The endless number of accelerations, steep ride up’s and run up’s, barriers, as well as the intensity of cyclocross racing all add up to create a sport within cycling that is very demanding on your legs. Road or mountain bike fitness is great for coming into a season of cyclocross but adding in a variety of workouts will help you to better adapt to the racing as well as to set you up to do well. Cyclocross races are short so the training for it doesn’t have to be long either. You can do a variety of workouts which are hard and intense but also fun in a short amount of time a few times a week.
Cyclocross consists of a lot of turns which require you to slow and then reaccelerate out of each one of them. If you are only used to riding at a steady effort and accelerating a couple of times each ride, then after a few laps of a ‘cross race, your legs are going to ache. The best way to prepare for this is simply doing a lot of accelerations. If you are not yet on your ‘cross bike you can still do these on a road bike.
There are a number of intervalshttps://www.ilovebicycling.com/cyclocross-tips/ you could do but the easiest is to do 30 second intervals. Accelerate in the saddle for five to ten seconds alternating in and out of the saddle and then spinning easy for the remainder of the thirty seconds. Then when thirty seconds is up, do it again. Start with five minutes of this and build to twenty minutes. If you are on a ‘cross bike you can set up a mini-course that requires you to accelerate every thirty seconds.
There is not a lot of running in ‘cross but the little bit that there is can really hurt you if your legs aren’t ready for it. The only real times that you’re running are when you have to get over barriers or up a steep hill, both of which put a lot of stress on your legs. The best way to start getting that stress is to do a short five to ten minute run where you run easily for thirty seconds and then walk for a minute. Build to one minute on, one minute off, and after about a week of doing this every day you can do the whole ten minutes. Once you can do this your legs are ready to practice the harder stuff.
Assuming you already know how to dismount and mount your bike properly, set up two barriers about two meters apart and about 40cm high. Ride into it, dismount, run over it, remount and loop around and do it again. When you first start, do it slowly making sure your technique is good and then gradually increase your speed. Once you are up to speed, do five to ten of them with about thirty seconds between each one.
Next are the dreaded run-ups where the hill is too steep and/or technical to ride up. Find a steep hill that is too steep to ride up and takes about ten to twenty seconds to run up. In most races you probably won’t encounter run-ups quite this long but simulating them longer will ensure your legs are ready. Ride into the hill, dismount, shoulder the bike, run up the hill as hard as you can and then remount your bike at the top. Ride around easy for a couple of minutes and then do it again. Build from three to eight.
Some steep sections that some run up can actually be ridden but doing so requires practice. Riding a super steep climb necessitates a lot of strength that needs to be built. Even if you can do it once your legs are going to feel it after during the rest of the race. Like the run-ups you want to get your legs used to doing the effort over and over again.
Find a steep climb that you can barely ride up but you can still ride it without having to unclip. Sprint into and up it. Technique along with power is going to be what gets you up it efficiently. You will need to practice a lot to be able to do it in a race but once you’re good it can save you a lot of time each lap. Like the run-ups, start with three and build to eight, riding around easy in between each.
Along with needing specific fitness for ‘cross, having a solid base of fitness is essential. Ideally you come into ‘cross season with a bit of road or mountain fitness. If not, build your riding into longer and longer rides incorporating some intensity and then do these workouts to get ‘cross specific fitness. When you do come into the ‘cross season from a road or mountain season, it’s important to take a little bit of rest before you dive right in.
You will be tempted to keep racing with your fitness but if you do, after a weekend or two you will burnout and not have the intensity and drive to continue the ‘cross season in most cases. Instead, take a week or two easy and recover. You will start the ‘cross season fresh with these workouts which will have you feeling good in your races and most importantly, lessen the likelihood of injury.