s talk about my five best tips gleaned after 14 (!) years in the cyclocross scene.
Focus on skills
Cyclocross is a skill-heavy sport, though, for a beginner cyclist, it’s easy to get around most courses as a total newbie. But if you want to go fast, you’re going to want to practice skills in addition to doing your regular volume/interval training. The biggest barrier people have in CX is… barriers. (Here’s how to DIY a cheap PVC set to practice on!). Remounts and dismounts seem scary at first, but honestly, once you get the hang of them, it’s a game-changer. Find a local skills clinic to get dialed in, and spend 10 minutes a day in your backyard working on the basics, and you’ll be crushing it.
Want to work with a skills coach but don’t have one nearby? Peter did a fantastic course on remounts and dismounts for Ryan Leech’s skills site here.
Practice the right kind of running
“Should I run” is the most common question I hear about cyclocross. It’s funny, so many people think that they need to start doing big 30-60 minute runs to get ready for CX season, but really, think about it. Running usually only occurs for 10-20 seconds on a course in any given section, with your MTB shoes on, pulling your bike, and it’s ALL OUT sprinting. So rather than doing 3 ‘easy’ 60 minute runs per week and wrecking your poor cyclist body, consider doing shorter 15 minutes runs that involve a few sprints and hill intervals sprinkled in. Or, during your skills practice, work on running up a hill in your MTB shoes with your bike. Try to train your running to be as CX-specific as possible.
Say it with me… Cornering
Sure, barriers and remounting and dismounting are huge. But you remount maybe 15 times in a race… You corner about 500 times in a race. So doesn’t it make sense to put an emphasis on practicing your cornering skills? Once you have remounts and dismounts figured out and can do them pretty comfortably, I implore you: Turn your focus to getting better at cornering. Set up a few flags or tape off a tree or two in your yard and work on really digging into getting your speed and angles right on corners. You’ll save so much more time if you can get 10% faster on corners versus 10% faster on barriers.
Bring ALL the layers
Seriously, the weather during cyclocross season can change on a dime. One second, you’re trying to shed your layers and soak in a kiddie pool to stay cool pre-race, 10 minutes later, you’re putting on your leg warmers and shivering. Welcome to fall. It’s great, and also the worst. So, as you pack for a weekend, pack EVERYTHING. Assume that weather will shift to the highest and lowest temps predicted during race day and assume that nothing—from a tornado to hail to pouring rain—is off-limits weather-wise. (You can read more about my favorite gear to keep you happy on a CX weekend here)
Accept that crashes happen
I love cyclocross because it’s a slightly less intimidating intro to bike racing than road racing, which can involve catastrophic crashes with a lot of people, or mountain biking, which can involve catastrophic crashes with yourself and a feature. But that doesn’t mean you won’t crash in a cyclocross race. It just means crashes *tend* to be milder. That said, I’ve learned that embracing the fact that you’ll likely crash at some point during a practice lap or a race as you test speed in a corner or flub a barrier will make the process of racing at your best a lot easier. Being scared of crashing will just make you slower and prone to more crashing, honestly!
Longtime CX fans will remember this one, and I’ll leave you with this shining moment in CX history: