Here are a few points that may help both new and seasoned cross racers!

1 Register early because sometimes the race organizers go by order of registration for starting order. As we all know, the first half of the first lap is CRUCIAL, so you want to be near the front row! I would say about eight riders make up a row of riders, and they’re called up individually… Now, if you’re dealing with a 20-man field, this is not so important, but if you’re talking about 80+ riders, then it’s a huge concern. You need to be up front or have a really, really great start…

2 Register early means getting there early. Get to the event 2.5 hours before your race starts. Typically, there is 15 minutes between each race. The beauty of this and getting there early is you can pre-ride the course in between every race. You can pre-ride in between every race.

3 When they blow that whistle, you gotta be prepared to RACE. No waiting, no hesitating, no braking, no conserving. The first half of the first lap – this is where the race is made, where the leaders are created. If you’re not at the front early on, you need to find a way to be – and that’s by riding HARD! In order to pull this hard start off, a terrific warm-up is essential. I would recommend doing a few laps of the course, 1 easy, 1 at Tempo (finding lines, seeing if a section is faster to run or to ride, etc), then doing another easy lap, just to memorize the vital details of the course…

Afterwards, 20-30m easy riding on the trainer, and make sure you use your road wheel… This means – yeah – you’re getting to the event EARLY, as noted in #1.

4 At the beginning, you must be prepared to enter Death Mode, ready to ride to your limit, but you also have to be FEARLESS. I wrote, “No waiting, no hesitating, no braking, no conserving.” You’re gonna be going all-out, and all around you it’s total chaos. Guys are bumping into each other, riders are crashing. Some courses start off at 100 yards of pavement and then you hit the course. At Mercer Cup, guys fly onto course at full speed, then hit soupy mud. There are hang-ups, crashes, riders riding over riders, jumping over them. Mayhem. Cross is HELL, and you need to be prepared to deal with it. The good start is absolutely critical…

5 Warming up on the trainer is just as important as the race. Terrible warm-up most likely will mean terrible or diminished performance. However stupid some might think it seems, make sure you get a professional warm-up. Warm-ups might seem stupid to some, but so are severe stomach pains and leg cramps during the first half of the race!

6 Getting to the race early also has another benefit: you can watch the faster riders in other races, watch and see what lines they take… So you can practice beforehand, get your own take, then watch others, and then perhaps go out there and try some revisions. See what’s fast… There are occasions when running rather than riding a turn or line may be faster… You need to judge and learn… and watch… You can learn a lot just by watching the faster riders…

7 Cyclo-cross has always been linked with time trialing as a hellish extended steady-state effort, but cross is worse. Not only are you pinned at threshold, but because of the terrain and turns, you are constantly going over your threshold, constantly spitting out Anaerobic Threshold and Max efforts. With zero recovery. If you’re recovering, you’re going backwards…

However, over the years I’ve noticed that rider who do well in crits also do well in cross. Even though you can “sit in” more during crits, for many crits are HARDER than TTs because of the shorter max efforts involved – the attacking, the cornering, the accelerating. For many, this can take more from you than a steady 20m suprathreshold effort. Crit riders have excellent bike-handling skills, and cross will help your crit racing because you’re sliding through all these corners. After cross season, on the road bike you’ll feel more confident.

Mountain bikers also seem to excel at cross, too. This is where the roadies and MTBers get to meet in the middle ground and duke it out!!!

8 Mounting and dismounting. You see lots of riders do this incorrectly. They get off their bikes too late. They slow, try to bunnyhop the barrier. They get off their bikes too early. They try to clip out both feet too quickly. They don’t grab the bike in the proper place, banging their bodies and the barrier.

In my opinion, the dismount and remount are equally difficult. I like to always keep things consistent and simple. Remember “tracking” when you were in Driver’s Education? Mr. Rogers used to always say, “When you’re driving on the highway, don’t look right in front of you. You want to look down the road.” You are tracking where you want to go. Well, when you’re approaching that barrier, you want to do the same thing. Keep that head up! You will go much faster and smoother…

You want to go full speed up to that barrier, then clip out the non-swinging leg first, put arch of foot on pedal and keep pedaling. Then unclip with your other leg. With your hands on the hoods, swing your leg over. Now you’re gliding up to the barrier, standing on that one pedal. No stutter steps. Time your dismount so it’s a seamless transition. You want to time it so when you pop out of the pedal, you only take two steps and BOOM you’re over that barrier. If you’re taking more than five steps, you’re losing time and efficiency. When you’re running, hold the bike by the top tube with one hand. Your other hand is on the brake hood, guiding the front end.

And you’re over the barrier, lickety split.

