Question: Iím a mountain bike racer and I want to race cross this
fall. What fitness abilities should I work on developing that do not
cross over from mountain biking to improve my cross performance?
Answer: Mountain biking and cyclocross
are both difficult and painful sports.
The physical skills you have already from mountain biking will help you
do well in cross, but if you want to really excel there are a few easy but
painful workouts you can do to help your body transition into a cyclocross
The biggest difference between
the two sports is the intensity level.
Mountain biking is all about going fairly hard for a long time. The effort in a mountain bike race is
fairly consistent over the course of a 2-3hr race, with a few bursts of power
to get up a short steep hill or a technical section. A lot of racers will go into "time trialĒ mode, riding a
nice steady consistent pace from start to finish.
A cyclocross race is much
shorter, only about 40 minutes for women and an hour for men. The intensity level is higher, with
most of the race spent at or above your "red zoneĒ. It is one big suffer fest! Cyclocross is also about explosive power; being able to
sprint out of every turn; being able to follow attacks, and being able to jump off
the bike, sprint, and then get back on the bike without losing any speed. There are huge changes in speed and
intensity during a cross race. Cyclocross is all about anaerobic power and the ability to
tolerate high amounts of lactate in the muscles with very little recovery. The "time trialĒ mentality of mountain
biking wonít help much in a cross race.
To get ready for cyclocross there
are some great workouts you can do that will help you develop the fast twitch
muscles and the explosive power youíll need. One workout I like is called Microbursts. After a 20 minute warm-up, the workout
consists of a 10 minute interval.
During the interval you will do a 10 second sprint, a 20 second recovery,
a 10 second sprint, 20 second recovery and so on for the full 10 minutes. Then recover for 10 minutes before
doing another set. Each sprint
should be done in the drops and as hard as possible. Sprint like you were attacking in a race. Heart rate wonít respond to such short
efforts so donít look to it as a guide.
The microburst workout will help you develop high end anaerobic power
and the ability to recover from repeated accelerations without blowing up.
Another great workout that helps
develop the anaerobic power needed for cyclocross is the Kilo. Kilos are some of the most intense intervals
Iíve ever done. Youíll need to
find a flat stretch of uninterrupted road. Measure off a one kilometer stretch, marking the start and
finish. This workout is most
effective if done with a power meter.
Get up to speed before crossing your "start lineĒ. Once you cross your start line start
your power meter. You want to go
as hard as you possibly can for one kilometer. You are going for the highest power output over one
kilometer. This effort is harder
than the standard Vo2 interval. On
a flat road with little wind it should take you around 1 Ĺ-2 minutes to reach
your "finish lineĒ. Stop your
power meter when you finish the kilometer. Now recover for 10 minutes. When you do your second one, try and generate a higher
average power and a faster time for the same distance. This workout is exhausting and I
recommend doing it only once a week.
Of course there are lots of other
workouts you can do to help prepare your legs for cyclocross racing. These are two of my favorites and Iíve
gotten great results from both.
Remember, though, that it takes time and your legs wonít become
cyclocross legs overnight. Give
yourself a few months before you start seeing changes. Itís worth the time and effort!
Alison Dunlap is a certified Level II USAC Coach and has been working
with athletes for five years. She runs a coaching business called Alison Dunlap
Coaching, and has mountain bike camps in Moab, UT through the Alison Dunlap
Adventure Camps. Alison is also a two-time Olympian, MTB World
Champion, and 13-time National Champion.