There are plenty of reasons to love the sport of cyclo-cross: it’s spectator and family friendly, races are short, and success demands a balance of bike handling skills and fitness. In short, it's the perfect competitive outlet for those of us with 'real' lives.
As we get older, our taste tends to shift from quantity to quality. This goes for all things good – beer, food – but is especially true when it comes to training. Young cyclists often overtrain and, despite the fact many make up for it with youth and an ability to sleep 12 hours a night, some are surely slower because of it.
Growing up also means you're likely to have a demanding job, wife, kids and/or a million other things competing for your time. The good news is that we’ve found a fairly specific – but fun – training structure which doesn’t take that much time but allows you to be competitive on the weekend ’cross courses. This holds true whether you’re a beginner or racing with the big dogs.
Even pros can benefit from a lower-volume training schedule for cyclo-cross; Garmin racer Danny Summerhill gets an effort in on the Wednesday morning group ride
Even though cyclo-cross races are short and tend to reward those who can steer a bike, they still require a rider to ‘pin it’ for 45 minutes or an hour. While this requires serious training, you don't need to put in the hours of a Tour de France pro. In fact, once into the meat of the season, as we are now, you can skate by with four to six hours a week.
This is what we recommend you do during those training hours, from Monday through to racing on Saturday and Sunday:
Rest and recover from previous day(s) of racing. For advanced riders this can mean a short (45 minutes) recovery spin, but other levels – or after a super-tough weekend of racing – should take the day off.
Beginners and intermediate riders can benefit from a 20-minute run today. This can build to 45 minutes over the course of the season, but no more. Time should be increased in five minute increments as your running fitness improves.
Boulder, Colorado has a ’cross training route up a canyon road which is also intersected by a hiking trail. Riding the road then running each successive section of trail as it intersects makes for an incredibly hard workout. If you can find something similar, you'll reap rewards.
Advanced and professional racers may better benefit from a motor-pace workout consisting of three 15-minute lactate threshold efforts.
Motor-pacing forces race-paced efforts, benefits leg speed and helps train mental fortitude by always giving you a stronger wheel to follow
Any workout should be skipped if you’re still tired from the weekend’s racing and replaced with a recovery spin or complete rest. With a high intensity sport like cyclo-cross, recovery is more important than training. You need to be completely recovered from previous efforts so that you can maximize the quality of your next training session or race. If you continue to work out when tired, you'll quickly become over-trained.
Today do two 20- to 25-minute race-paced efforts with 10 to 20 minutes of recovery in between. These must be done at 100 percent effort to exhaustion.
In Colorado, we’re lucky enough to have a race-intensity morning ’cross ride to use for this workout. The group ride makes two stops at local parks to ride two sessions of hot laps, which end up being mini-races and maximize both the workout and fun. This type of ride also gives great practice at cornering, dismounting, remounting (transitions) and generally staying lucid on the bike under a high level of stress.
If you don’t have access to a group ride, motor-pacing will work brilliantly, as will pyramid intervals if you’re truly disciplined. A pyramid interval consists of a work/rest scheme that looks like this: 1min work/1min rest, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, 4/4, 3/3, 2/2, 1/1. The low numbers call for a higher-than-threshold effort, while the higher numbers have to be done at threshold.
Make it through one of these sessions and you should feel a real sense of accomplishment; two sessions and you’re a rockstar. Do not exceed a three hour total ride time or one hour total of intensity.
Besides benefiting fitness, a group cyclo-cross training ride offers practice for cornering and dismounts
If you’re racing on Saturday or both weekend days you should be resting today. A short 45-minute recovery ride can be placed here as well. If you’re only racing on Sunday and/or didn’t train on Tuesday, you can add a second workout here too. We'd suggest the same style workouts as we recommended for Tuesday.
(Note: Beginning and intermediate riders should skip fitness workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays all together in favor of practising techniques. One intense day of training per week is plenty for the average racer and greater gains can be made on the race course with better transitions, cornering and sand riding techniques than can ever be achieved by training fitness alone.)
Here you should use a handful of high-cadence openers to unblock from your rest day, if you’re racing on Saturday. Complete (off the bike) rest is the order of the day if you’re racing on Sunday only.
Openers consist of two to three short (five-minute) efforts with rest in between that equals the effort. They should be done at a high cadence to jump-start your cardiovascular system, but not weaken your legs.
This workout can be done on your ’cross bike at the same park where you do your Wednesday training, or on your road bike. For a big race like a state or national championship, you should aim to do this ride on the course. Total training time is around one hour.
If you're not racing today, do some high-cadence openers (see Friday). If you’re racing you should plan to be registered, dressed and warming-up on course for the hour before the race. Once you have the course, tire selection and tire pressure dialed, you should plan on one or two hot laps at 85 percent effort to warm up. This will also give you a final race-speed check of your bike.
This effort should be finished 15 minutes before the start, after which you should make final equipment adjustments and take in an energy gel. If you’re racing the following day, plan on a short 20- to 40-minute spin after the race, before you pack up and get in the car.
If you’re racing a second day, consider a short 20-minute spin before you get in the car to drive to the race. Make sure this is finished no less than three hours before you start your warm-up. Use the same warm-up as yesterday.
Follow this schedule, while listening to your body – rest when it tells you to – and you should find a good balance between your racing endeavors and real life this fall.