Cyclocross is gaining in popularity every year and with good reason. It’s not only enjoyable, it’s also a great sport to do in the off-season and can be very useful in preparing for the upcoming fixed gear crit season. With lots of top fixed gear riders like Alec Briggs and Paolo Bravini also riding cross at a high level, it’s time to check out why.
Text: Merlijn Spenkelink
Photography: Tom Bergman & Dave Klomp
Let’s start with the fun: you can explore lots of new roads and even single tracks! Move away from the same paved roads you always ride and explore some new terrain. Venture into the woods, or find a nice MTB/CX route nearby and have fun! Next, to having fun on these more technical offroad parts of even single tracks, it’s also a huge boost for your bike handling skills. When you’re doing a technical single track downhill, you have to stay focused and be able to make decisions in milliseconds. This can be helpful when you’re riding a really technical crit, or when you’re trying to avoid a crash right in front of you. Bonus points: it’s also a boost for your core strength and stability!
Improving your start: Just as in crits, the start is one of the most vital parts. You have to go flat out from the start just in order not to lose positions. In CX you want to dive in the field as far in front of the pack as possible because there isn’t always enough room to overtake people in the field. The trick in this is to go all out but know your limits as you need to be able to hold the pace during the whole race. You don’t want to start up front and slowly fall back. It’s also one of the more difficult things in cross; because you’re (almost) always riding at or even above your FTP it’s easy to blow up halfway. There’s no recovery time, so it’s important to know your limits.
Talking about skills and crashing: CX can help you with that. Nobody enjoys crashing, but if you’ve ever seen a CX race, you’ve seen people crash. If the crashes do not happen on the tarmac, often they stay without real consequences, and the rider can continue the race. This is because the speed is much lower and the ground is a lot softer. Having a couple of crashes in a CX season is normal. Because you are riding on the technical limit, your skills will improve a lot too which is very useful for fixed gear crits.
Even though the tempo is really high in crits too, you usually have to dig deeper in cyclocross. Mostly because there’s no real drafting, no tempo changes; it’s always riding at your max. Moreover, you’re riding alone or in a small group most of the time, making it more of a mental challenge too.
Now you only have to add some serious intervals and accelerations, and you’re set! This is probably the most difficult part, but also the most rewarding. You’re constantly either accelerating or braking while riding at FTP. If you look at a watt-graph from a cyclocross race, it would be filled with spikes. The combination of 45-60 minutes at FTP and doing intervals is a fantastic power building exercise, which can help you a lot in crits. Think starts and accelerating out of tight corners, but also attacking halfway in or still having enough acceleration for a sprint in the final lap. And next to real-world use, interval training, especially high-intensity interval training, has proven to be a really effective method of gaining extra watts in a relatively short time.
So far it sounds like CX is the perfect training for fixed gear crits and everyone should do it. This is not the case. CX can be perfect training, but that really depends on your needs for training. If you need to gain in overall strength, explosive power, and bike skills. CX might be perfect for you. If you already had a full season of road and fixed gear crit racing in the legs, it might be better to take a step back, rest, and focus on building a foundation for next season.
If this has sparked your interest, it’s not too late to start. If you don’t own a cyclocross bike yet, you can pick one up for as cheap as 250 euros through second-hand sites, and still have a lot of fun! Also don’t forget that fixed gear and single speed cross is upcoming! #nogearsneeded