If you’re looking for a fun way to take your cycling to the next level and get a regular competitive fix this winter, look no further than the muddy world of cyclocross. We also include three key workouts to get you ready…
As well as the anaerobic threshold-, power- and strength-boosting fitness benefits that these frenetic 45–60min off-road blasts deliver, they also help hugely when it comes to improving your bike-handling skills.
Poor bike handling is a criticism that’s often levelled at triathletes – with some justification – and, with non-drafting age-group racing emphasising fitness over technique, it’s an area that tends to be neglected in training.
Picture the challenges you might encounter at any race though – that tight 180° turn in the wet, a competitor that cuts you up or an unexpected pot-hole. If you haven’t got the skills to deal with them, your race could be over – even the strongest biker is going nowhere if they’re lying on the tarmac.
Cyclocross is a guaranteed shortcut to those ‘get out of jail free’ handling skills, and being able to nail a fluid flying mount or dismount at transition always saves you a few crucial seconds (and draws admiring glances).
Cyclocross (CX) is probably the most accessible form of bike racing there is. There are races in parks all over the country every weekend during the winter, the majority of which you can enter on the day.
You don’t even need a dedicated CX bike to take part, as most local races allow mountain bikes. But be warned: CX is highly addictive and you may find yourself wanting a knobbly-tyred racer after only a few outings.
If you ride through the winter anyway, you won’t need additional clothing and, even on the coldest days, you’ll be warm after a couple of laps.
Mountain bike shoes with treaded soles and recessed cleats, along with multi-sided pedals, are the only real requirements for easy mounts and dismounts (although traditional flat pedals and sturdy running shoes will do if you don’t want to invest straight away).
Races are run over a number of short laps, so you’ll almost always find yourself battling a rider of similar ability, trying to beat your best split time or just trying to ride a tricky section cleanly. So, what are you waiting for?
Three key workouts
Follow these three sessions to build your skills and fitness for maximum off-road impact:
(Images: Henry Iddon / Ben Winston)
Have you recently made the plunge into cyclocross? Let us know in the comments!