I know it's the middle of summer, and many of you might be struggling just to get through the rest of your road or mountain bike season. The thought of starting another season and racing through the fall and winter might be more than you can bear right now. But for many others, cyclocross has become the focus of their racing, or at least as important as the racing they do the rest of the year. Since July tends to be the time that many riders are feeling run down and over trained, as we've discussed in other articles, it's a good time for a break and a restart. For 'cross-specific riders, this is the time to plan and periodize your 'cross season.
First, of course, you have to identify your goals. Do you want to be going well right out of the blocks in September and October? Is there a regional or national race series in which you want to do well over all?, requiring consistency rather than peaking? Is there one big race locally you want to target, or are all your eggs in the basket for Nationals in January? You might even be planning to venture to Europe for Christmas, or perhaps you plan to keep racing 'cross until February.
All these concerns factor in to the level you start your 'cross program from. If you've taken the summer off from racing and are really just getting things rolling, then you'll naturally begin from a low level and build up slowly, with perhaps as much as three months of aerobic base training taking you into the heart of the season in November. Ideally, that's a build you would have started back in April or May, but it's not too late to start now. At the other extreme, if you need to be really flying in September for the start of your local series or early UCI races, you'll need a different approach. You might only do one four week block of base oriented work, and have to rely somewhat on your foundation from the road or mountain bike season to get back up to speed quickly.
For some of you, your training for 'cross will most likely overlap with important late-season road or mountain bike races, and so there are certain 'cross-specific workouts you might have to avoid until as late as September. Running and road racing simply do not mix, so if you've got a big road event late you might decide to put off your uphill running sprints or trail jogs until after that point. Even then, you've got to introduce running into your workouts slowly. Ten to fifteen minutes per session to start is enough to let your body begin to adapt to what's to come. If 'cross is your priority, then you can start your running adaptation right from the get-go, insuring it will be a strength and not a weakness from Labor Day forward.
Your general routine for 'cross shouldn't be that different from what you might do in the road or mountain bike season, with the exception of your workouts on foot, and the specificity of the intervals:
• Monday: Recovery, easy one- to two-hour road ride, or day off.
• Tuesday: Recovery if needed after a weekend of racing, or sprint workout, either running or riding. Ideally you want your running sprints to recreate what you'd do in a race. Find a short, steep hill that takes you about fifteen seconds to sprint over. Give yourself two to five minutes between efforts for recovery. That can be done on foot as a dedicated run, or with the bike as part of a run-up similation, including a dismount and mount. For your riding sprints, simulate the kind of accelerations you'll need to make in 'cross. Hard explosions from low speeds, with an emphasis on both speed and strength. This can be done on the road or one the 'cross bike, depending on what you need to work on. Even better, start practice is about as specific as you can get. Come to a complete stop, recreate the gear, pedal position, and body stance, and recreate a start sprint by including the need to clip in and sprint on your hoods while shifting down through the gears.
• Wednesday: Threshold day, and ideally a 'cross workout on a simulated course. Here is where you can work on your 15- to 20-minute efforts at threshold, emphasizing the variable power and need to pedal over bumpy terrain that comes only from riding on a set course. You should be aiming to build up to completing as many minutes at threshold as the length of the 'cross races in which you'll be competing. 1-3 intervals with 5-10 minutes off between each effort is perfect. How long the ride is depends on your available time and level. You can bang this out in an hour after work, or it can be part of a 3-4 hour ride where you spend an hour on the road cruising out to your workout spot, 90 minutes doing the intervals, and hour cool down back home.
• Thursday: Recovery day if you're racing on Saturday, or an endurance day on the road or in the woods. Again, the length of this ride depends on your ability and available time, but can range from 1-6 hours. My favorite way to do this ride in the pre-season is by riding the 'cross bike in the woods on mountain bike trails. There is no better way to work on your overall handling skills then spending a few hours ripping trails in the woods on skinny tires, and learning how to pick good lines at the last minute, moving athletically and going as fast as possible without flatting or crashing. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.
• Friday: Recovery day, or a short opening up workout on the road or 'cross bike if you're racing on Saturday. See our other articles for info on opening up workouts.
• Saturday: Race, or repeat Wednesday's workout.
• Sunday: Race, or repeat Thursday's workout.
Alternately, if you need to emphasize sprints over endurance, your Saturday/Sunday block could repeat Tuesday and Wednesday's workouts. Or, as mentioned in other articles, you can swap the cycles here and do the 2-day weekend block first, rest on Thursday, and do the 3-day weekday block on Friday-Sunday.
If you're serious about cyclocross, then these suggestions and timeline will help get you on track for a good start to the season. If you've never raced 'cross before and are thinking about giving it a go, now's the time to start introducing some skills to your workouts to make sure you're ready for your first races this fall.