Get ready for cyclocross season

The weather today around Wellington is a timely reminder of the coming season… yeah, yeah – winter blah blah… or a far more exciting way to look at it: CYCLOCROSS!!!

It kicks off in less than a month!  Are you getting prepared?  I can almost hear the cowbells.


Like all cycling disciplines, ‘cross has certain features that are unique.  Getting those unique aspects dialed can not only make you look a whole lot more pro, they can save you energy and gain you places in races.

Now is the time to start incorporating some CX specific sessions in to your training.  Can you dismount at speed, fly over the barriers like a gazelle holding a bike, and remount without that annoying little dab that not only looks a bit naff but also slows you by a pinch each time you do it?  Can you get your bike on your shoulder, without stabbing your back with a pedal or knocking yourself in the head with your seat or handlebars, in one swift movement?  Can you nail those slippery 180 downhill turns with confidence?  Can you last the race and still be powering up the short pinches and out of tight turns?

Here are a couple of training sessions designed to develop and sharpen up those CX specific requirements, with options depending on your current level:

Session 1 – 15/15s

This can be done outdoors or inside on the trainer.  Start with a 15 minute warm up then do 3 sets of 5 minutes with a 15 second sprint followed by 15 seconds coasting or light pedaling.  Get out of the saddle for at least the first 5 seconds of each sprint and make sure you’re in a big enough gear that you have to wind it up to get on top of, then hold it either standing or seated for the rest of the effort.  Pedal easy for 5 minutes between each set.  Finish off with 15-20 minutes of easy pedaling to cool down.

Level up 1: Instead of 3 x 5 minute reps, do 2 x 10 minutes with a 15 minute recovery break in between.

Level up 2: Go all out and take it up to 2 x 15 minutes with 10 minutes of recovery in between.

Session 2 – Four 15s

This is a great session that incorporates both ‘cross specific fitness and skills.  You’ll need to head outdoors, to a park or field with plenty of room.  Warm up for 20 minutes including 10-12 dismount/remounts, then do 2 sets of 8 minutes of the following:  15 second sprint, 15 second coast/easy pedal, dismount-15 second run/bike carry, remount-15 second coast/easy pedal.  That’s 15 seconds each of sprint, coast, run, coast.  When you’re running, alternate between carrying the bike as if over barriers, and shouldering the bike such as for an unrideable section of mud.  Pedal easy for 5 minutes between sets.  Cool down with 15-20 minutes of easy pedaling.

If you can’t get out while it’s light during the week and you’re not a fan of attempting this with night lights, this is great to do on the weekends you’re not racing.

Level up: Increase the duration from 8 to 12, then 15 minutes for each set.  Keep the recovery period at 5 minutes.

Session 3 – Skills ‘n’ Drills

This is another outdoor session, purely for working those skills.  Find a park or field that has some steep pinches like you’ll find in your races, riverbank reserves are perfect, and bring something you can use as barriers (it’s not too difficult or expensive to make barriers out of PVC piping, and they don’t need to be full length).

Spin your legs for 10-15 minuts to warm them up and throw in a few dismount/remounts.  Then get in to these drills:

Single barrier runs: Set up your barriers far enough apart that you’ll have time to get in a couple of pedal strokes between them.  Start 30-40m away from the first barrier.  For each rep, pedal up, dismount-hop-remount, pedal up, dismount-hop-remount, pedal away and turn around and do the same back to where you started.  There and back is 1.  Do as many as you can in 10 minutes with a focus on solid technique.

Run-ups: Find a steep, riverbank-like pinch that has around 50m of clear run in.  Ride in, dismount, shoulder the bike, run up, remount and ride down back to where you started.  Turn around and go again for the next 10 minutes.

Off-camber 180’s: Place your barriers on the riverbank about 10m apart with one a couple of metres higher than the other.  These are your turning points.  Ride or run/carry to the top of the bank.  Starting in line with the low barrier ride across the off-camber to the high barrier, ride around it and along and down to the low barrier, around that and along to the bottom in line with the high barrier.  Head back up 4 more times then switch the barriers (high goes low, low goes high) and start from the other side 5 times for 10 in total (5 from each side).

Finish up with some light spinning for 10-15 minutes.

Level up: Double the distance to the run-ups and sprint in to them (keep it easy on the way back to the start); Double-down on your off-cambers and do them UP the bank too!

Do this once or twice a week in pre-season, and once a week during the season.  It’s  good option before race day and the sprints in to the run-ups act as openers.

Cowbell tip: set your Garmin, or download an app that you can set, to alarm the start of each 15 seconds.


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