Q&A: cyclo-cross good or bad?

I’ve just finished a good summer of riding where I competed in the Etape, a couple of other premier cyclosportives and even did my first road race. I’m keen to build on this next summer but want to avoid letting my fitness drop over the winter. I’ve just got the use of a cyclo cross bike off a friend who suggested I give that a go but have no idea how to do any training for this kind of event? Firstly is it a good idea and secondly how do I go about it.

Joe Collins, Winchester

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Joe, firstly cyclo cross is an excellent idea to keep both your fitness levels and your motivation high during the winter months. Cross races are very accessible to just about wherever you are in the country and events are short, meaning you’re not outside, for hours on end exposed to the worst of the British weather, either for the races or the training required.

As a novice your races will be in the region of 45 minutes and you will have more than enough aerobic conditioning coming off your summer of riding to provide you with a good endurance base, so in terms of the fitness training, you need to focus on the high intensity levels needed to compete in cyclocross.

As a guide, a one-hour race, should theoretically see you perform at your threshold power, or the highest power you can sustain for one hour, so a slightly shorter race means you could sustain a slightly higher pace than that.

This is very intense and, given the nature of the sport it is not consistent, you will repeatedly be required to ride at close to maximal intensities in short bursts and recover very quickly, so your training should reflect this in one hour sessions featuring short, all out intervals with brief recovery periods.

This kind of training is very demanding and I would recommend you do only two sessions per week initially as you adapt to it’s demands and will leave you the rest of the week for some sub threshold training where you focus on the other major element of cyclo cross, technique.

Good technique is essential in cyclo cross and not just because you need to get you round the course safely. Smooth technique in the various technical aspects  means you don’t waste precious energy so it’s essential that you practice regularly.

There are a few key elements that you need to concentrate on. The first is mounting and dismounting the bike smoothly, from both sides, while running. The second is swinging the bike onto your shoulder (again on both sides), arm through the frame and carrying it while you run up a short flight of steps or steep, grass bank.

Finally learn to corner confidently at high and low speeds on a variety of tight and wide bends on dry, wet, loose and muddy surfaces. You will need to be confident in all of these techniques as you will need to demonstrate them all often several times on every lap, in order to perform well on any demanding ‘cross course.

Huw Williams, BC level three coach

This article was first published in the November 8 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.