Now, the remount can be tricky. A lot of riders end up PLOPPING back onto the saddle. You want to be as smooth and light as possible. The harsher you remount, the more you’re going to slow yourself down in the end. Remember: cyclo-cross races are not five minutes long.

Make sure the bike is stable. You want to keep your hands on the hoods — it’s just a faster transition than keeping your hands on the tops. The trick is to keep your momentum as you fly over the barrier. You want to hop back on the bike, feathering the inside of your thigh on the saddle first to make sure you get situated properly on the bike. As Simon Burney writes in his classic book “Cyclo Cross,” you want to “glide” back onto the saddle… Then clip in with your dominant leg and try to get up to speed, clipping in second leg (PowerCrankers have huge advantage here).

Over time, you will be able to get back onto that saddle with feathery light touch, get into that pedal, and rip away as if it were breathing — it will become intrinsic.

9 With all of this mounting and dismounting, you’ll want to wear a skinsuit. Skinsuit = tight = no snagging your shorts on the saddle. Many companies make insulated skinsuits, and I highly recommend looking into them. They are well worth it…

10 I would recommend lubing your cleats and pedals, to make mounting and dismounting that much more seamless… Mechanicals and little hiccups and really disturb your flow, causing you to overthink, get angry, rush, destroy your rhythm… Lube the cleats and pedals especially if there is a lot of sand and/or mud, as you will be clipping in and out a lot and this keeps things much smoother. Laura Winberry of Team Campmor noted she forgot to lube at Charm City and with that long sand run, unclipping became difficult…

11 There’s not a whole lot of drafting in a cyclo-cross race. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to not ride behind riders. Why? There’s no huge wind-cheating advantage here, but it’s nice having someone set the pace – you know where you competition is, right in front of you… Having two riders together can help push them to faster speeds… You’d think closing a gap in cross is fast and seamless like road racing – just leap and launch, hammer, and bridge steadily… But in cross, with the difficulty of the terrain, the stop and go, big gaps are much harder to close… If you have someone with you, it can make that bridge – or splinter off the front – that much easier…

12 There is a rhythm to a cyclo-cross race. The race can be made in the first half of the first lap. If you’re mid-pack, the leaders are gone and most likely you’re not going to see them again. The first 4+ minutes, total chaos. You lose most of the time for entire race in this first lap, depending on how technical the course is… You need to fight through this, because afterwards the race gets steadier and steadier…

Even if you’re not in the front, the more you can MAKE your way to the front, the group thins out more. You should be doing a lot of passing in the first lap, getting as many wheels behind you as possible to prevent further delays. When there’s more riders around, it’s harder to go full-metal, so many riders in front of you…

Once race settles down, you end up in your own rhythm and try to pick your way through the field slowly and steadily. Like a TT, you don’t want to attack guys you pass. You want to work with them steadily, and once they’re shot, leave them quietly behind. The key to cyclo-cross success, like time trialing, is being steady.

13 Almost sounding like a paradox, but this doesn’t mean taking the climbs at same steady pace as the flats. You’re riding at sub-threshold, LT paces, and then you hit the shorter climbs, and you need to accelerate hard up them. And you need to be prepared for this. After a healthy amount of Build training, look to pepper your training with plenty of shorter intervals geared at sub-Max power and minimal recovery. Once prepared, in training you will need to get on the gas, recover quick, and get on the gas again… You need to find this race rhythm and become comfortable with hit…

14 There are climbs, but there are also turns. You need to be equally good at both. And you need to practice this. For EE riders, we do plenty of Corner Accelerations, etc, practice ripping into a turn, ripping out… For the cross rider, it can be easier to corner in the drops, especially if the turn goes downhill as it’s much easier to balance and keep the speed. The constant slowing, accelerating, can really deflate an athlete, especially if the bike is bogged down with mud… and you need to train for this. For many riders, experimenting with cadence is a good idea, and many have found utilizing a higher cadence on the harder parts of the course can prove beneficial.

15 There are turns, but there are also long run-ups and other times when you’ll be running… In most cases, use LONG STRIDES for the running sections. If you shoulder the bike, try to swing the dangling arm while running, so as to get more momentum. Use all of your limbs to propel yourself forward, not just your legs…

Laura Winberry explains her technique: “You want to shoulder the bike, put your right arm under the down tube, so it sits in the crook of your elbow, and grab the left drop. This stabilizes the bike and frees the left arm, keeps the front end from swinging and holds the back of the bike steady for blocking. You can also block people this way during the running sections, specifically if you are a slower runner. Not the most ethical, but if you run this way you take up more space and can prevent people from darting by!

