Cyclocross involves repeated hard efforts and riding at close to your maximum heart rate for about 45-60 minutes. The accelerations necessary for powering up steep pitches, out of corners and blasting through flat sections require repeatable sprint explosiveness throughout the event.
The best way to practice cyclocross skills is riding off the road and on your cyclocross bike itself but if you find yourself on your road bike, there are still some ways you can prepare yourself for cross season.
Cyclocross training is somewhat similar to criterium racing, in that you’ll need the ability to lay down an explosive effort in the middle of what already feels like a hard interval. To train for these VO2 max efforts, try doing five-minute efforts repeated about five to eight times (depending on fitness and time constraints,) with three to four minutes of recovery between them.
If you have a power meter, start the effort at 85-90 per cent of your functional threshold power (FTP). Every 20 seconds increase your power to 120-125 per cent of your FTP for either 15 or 20 seconds. When you finish your sprint, make sure you’re still riding just below your FTP and maintaining that power steadily (without dipping too far below) between the bursts.
If you don’t have a power meter, ride the five minutes at a pace where you would have difficulty speaking full sentences but can still articulate somewhat. For the sprints increase your effort to a level where you are breathing very hard and would get annoyed if someone tried to talk to you.
High cadence work
Wet, slippery and low-traction conditions will require you to ride in an easier gear if you don’t want to fall over. You don’t need to be riding around town at 120 rpm, but try to make a conscious effort to shift down a gear or two while increasing your cadence when you can. If you have a power meter try to maintain the same power you were just holding at your lower cadence.
Consistent pedalling is also very important for courses that feature elements such as sand—try to keep things steady as you spin and challenge yourself to avoid coasting when possible.
Focusing on some anaerobic efforts will benefit you in the punchy cyclocross environment. This workout is best done somewhere where you can ride for a while without having to stop or contest with cars for a place on the road.
Get your legs used to tolerating a high level of blood lactate by hitting repeated hard efforts with short breaks in between. A classic 30 seconds on followed by 30 seconds off repeated ten times (with a three- to four-minute break between sets) times three will have you feeling nice and spicy.
The first time you try this workout go out with the intention of benchmarking a specific power you can sustainably hold for the three sets while still challenging and pushing yourself to your limit. You’ll pretty quickly get an idea of what that looks like, whether you’re going by power, heart rate or even just perceived exertion.
To increase the intensity you can try reducing the time between efforts from 30 seconds to only 15 seconds rest.