Nyow, I don’t profess to be any sort of expert when it comes to training the physical body for cyclo-cross. If it was up to me I’d ride long and hard each and everyday with multiple double days thrown into the mix. Yep – not exactly the scientific approach – this is why I’ve got a fine coach keeping care of me.
But what I have learned a lot about over these years of cyclo-cross specific training is how the training progression works (at least for me). When I first started really getting into cyclo-cross I was racing at the local Ottawa level and was honestly still struggling with barrier dismounts. So number one – learn how to dismount and mount my bike properly. I spent an entire fall and early winter focusing on this technique – every lunchtime I would take my trusty barrier out to a nearby park and practice. By the middle of that season, I had this technique down really well.
This gave me confidence to race harder and to relax when I came upon the barriers or stairs in a race. Of course I had neglected to practice cornering, cambers and loose terrain riding. So this is where the gradual progression came in. The following season I trained with Marc and another friend, working on cornering and bike handling skills. We would train in a local park and set up grids and courses using little flags. This worked really well, I learned how my bike handles and started to understand the concept of letting the bike do the work.
The last couple of seasons saw me change up my technical training even more. I still did work with the flags, still practiced my dismounting/mounting skills but I added in an additional element – actual cyclo-cross riding. That is I sought out trails and areas that provided challenging terrain and demanded similar skills to those required in cyclo-cross races. Progressing me to actual “race-like” training scenarios. This made a big difference and helped my technical skills improve greatly.
And now here I am this season, really only doing work in the woods and on the trails. I’ve learned that I still have trouble with cornering (I like to corner like a crit racer…) and I’ve really been working on pushing my limits on my bike. This means getting comfortable with taking lots of speed into elements and letting the terrain slow me down – rather than braking too much. I’ve also been working on subtle techniques such as using my upper body to help propel the bike through sand, up steep climbs and over tricky sections. Yes, I still do practice my dismounting/mounting skills but now I incorporate this into a small track that I’ve put together and really pay attention to carrying as much speed into the barrier, over the barrier and back onto the bike.
So what I’m trying to explain here is that there needs to be a real progression with your technical cyclo-cross training. If you’re new to the sport, there is no point on focusing on off-camber riding skills and descending techniques if you still aren’t comfortable with a bike dismount. As well once you reach a more competitive level or are racing in Europe, it is time to change up your training to better reflect the race scenarios you’ll see.
Anyway, just my two cent on technical training for cyclo-cross. I know there are lots of opinions on how to do this and what to do. But I think this really comes down to the individual skill of the rider. I’m pretty sure that Sven Nys and I do very different technical training sessions on the bike – but we’re both getting what we need. Make sure you’re getting what you need!