Which is the more effective training and preparation? You consider yourself above-average on the road. In cyclocross, you would say you have a strength and a few glaring weaknesses. You want to prepare for a season of cyclocross success.
There are many schools of thought. Cyclocross season is intense – in order to achieve gladiator strength, and maintain this strength all season, you must prepare all year with a long build without setbacks, with racing sprinkled in through spring and summer.
A key to cyclocross success is finding balance, reward, and consistency. Training for cyclocross is a lifestyle – you just don’t start riding your ‘cross bike again in August.
Cyclocross season is over. Ask yourself these questions: what time of year do you like to train the most? What time of year do you physically feel the strongest? Is there a time of year you enjoy riding the bicycle the most? Answer all three in honest manner and unlock the superior path to your cyclocross preparation.
In order to achieve a leap in performance, condition your body year-round for the demands of a full season of volatile cyclocross racing. From February to mid-July, start to complete progressive strength work once or twice a week. In the winter and into spring, you are riding your road and MTB.
In training, be confident in your decisions: you are on the path of a cyclocross athlete, not your roadie or MTB-focused friend aiming to smash in the spring and early-summer. In order to achieve success, many people feel there is one magical answer. Or one magical pill. And the answer is you need to always fully understand yourself as an athlete – who you are, what you want.
There is no special pill to discovering potential. The pill is you need to have your vision in front of you, and then you work hard to make it reality. The process is easy, it just requires more preparation.
Plan your January-July racing program to best prepare for cyclocross competition. Immediately address your weakpoint in performance. With power data, you can see power curves very clearly: steep, medium, flat. But, even without a power meter, you can identify your personal power curve. Can you hammer steady hard and long but lack the acceleration? Can you sprint better than your peers but lack the staying power? Do you feel you are an all-arounder who can do everything well? How would you grade your bike-handling skills?
For optimal performance in cyclocross season, work on your weakpoint in the preparation, from January to mid-summer – and have fun doing it – because, in truth ‘cross season is immensely taxing and many strong and talented athletes suffer burnout from the high-level training and racing. In order to achieve full cyclocross fitness, you must pave a path with no setbacks in spring and summer. Having an issue-free build leads to consistency in the autumn. Burnout is not acceptable if you are preparing for cyclocross success. Fully prevent that by balancing the season with a productive, long, and fun build.
With racing goals, you choose goals that are both effective in training experience but are also fun. If sprinting and accelerating is a weakness, you fill the racing schedule up to mid-summer with more cross-country MTB racing and training. If you hate the woods, race more criteriums and time trials.
If your weakpoint is steady-state power and endurance in hard racing, race more time trials. You need to condition your body to generate maximum linear power over a set course-length – this is the cyclocross effort and this is time trialing. Learning how to time trial and building this essential part of the engine in the first half of the season is time well spent.
What you do in training, you do in racing. What is something you do poorly in racing? Lose time in turns, can’t ride off-camber? You will address this by mid-late summer on the’cross bike, but in the meantime ride and race the MTB. Perhaps riding more dirt will provide a stronger balance in your lifestyle… Remember, there is much free speed to be found in cyclocross, and you learn much of this skillset on the MTB – on the MTB, every ride is a learning experience. You can ride the same trail 50 times and find a faster line every time.
Balance overall in the training program is vital, something most endurance athletes completely miss. You need to plan the season for peak fitness in fall, or aim for another goal in spring or summer – the option is up to you. But, either way, the spring and summer are fun and challenging training and racing experiences.
Balance and fun: if you love volume in training, if you love longer weekend rides, when it gets warmer out ride longer on the bike you prefer – make your endurance rides where you want. Doing these small things every day, making decisions on what bike to ride every day and what workout to do, can go a long way in carrying maximum form through cyclocross season.
Success is not one activity or effort or one step. Success is doing many small things right every day, over and over and over. You build success every day, every day you continue to make it happen.
If you really love the road and feel technical skills on the ‘cross bike are sound, then ride and race more road. If you love the road but your technical skills are not up to snuff, race more ‘cross country MTB, where you will be forced to corner hard, ride through rocks with skill, and maintain bike-handling skills in a fatigued state. If you sincerely want to improve in cyclocross, racing consistently on the MTB could be part of the answer.
XC MTB COMPETITION
In an ideal world, I would prefer to see you race both but focus on the MTB. I do feel the #1 best form of racing you can do for raw cyclocross success is learning how to succeed in ‘cross country MTB racing. The efforts are similar, the required power curve is a touch flatter, the racing is about twice as long. These attributes add up in lethal fashion and form a superior racing base for cyclocross season.
Criteriums, hard, hilly circuit races, and track racing are also strong alternates if these are your passion – need to find that balance, fun factor, and reward.
You race a few road events to work on your weakpoint in performance or to stay sharp in your favorite non-cross discipline, but on the MTB you are getting faster on race courses. You are training on the road, you are doing some rides on the MTB, and you are racing hard in the woods. Over time, you generate better and better results and learn the ins and outs of cross-country MTB racing – you are mastering race day rituals of these arduous solo race performances, you are learning how to start hard, rail turns
on non-pavement, crush short and severe power climbs, and race all-out for 90+ minutes. Zero lulls in the action.
You are building a superior base to stand on for cyclocross, and you are starting to create successful racing experience as an athlete – you are developing genuine confidence as a competitor. This is never easy. There are many great singers, there are few great performers. You must practice and practice the art of showing up on race day and generating peak velocity over each race course. This is what you do in training all year as you build for cyclocross, and as you enter the ‘cross season, you are strong, confident, and ready for war.
A big key to cyclocross performance is learning how to meter the effort. In ‘cross, many riders are pinned for 40-60 minutes. In the common non-40k TT, you are pinned for 15-30 minutes. If ‘cross-country MTB racing, you learn to ride this threshold for 90 minutes or more. You need to develop the dexterity of a conditioned athlete and feel this threshold – how hard you can physically dig for each effort.
The trick is to time and progress your program so you are in a position to train and race at peak condition for 90+ days in the autumn. If you take a personal inventory of the type of riding you enjoy the most, and if you can give cross-country MTB racing a chance and take some lumps early-on in the journey, you will ultimately find new success in the autumn.
Great singers just don’t show up on the night of the show and perform. They are extreme about the staging, the background props, the back-up singers and band, and also performing these songs to sync with the entire production. They rehearse relentlessly to generate superb performances. In your workouts and in racing, you are also rehearsing for the same goal, to perform to potential from the first pedal rep to the last.