There’s no time like the present. Coming off a break and heading into cyclocross season, it’s about time to really buckle down and start thinking and training like a ’cross racer. This week, Chris Mayhew from JBV Coaching walks us through the first post-break weeks heading into ’cross season.

by Chris Mayhew

Ok, so now you’ve taken your break. Where do you go with your training now? The overarching principles when talking about training are frequency, intensity, duration and specificity. The closer you get to your goal event or season, the more specificity matters. So let’s talk about how to apply that principle to your training for the six to eight weeks leading into your cross season.

What do we mean by specificity? It means your training should match your racing as closely as possible. Steady efforts at threshold, like the classic 2×20 minutes at threshold, are wonderful for your fitness. But they don’t feel a lot like a ‘cross race do they? Nor would you jump into a MTB race expecting to do well having spent six months only riding your road bike. So as much as possible we want training to look like racing right heading into the season. The reason you want to do this close to the season is that a lot of the elements you are developing (hand-eye coordination, neuromuscular firing) are fairly easy to gain but are also somewhat easy to lose. You’re getting your muscles to fire in a certain way to meet certain needs (clipping in quickly, making watts at low cadence, negotiating a bumpy loose corner) and working on that in June will be lost if you’re not still doing it in August.

Hot Lap Competition. 15 second intervals. One lap. All out. Boulder Junior Cycling's Denzel Stephenson leads off. © Tom Robertson

Getting pre-season workouts down that aren’t totally structured can be fun with friends. Hot Lap Competition. 15 second intervals. One lap. All out. Boulder Junior Cycling’s Denzel Stephenson leads off. © Tom Robertson

So that’s specificity in broad strokes. How to apply it to your weekly schedule? First, make sure you’re rested, not only after your break, but also starting the training week. Make Monday an easy day, to recover from the weekend. Get started on a core and or stretching routine to work the kinks out from the weekend and to solidify the habit of self care. Take that freshness and use it on Tuesday by doing some short hard efforts. Six to 10 efforts in the 15 to 45 second range with one to four minutes of recovery is what you’re looking for. Not so hard you can’t ride the next day but efforts hard enough that you can’t do them without a day off the day before. I’m fond of doing ‘cross starts. One foot down, on the ‘cross bike, on similar surfaces to those you regularly start races on. It’s specific both in intensity of effort and being a ‘cross specific skill you need to practice, especially if you are coming off a summer of road specific shoes and pedals.

That brings us to Wednesdays. This is what I think of, year round, as your core effort. It’s the day you focus on your key workout for the week. Tuesday hopefully acts as an opener to bring you into today primed and ready. First and foremost this should be on your ‘cross bike, whatever you are doing. Again, specificity, this time in handling and doing a hard effort on the same bike you plan to race on. What form this workout takes is up to you, but think aerobic, most likely. Maybe that’s threshold efforts in the dirt. Maybe it’s VO2 work on a dirt climb. Maybe it’s riding to the local park, ripping some singletrack hard and then going home. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much bike handling you need to emphasize and how much fitness you need to work on, but do it on your ‘cross bike and make it count.

Cannondale p/b team training © Andrew Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

Six to eight weeks from the start of the season is prime time to start thinking about matching your training to your racing. Cannondale p/b team training © Andrew Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

So that’s two intense days. Now we’re bumping up against frequency. You’ll be hard pressed to do another day of quality intensity on Thursday. I’d encourage you to take an easy day, much like Monday. Focus on self care and recharge the batteries. That allows you to get another day of intensity in on Friday. Maybe that’s a day like Tuesday with more starts. It could also be a day where you do a workout focused on fitness but in a ‘cross specific way with a lot of variability rather than steady state. Something like a Billat workout where you do V02 for 30 seconds and then Level/Zone 2 for 30 seconds and repeat that for five to ten minutes per set. Like Tuesday, it’s a hard workout that takes advantage of some freshness from a day off.

The weekend is where volume comes into play. Most of the week’s workouts are pretty short, 90 minutes or less depending on how much riding you do before and after the workouts. Since it’s not ’cross season yet it’s be nice to squeeze in some longer rides on the weekend. But three or more hour rides aren’t that much like a ‘cross race are they? See if you can find something shorter, but harder. A hard group ride, a local crit, or even just a few like minded friends to push the pace. Hard MTB rides also fit the bill, as does ripping the woods on your ‘cross bike. Often it’s hard to find hard local road rides this time of year as that season winds down in some areas. So figure out what you can create on your own, hopefully with friends, that also addresses what you need. If you’re short on fitness think about road miles. If handling is your weakness think about ripping the woods or even setting up a circuit.

You’ve got roughly eight weeks till your racing season starts. You’re fresh off a break and that’s a perfect time to pivot your training to the looming ‘cross season. With that time frame in mind specificity is key. Match your efforts to the demands of ‘cross racing both in handling and frequency, intensity and duration. Organize your weekly schedule around workouts that match the intensity and power demands of ‘cross racing while allowing for recovery between those efforts. Then use the weekends to get in some extra training volume while making sure those rides address your ‘cross weaknesses as well. Do these up until it’s time to taper for ‘cross and you’ll be very well prepared.

Enjoying these training pieces? Read more cyclocross and gravel training pieces here, and get started on your best season ever.