Training for cyclocross.

On September 30, 2013 by Christian

Ben Smith from has some great advice for those of you who want to go faster on your CX bike. Yes, it will also hurt. If you “enjoy” this workout, check out his website for info on becoming a Legsmith client. You can get a lot faster on your bike, (if you follow the training plan,) and you get a cool sticker!.

Training for cyclocross.

Cyclocross is a strange mish-mash of needs. On one hand, you need to be able to handle your bike at speed, on skinny tires with only some bite, over often technical terrain, and you need to do it with your heart in the back of your throat and with little or no feeling in your arms. On the other, the intensity of cyclocross is more like a criterium with no drafting than like an XC mountain bike race (although here in Florida the windy single track we race on, with a constant punch-coast-punch-coast rhythm is often similar). As a result, two things are priorities in ‘cross:

being able to sprint, over and over, for the duration of the race, with minimal or no recovery. She who sprints most, hardest, wins; and
being able to carry speed and momentum through corners, through sand, and through transitions (dismounting and remounting over barriers and running sections).

That in mind, here are some training segments to work into a weekly schedule. These are useful because they can fit into just about any allotment of weekly training time, whether 6 or 17 hours. I suggest doing the sprint workouts early in the week, either Tuesday if Monday easy day has got you fresh enough, or Wednesday if you need to go easy on Tuesday as well after a hard weekend of racing.

Some sprint block variants:

8 all-out sprints of 20 seconds each, with each followed by just 10 seconds of recovery. This means a 4-minute block of mostly all-out sprinting. Yes, it will be painful and if you’re normal and doing it right by 2 ½ or 3 minutes in your arms will start to feel numb and tingly. If that happens now you know how I feel the last 15-30 minutes of most CX races. Make sure that, whatever you do after this, you take a 15-minute recovery period of easy spinning first.
15 all-out sprints of 10 seconds each, followed by 1:50 recovery/endurance pace. These don’t kill you the way the 8×20 will—but they are intense and with adequate time in between you can build a lot of them into a workout. Again, follow with 15 minutes recovery.
10-12 all-out 30-second efforts with 4:30 recovery. These employ mostly naturally produced creatine phosphate as fuel, and the long recovery time allows your body to replenish those stores.
5 minute block of race pace riding (threshold) followed by 5 30 second all-out efforts, each of which is followed by 30 seconds endurance or recovery pace. Do this one near the end of a hard workout to simulate a last lap situation.

So here are some starters. If one of these is all you can handle at first, fine. Do it and try two blocks the following week. In future articles, we’ll talk about threshold-sprint combo workouts as well as ones to focus on bike handling skills.