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From Sportives to Cyclo-cross

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Article posted: 20/08/2014

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If you’ve been riding sportives through the summer and have built up a solid base of cycling fitness and skills, you might be wondering about how to stay motivated and keep developing as a rider through the autumn and winter. Cyclo-cross is a fun, accessible and inclusive form of cycle sport that will give you a taste of racing, boost your fitness and improve your bike handling skills.

Most races take place on parkland and involve multiple laps of a course that can contain grass, mud, tarmac, sand and obstacles, such as hurdles, stairs or steep run-ups, which force you off your bike.

Races

Although there are now summer leagues, the cyclo-cross season typically runs from September through to the end of February. There are leagues and races throughout the country most weekends and, for most local and club events, you can enter on the day and with a Provisional or Day licence.

Bike

There’s no doubt a specialist cyclo-cross bike is quicker than a mountain bike and, if you get into the sport, is a worthwhile purchase and an extremely versatile bike. However, at most local events, you can enter on a mountain bike and, with some minor tweaks, such as fitting narrower tyres, you’ll be able to get a really good idea of what the sport entails.

Kit

If you’ve already trained through the winter, especially if you mountain bike, you’ll already have most of the kit you need. Look at this article for tips about what to wear and what kit and spares you should take to a race.

The Race

Most races take place on parkland and involve multiple laps of a course that can contain grass, mud, tarmac, sand and obstacles, such as hurdles, stairs or steep run-ups, which force you off your bike. Expect a fast start as riders try to get near the front of the race before the course narrows down and overtaking becomes more difficult. Because of the multi-lap format, everyone can be competitive and you will often find yourself in a battle with another rider of similar ability or just trying to improve your lap times. Race duration is typically 45-60 minutes with a bell rung to signify the last lap once the time has expired.

Skills

Fitness is obviously important but, in cyclo-cross, skill, technique and bike handling often determine the outcome of races. Cornering on challenging surfaces, maximising traction and mounts and dismounts are all key skills. Get advice from multiple National Champion Nick Craig on coping with different surfaces and also a range of cyclocross instructional skills videos.

Training Sessions

Having ridden sportives, maybe some time trials and potentially some circuit races through the summer, you’ll have good endurance but will be lacking the abrupt stop and go fitness that typifies cyclo-cross. Including the below sessions into your weekly training over the next few weeks will help prepare you for the demands of racing.

Skills session

On a small area of parkland or playing field, prepare a skills loop. You don’t need a lot of space, in fact, the tighter it is the better. Include plenty of tight turns, including 180 degree ones, multiple mounts and dismounts and ideally some challenging technical terrain. After a warm-up, push hard for 10-15 minutes, completing multiple laps, trying to ride as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Complete 2-3 efforts during the session with 5 minute recoveries to take a drink and spin your legs out. This is a great session to do with some friends or club mates. Having other riders on the loop adds to the realism, increases pressure on your skills and a bit of good natured competition makes the workout far more fun.

Road session

It’s possible to mimic the demands of a cyclo-cross race with a suitable circuit on quiet roads. After a warm-up, look for a loop that takes 10-15 minutes to ride and includes plenty of tight turns and ideally a couple of short and sharp climbs. Identify key points of the loop, such as the climbs and out of the bends, when you’ll put in maximal sprint efforts and try to ride the rest at a race pace that just allows you to recover from the efforts. Complete 2-3 10-15 minute efforts during the session with 5 minutes of easy spinning to recover.

Indoor session

Indoor sessions on a turbo, rollers or stationary bike can be a great way to develop your top end fitness and ability to recover from hard efforts. This 20/40’s session is an ideal workout but don’t neglect the outdoor sessions.

Off-road Riding

A long steady weekend off-road ride, either on a mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike, is a brilliant way to explore local lanes, By-Ways and Bridleways that you wouldn’t dare head down on your road bike. It will also provide you with time in the saddle to get used to the handling characteristics of the bike and to practice your skills and techniques.

 

 

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