Cyclocross racers taking on early season road races or mountain bike competitions should take care. © Krist Vanmelle / Cyclocross Magazine

Cyclocross racers taking on early season road races or mountain bike competitions should take care. © Krist Vanmelle / Cyclocross Magazine

If you’re really focused on racing cyclocross and being the best you can be during ‘cross season, this time of year can be frustrating. Your buddies that skip the ‘cross season completely, or just dabble in the sport for fun, are raring to go and hit the early season road and mountain bike races hard. You too want to partake, but after a long, full ‘cross season and some recovery time, you’re not on the same level. Is spring racing really right for the dedicated cyclocross racer?

For this week’s Training Tuesday, Chris Mayhew with JBV Coaching walks us through the train of thought that racers foccused on ‘cross should be taking when looking at early season racing in other disciplines. 

by Chris Mayhew

Bike racers. It turns out they like to race bikes. A lot. And ‘cross only last a few months of each year, so what are you going to fill the rest of the year with?

As a coach this is one of the harder questions to answer because the psychological component is almost entirely opposed to the physiological component. Rather than give a down-the-line answer to what to do, let’s walk through the decision tree and help you find the best answer for you when you’re looking to fill the cyclocross offseason.

The first piece of advice is dispense with “should.” “I should be doing this race.” “My team wants to focus on this series, I need to be there.” This is amateur bike racing, it should be about what you want to do. And ultimately you’re going to do more or less what you want to do and half-ass the stuff you should do anyway. Compare the hours you spend mowing your lawn to waxing your bike if you doubt me.

Find the things you really want to do and work towards those. Save that “should” energy for rainy days in October when you need to train outside in the rain or at 9 pm on the trainer. You only have so much mental energy to burn and capital to spend on the home front. Spending that on races in May you only feel half-hearted about may not be the best use of your energies.

The second suggestion is pick a few things you do want to do during the year. Maybe you will race some road. Maybe you’ll pick some key MTB races. For me, it’s Jeremy Powers’s Grand FUNdo. I know I need to be in shape to enjoy that, so it’s a good motivator during the spring and summer for me.

Once you know when you want to go hard, work backwards to when you can go easy. You’ll want a month or two after the ‘cross season to decompress and take it easy. Maybe that means most if not all of December and January. If you did Nationals, that probably means late January into March. Don’t get caught up in the roadie hype of “Hey it’s March LEEEEEROOY JEEEENKINSSS!” Those guys took off September through October, and have been on the trainer since December. You’ve been on a different schedule and should adjust accordingly.

If you do race early, take it easy on yourself and know that you won’t be in the shape they are, and that you will be later. A slower start to the season in terms of racing is a long term investment in your fitness. Racing isn’t always the best training. In fact it rarely is, in my experience, especially if you sacrifice a month or two of training just to show up to early season races.

Finally, plan a transition between your disciplines. Cyclocross is a very particular kind of fitness. And while road, mountain bike and enduro riding and racing is a great way to build basic aerobic fitness (and then some!) you need to take some time to put the icing on the cake. If you’ve been trying to race from May through July and then want to do some ‘cross specificity with running and Tabatas you’re going to find it an unpleasant experience. So find some time at the end of your summer season to take a couple of weeks off the bike. Again, that’s why I like the FUNdo; it’s in late July, I’m at peak fitness and then can come back in August and hit all the ‘cross specific stuff hard because I’m fresh but still have a good base.

You need a clean break between the two endeavors to give the intensity of ‘cross your full attention. You may miss a few end of season road races or the finale of a mountain bike series. But be up front with yourself and your team about your overall plans and have faith in your decision to switch your focus at some point over to ‘cross.

So yes, ride and race during the summer! It’s great to have intermediary goals to works towards. October is a long way off. And competition and goals keep us honest with ourselves, and make for good benchmarks. Within that though, realize that you’re a cyclocrosser doing summer stuff. Don’t get caught up in the hype of summer racing in the way that people who will be resting when you are trying to peak are. Think about what’s going to allow you to preserve your energy for when you really need it in the fall. Create breaks for yourself that allow you to preserve that energy.

And when you do dip your toes in your first spring or summer races be gentle on yourself and remember you’re not on the same fitness schedule that those around you are.

Have fun, work hard and ‘cross will be here before you know it.