by Frank Overton

Cyclo-cross season will be here before you know it. Are you ready? Now is the time to start refining your ‘cross skills so you will hit the ground running – literally! – when the races heat up.

 

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Professional Cyclocross racer Jeremy Powers doing bunny hops

Cyclo-cross (also known as CX, cyclo-X or ‘cross) is physically challenging and demands strong cardiovascular fitness, as well as technical bike-handling skills. The sport originated in Europe and unlike most bike racing, ‘cross season starts in the fall and runs into winter. The colder and messier the better! Courses consist of many laps over a variety of terrain, from pavement to grass to mud to sand and snow. Riders dismount to carry their bikes over obstacles, then hop back on to pedal furiously up hill and down dale, even running up steps while carrying their bikes.

 
Needless to say, ‘cross racers’ bodies take a beating. That is why it is important to work on fitness and skills before the season begins. Most ‘crossers already race mountain bikes or road bikes and have good bike-handling skills but cyclo-cross brings another dimension to those talents. That is why attending a ‘cross camp can help you dial in those skills. The benefits will be immediate and will include how to get your bike set up properly and to learn what you need to do for fitness training. This will leave time to actually train specifically for ‘cross before the season starts.

 

If you can’t do a camp, what kind of skills should you work on? Since cyclocross is a combination of of cycling and running, you need to be fit. That means get out there and do both! But you also need to learn how to be smooth at dismounting and remounting so that it becomes second nature. Try practicing on grassy terrain where you’ll have a soft landing if needed.

 

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Training at FasCat’s 2013 ‘cross camp

Another extremely important skill to refine is cornering and being comfortable with the rear wheel sliding. Check with your local bike shop to see if it offers clinics teaching this and other bike-handling skills.

 
Having a bike fit you specifically for ‘cross racing can make all the difference in placing – or not! Yes, you are the engine but the vehicle has to be suitable for the changing terrain of a ‘cross course and suitable to your size. ‘Cross bike are similar to road-racing bikes with narrow (but knobby) tires and drop handlebars but have stronger frames and brakes that don’t clog easily with mud. And they have to be light to be easily carried. Camps usually incorporate a bike-fitting session and offer advice on what you can do to upgrade your bike to its best ‘cross fitness.

 
And speaking of you, the engine, an important aspect to your training is your recovery. Your legs take a beating with all that dismounting, running, remounting and pedaling so wearing calf compression sleeves during a race will help to reduce the vibration and pounding, improve oxygen delivery to those hard-working muscles and even protect your shins from getting whacked by your pedals. And wearing RecoFit’s full-leg compression sleeves between races, or to sleep in afterwards, will continue the recovery process while preventing swelling.
So good luck, have fun, and see you in the mud!

 

 
Frank OvertonFrank Overton founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 in Boulder, Colo., has been a full-time coach since 2004 and a USA Cycling Level 1 coach since 2006. He has a degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University. He raced competitively as a mountain biker and a Category 1 roadie for 10 years. Power Based Training is a core element of his FasCat Coaching philosophy to help athletes learn how to race and perform.