As you likely know, technique is key in cyclo-cross. Kind of like for swimming – technique is key – it can save you energy, effort and help you float along. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my cyclo-cross bike this summer – particularly since I wasn’t able to do any long rides or hard efforts until July…This meant I got out on my ‘cross bike pretty much everyday for up to 2 hours on the trails. Thanks to some early season skills training tips and advice with my pal Renee I learned a lot of little “tricks” and skills that have allowed me to move things up a notch.
So I’ve been feeling pretty confident about my technique – feeling like my skills really have improved. Needless to say I was excited to get out and ride with Marc, Karl and Conor to show them how much I had improved. Well, I kind of forgot who I was riding with… These guys have top-notch technique. So even with my big improvements I still felt slow, sloppy and like a beginner.
Now in past seasons this would have had me wallowing in pity for a bit wondering how I was ever going to improve and get where I wanted to be. Well, the good news is that I’m not that athlete anymore. Nope, riding with these guys showed and reminded me where I can get to. I can go faster. I can lean my bike more. I can be smarter about the lines I choose. I can spin my legs faster and put more power into my pedal stroke. I can catch up to these guys – it just takes more from me.
The big question of course is: how do I get there? Well, just like I used to do when I competed in taekwon-do – time to break things down. I’m having issues getting my legs to turn over super quickly and still maintaining power on steep climbs. So yesterday I went to a nearby park that has a slight slope, a steep hill and a very steep bank. Perfect. I started with the slight slope – dismounted, sprinted back onto my bike and focused on really sprinting hard right after the remount – I played around with the gearing to make the drill more and more challenging. Then I did the same but from a standing position – starting on the slope I was forced to get the bike moving (3 steps) and then remount and keep the momentum moving forward. When doing this on a slope you realize pretty quickly where your technique breaks down (in other words you stop moving). Then it was on to the steep climb – I did the same dismount, run, remount and then sprint up the climb – I played around with the distance to make it harder and harder. Then I simulated start intervals and forced myself to sprint up the hill. Finally it was off to the very steep bank – I put my bike very close to the bike and from the start position focused on getting my legs turning, pumping and powering over the bank.
I did this alone so using the hills and slopes was the best way I could get immediate feedback – too slow, not sprinting fast enough, legs not turning – pretty obvious when my forward momentum slows down or stops. Now I admit this was a lot of uphill sprinting and was rather taxing – but this is what I wanted. I did this 45 minute session after a 90 minute road ride that involved long tempo intervals and some all-out 30 second efforts. Anyone can sprint up a hill, find their pedal and master the remount when they’re fresh – but in a race the errors and slowdowns happen on lap 3 or 4 when your lungs are burning, legs are aching and your vision is perhaps a bit blurry.
Today I’m off to the single track to work on these skills again but in a different environment with sand, roots, and other little things that can change the dynamic of the technique. Really, I think that the key to improving your cyclo-cross technique is fully admitting that you have areas of weakness and then doing the work to determine how to make small changes that will bring the highest rewards. Sometimes this training can be monotonous but the pay-offs will be huge.
I’m curious to know what types of drills you use to improve your technique. Post up in the comments and let me and the other readers know.