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Cyclocross is often described as a mix between road racing and MTB racing and at a first glance this seems to be the case. However it is very much its own sport and a bit like marmite you will either LOVE it or hate it.
Races take place for seniors with over an hour of racing across a mix of surfaces and varying terrain. From tarmac to single track through wooded sections Cyclocross has it all.
The bikes were originally modified road bikes but now specific Cyclocross bikes are produced by pretty much all bike manufacturers. Frames and forks offer more mud clearance over a traditional road bike allowing for wider tyres with more grip to be run. Brakes are more powerful with a lot of bikes now coming with disc brakes to allow for even more mud clearance and consistent braking in all conditions.
This leads on nicely to the biggest factor Cyclocross racers face, the conditions. Cyclocross races take place in ANY conditions, from the warmth of late summer in September through the deep mud of December into the freezing conditions of snow and ice of January (northern hemisphere). This means being prepared for anything the weather can throw at you is a major factor with enjoying and succeeding in Cyclocross.
A specific Cyclocross bike is ideal however at local level racing MTB’s are allowed and a good way of just having a go. Clipless MTB pedals are best with a specific off road shoe which has grip and even options for football studs on the soles are needed. Especially when the going gets wet and there are specific sections of the course where you are forced to dismount and run with your bike. This is part of Cyclocross and often courses will have sections which are meant to be un-rideable. Practicing these specific skills are a big part of the sport and need to be incorporated into your training plan if you have performance goals in mind.
Come race day arrive in plenty of time to sign on and complete a course recce as part of your warm up. Courses are around 2.5km long so can easily be ridden a couple of times before a race. Knowing where you are going and checking out the racing lines will be key come that first lap. Setting off in a mass start with up 120 competitors on track at local level at one time can be daunting but the best advice we have is to just get involved!
As the cyclocross season approaches it is important you adapt your training to cope with the variable nature of the power required for the demands of the racing. Cyclocross is by nature very on and off with the power so you need to replicate this in training. Simple sessions include the classic SWEETSPOT session but include 10-15 second bursts every few minutes or a more specific session would be 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off repeated for a total of 10 minutes with 10 minutes active recovery between sets. Depending on your level of development we would recommend 2-3 sets to be completed in total.
For the hard core cyclocross riders the main focus of their year is the cyclocross season which traditionally falls between late September and mid January, this is their race season and the summer is used to prepare for this. However for a road or MTB rider that pattern is reversed and the winter is a great time to prepare for the summer season. Cyclocross can be used as part of a road riders winter training as a one hour threshold session. For example a cyclocross race on a Saturday paired with a longer endurance ride on a Sunday can make a fantastic weekends training for the road rider preparing for the summer season.