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Cross Focus: Refining Your Cyclocross Skills

by Adrian Hegyvary

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The end of the cyclocross season is in sight, which means it’s time to buckle down and refine both your skills and fitness. Because there is little time left to make any drastic changes to your form or technique this season, we’re going to focus on three very significant aspects of cyclocross racing: tire choice, cornering, and top-end aerobic capacity.

Depending on what tires you’ve been using this season, you could see a dramatic boost to your handling abilities by switching tires. For clinchers, few tires have the reputation and palmarés of the Michelin Mud. It’s tread pattern is great for muddy, technical northwest courses, and the supple sidewalls provide excellent response. If the course is flat or more time stands to be lost cornering than climbing, try using thick, “thorn-resistant” tubes in your clinchers. They are heavy, but allow you to run ultra-low pressure (into the 30s, even for 170lbs+ riders) without pinch flatting. For those running tubulars, look into the super-swank Dugast or Challenge tires. They run about $100 retail, but are considered the best on the market. And for the ‘cross racer who has everything, look into the Dugast/Michelin fusion tire: a handmade tubular ride with the proven Michelin tread.

Once your tires are up to speed, it’s time to review proper cornering technique to be sure you’re conserving every ounce of speed through the turns. Regardless of the conditions, your outside foot should ALWAYS be down and fully weighted when cornering hard (if you aren’t pedaling through it, you should be railing it). Your upper body should be low and forward, both to lower your center of gravity and to put as much weight as possible over the front wheel. Bend from the hips to position the bulk of your mass forward, and bend the arms to absorb shock and hunker down that much more. With whatever mental attention you have left, concentrate on getting through the apex of the turn quickly and preferably before the half-way point. Since you are always dealing with compromised traction in cyclocross, it’s better to get through the apex of the turn quickly (and back on the gas fast) than go into the turn hot and either crash or have to scrub speed by swinging wide. To this end, try waiting longer than you think to dive into the corner, then cut sharp all the way to the inside of the turn so you have ample room to run-out the exit.

Finally, the most significant gain you’ll make to your cyclocross engine will come from focusing on your top-end aerobic ability. ‘Cross races are not decided on endurance and rarely in a sprint (if you’re sprinting for top-3s already, keep up the good work!), so where you stand to gain or lose the most are during the hardest portions of the race—when you are well above threshold and trying not to over-cook it. To hone that high-end strength, do 3-5 intervals of 3-5 minutes in length during the week. If you have been doing this type of training until now, try keeping the recovery intervals short—1:0.5 or 1:1. If these intervals are new to you, recover fully between efforts to maximize the quality of the interval. Be sure to taper going into the last events of the year, and allow adequate recovery time before and after weekly races.

Cyclocross racing is the epitome of a proper balance in fitness, equipment and technique. By focusing on these three aspects of the sport, you’ll finish the season strong and faster than you’ve been all year. For information about Cycle University’s cyclocross classes and training programs, visit www.cycleu.com or email service@cycleu.com.