by Michael van den Ham
Here are some tips that will help you perform at your best, whether you find yourself racing in mud, grass, sand or, most likely, all of the above.
1. Ride your cross bike, now
Ride your cyclocross bike, now! Obvious, right? But when I say ride the bike you are going to race in ’cross season, I mean ride it in just about every training session from the beginning of August onward. There are a couple reasons for hopping on early. The handling on your ’cross bike is not the same as either your mountain or road bike. There’s a good chance that your mountain bike and road position are not the same as your ’cross position, which has a big effect on how you produce power on the bike. This advice, however, doesn’t mean that you need to be pedalling around on a grass field for a month and a half; it means that you should ride your CX bike on every type of terrain.
Itching for some singletrack? Riding the CX bike on the trails is a great test of your handling skills. I’ve been known to show up to group rides on mine (at least for some trail networks). What about a longer road ride? Throw some 28c slicks on your ’cross bike and head out for an adventure.
2. Yoga is your friend
There is no cycling discipline that involves more twisting and turning, shifting and shaking, or running and reaching than cyclocross. Your hips and your back are particularly susceptible to getting tight, so much so that the term “cross back” has come to describe that sore feeling that so often shows up
30 minutes into a race. For me, the solution is as simple as making time for 15 to 30 minutes of yoga practice every morning. Your yoga routine doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy (there are a number of YouTube practices that I frequently use), but creating time for a little off-the-bike self-care will not only make you feel better in races, but make you a more functional human being in general.
3. Attend a cross camp or clinic
No one. Not me, not Stephen Hyde, not Wout van Aert is so good that he doesn’t need to make improvements on his cyclocross technique. The best way to do work on technique is to attend a cyclocross camp or clinic. If you attend a good one (I recommend anything Cycle-Smart, where I’m a coach), you’ll learn proper methods, get direct feedback from a coach and, perhaps just as important, have ample time to practise on a cyclocross course with people who are of a similar skill level to you.
4. Practise with focus
Of course, attending a camp is useful, but spending time turning the skills you honed at your camp or clinic into hard-wired habits is invaluable. I like to add 15–20 minutes a couple times per week onto my ride to focus on one or two cyclocross skills. Pick a skill, whether it’s cornering or a challenging section, and spend time riding it, breaking down your technique and repeating.
5. Don’t underestimate the recovery time
Once your season has started and you are in the thick of racing, one of the most valuable things you can do is take the recovery just as seriously as the racing. Cyclocross is something that isn’t a lot of fun if you aren’t fresh, so don’t be afraid to swap out training days for recovery days or days completely off the bike if you start to feel fatigued in the middle of the season.