16 Mud-fests. They’re gonna happen. Might sound unrealistic, but pros and even top local riders have two bikes. If you’re competing for the overall in a series, on a crappy day you’re gonna need someone in the pit cleaning your bike. Nowadays, with cross becoming more and more popular, companies like Van Dessel are demoing their bikes, but they usually require you don’t ride through the harsher sections. Some of the bigger races even have race support bikes – but they might not fit right, etc. So it’s always a good idea to have that back-up bike… Even you’re broken down in a shady part of town, it’s better to have that gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it…

17 Mud-fests… Sometimes when it is super muddy and you are forced to run, pushing your bike can be faster than shouldering it, as there can easily be 15+ pounds of mud stuck to it…

18 Fearless revisited. You must ride fearlessly in the beginning of the race, trying to drop riders, establish gaps. You need to be fearless. You WILL crash. But don’t worry about it – most crashes don’t hurt that much. Slower speeds, softer conditions. Again – during the chaos, you WILL crash. You almost have to embrace it and roll with the punches. If you have a fear of crashing, you will go far too slow… I’ve never met a successful, timid cross-racer!

When you’re out there, you almost need to go into autopilot and not think too much. Many things will happen and you can’t panic. You may take a turn and slide out. Don’t immediately clip out, try to pedal on and re-balance yourself. You will run into people, ride into people, you will get stuck in the mud. The key is not to panic but to deal with the micro-situation and keep moving forward. Guys will run into you – you don’t need to get mad, turn around, cuss, assess the situation. Just move your butt along and get a gap on the guys catching up to you…

Regarding the lining tape and posts: be wary of them. I’ve seen races won and lost because a rider hugs the wall, then gets tangled in it. Many times, especially when it is super muddy and you are searching for the best ground to ride, you end up hugging the tape line – and you have to be very focused, look very far ahead, so as to keep your line. You cannot afford to get your bars caught in the tape. The wind can blow the tape over, too… But you gotta push that envelope: the best cross racers get cut and bruised knuckles from riding so close to that tape, pushing the envelope!!! FEARLESS!

19 In preparation to the race, RIDE THE CROSS BIKE. It handles differently, has different gears, accelerates differently, saddle position is slightly different. The body has to get used to all of these things. Ride your cross bike on asphalt AND on the trails. You need to get 100% acclimated to it as you would your road or time trial bikes… The more efficient and confident you become, you can save more energy during the races and pound out a stronger performance.

20 Whether you’re racing for the win, dueling with someone for a top-10, or going back and forth with a few guys for 54th – there IS a part of the course where you’re strongest. And you always need to be racing as if it’s for the win – this is how you get better…

If you’re with other riders in the remaining laps, you need to find a way to get in front and away from them. You want to take advantage of your strength as the race goes on. For instance, if you feel you have good time trial power, you need to attack early on and steadily power away. If you’re excellent at technical riding, you need to get up the climb first, then smoke the descent and hopefully get a gap on your competition. Hopefully the adrenaline rush of gapping them will give you enough motivation to stay away!

Find some part of the course where you excel and attack there… Race to your strengths. You need to maximize them if you want to continually do well…

21 Hit a GU 45m before the race, then again 15 minutes before the race.

22 No cages on the bike. With shorter racing and cooler temperatures, you don’t need the Accelerade. Plus, you can’t properly grab the bike if it has cages.

Hopefully you’ve been eating and drinking right during the days before the event… Most of the cross racers I coach work well with a light race day diet, similar to the time trialists! You especially want to ensure you hydrate the day before, because you won’t be drinking during the race. If you’re eating correctly, then you won’t need to eat much the day of a race, perhaps a few low-Glycemic snacks to munch on. However, everyone is different and you need to find over time what works best for you…

23 Do not take your hands off the handlebars. Ever. I’ve seen numerous guys go down hitting hidden moguls or ditches while trying to adjust their glasses, etc. Leave the glasses at home. Do not take those hands off the bars!

24 ALWAYS pound it when coming through the finish line. The rider behind you might be on a great day, getting you in their sights. YOU might be on a great day, catching 3rd or 2nd, and you just may catch them… Elite Endurance athletes has several times caught racers at the line in photo finishes! You DON’T want to be that rider caught right at the line – give everything. As you near the end of the race, know exactly where the finish is and give it your all – it’s only 30 more seconds! Give everything, recover all you want after the race… The pain is only temporary…

25 A top cross racer once told me: “Don’t be afraid to throw up.” He told me he’s come close several times, and you just need to keep pushing! Basically, if your eyeballs are not popping out, you’re not going out hard enough. ☺

26 And lighten up ☺ Leave the ego at the door. The road season is stressful enough! Cross is fun and so are its fans. Grab that dolla dolla bill from the mud and keep going with that huge money grin…

Thanks for reading.

Training Article By: Kenneth Lundgren | Thursday, February 5th, 2015