When should I start training for the cyclocross season?
With restrictions lifting soon in the UK, local leagues are beginning to release full race calendars and you need to get planning for the season ahead. Read on for tips on how to phase plan for a successful season.
If you have never competed in cyclocross, you can read here to see why you should.
If you’re thinking about getting fit for the cyclocross season, my number one piece of advice is: training for the cyclocross season does not start on the 1st of September.
When you look to build-up to a cyclocross season, you’ll need a couple of weeks which include race-specific efforts so that the first race isn’t a massive shock to the system. This would be the absolute minimum with an athlete who is looking to build throughout the season, rather than hitting the ground running at that first event.
Before the race-specific (V02 max efforts) which will be 2-3 weeks in length begins, you’ll need a recovery week so you are not carrying too much residual fatigue into a training block where you are looking to hit really big numbers. Preceding this recovery week, you should include a Z3/4 FTP building phase for 3-4 weeks. You might think this is a long time for a block of work but, when you break it down, it’s very much needed.
Realistically, most athletes with a job will want to have at least 2 rest days a week, which leaves 5 training days. You can’t carry out high-end specific work every day, so that leaves 2-3 specific training days in a week with maybe some endurance work and a strength session to complete the 5 days. So, in 4 weeks, you’ll only do between 8-12 specific FTP-building sessions.
If we work these blocks back from the first week of September, we are already at July 19th. You know what they say, time flies when you are building a solid consistent base of fitness.
Preceding the FTP building phase, you would probably want another easy week after completing an endurance block. This endurance block could be 3-4 weeks long and mainly Zone 2 sessions with specific Z3 work if you were trying to squeeze training in around a full-time job. This brings us to the middle of June.
Before the endurance block, it is key to carry out a strength-building phase (both on and off the bike) to set the body up for the next phases of the plan. You have now arrived at the beginning of June.
Of course, this isn’t the only way of getting ready for the cyclocross season. This phase plan would be modified and tweaked depending on where the athlete was in terms of fitness, or a reverse periodisation could be used. However, the same approximate time scale would be needed. Whichever way you look at it, if you want to have a strong consistent cyclocross season, the training needs to start soon.
Personally, I know how fit you can get if you condense the phase-planning down into a one-off six-week block. Some of my best results have come when I have been left with limited time to train for my goal event due to illness or injury. It works pretty well for that one-day event but, without the consistent block of work, the form soon disappears and fundamentally you have to start building again. This is no good if you wish to be consistent through a four-month cyclocross season.
With more and more ‘new’ cyclocross riders looking to compete, you may well need to change the phase-planning depending on your previous racing experience and strengths/weaknesses. Cyclocross is a lot more on & off in terms of power than most other disciplines. Lots of short bursts and sprinting between ‘features’ is how the early season racing looks before moving towards a Z4-spiked event when the muddier conditions hit. If you are unaccustomed to these sorts of efforts, then it is more than likely you will want to spend longer on the race-specific phase.
Each athlete is an individual who needs to be treated as such. Whichever phase-planning you decide to go for, one thing remains the same: the bigger the base of work, the better you will be for longer.
This is obviously dependent on the individual's experience level. Even the most experienced of cyclocross pros will be riding off-road throughout the summer, whether MTB or gravel. Although it’s not exactly the same as cyclocross, it’s all about just getting used to those off-road riding skills. Letting the bike move around underneath you through corners and learning how to correct mistakes are key skills to sharpen up all year round.
When it comes to cyclocross racing specific skills, such as starts, dismounting and remounting the bike, experienced cross racers will start around the beginning of August with these off-road specific sessions. A less experienced racer who has never competed at cyclocross should start now!
These skills are so important to racing (and enjoying the race) to the best of your physical ability. Carrying out these skills in a smooth, efficient and energy-saving manor is what I like to call “free speed”. The top riders will use dismounting as a mini-recovery phase during a race, rather than using up vital energy worrying about the process for the preceding 500m of the course like some amateurs.
To begin with, these sessions should be relaxed affairs where you complete the drills with minimum speed under little pressure. Moving closer and closer to the start of the season, you should incorporate these skills into interval sessions off-road so that you practice performing the skills with a high heart rate and under some pressure. One of my favourite sessions is setting up a small 3-4minute circuit which includes dismounts, remounts, tricky cornering and other technical features, and I perform my set intervals around the circuit against the clock.
I will be releasing videos soon alongside the one to one skill coaching sessions that VELD coaching delivers to individual clients and or groups.
By starting early on, it will not only lead you to better performances, but you’ll enjoy your cyclocross experience more, whether it’s your first season or twenty-first. Fail to prepare then prepare to fail.
If you would like any further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me for coaching. You don’t have to be an elite racer to benefit from my plans: making the most of your time available is an expertise of mine.