Top 5 Cyclocross Training Mistakes

Top 5 Cyclocross Training Mistakes

By Jim Lehman, CTS Premier Coach

Forget #crossiscoming because #crossishere! Cyclocross season is in full swing, but training doesn't stop when the season starts. There is still time to improve your performance, increase your speed, and race up to your potential. As coaches, my colleagues and I work with a mixture of elite cyclocross racers and time-crunched athletes who race cyclocross to stay fit and competitive in the winter. After 15 years working with cyclocross athletes, here are the top 5 training mistakes we see athletes making, and how to fix them:

  1. Neglecting Running
    Cyclocross is about riding your bike, but some courses require a fair bit of running and later in the season, the weather/mud will likely force you to run a bit more during the races. During the early fall, you can re-introduce your legs to running by putting in some endurance runs (20-30 min). However, as the race season progresses the emphasis should shift to cyclocross specific running sessions. These can be done as part of running specific workout or integrated into a cyclocross practice session. I think the latter is ideal because you'll be running with your bike and integrating the dismounts and remounts into the running session. Running during a race will come in short bursts, 10-15 seconds, so these are the efforts you want to focus on in training. Look for opportunities to simulate the running you will face in your races: short uphills, stairs and sand.

  2. Not Practicing Starts
    This is critical part of every race. While it's just a small part of the overall race time, it can have a huge impact on how the rest of the race goes for you. Miss a pedal and you can lose 10-15 spots in the blink of an eye. You can do some practice starts as part of one of your mid-week rides. Aim for 4-6 efforts in a session. Start with one foot down, eyes looking down the road. Explode off the line and sprint for 15-20 seconds. Give yourself about 4 minutes of recovery between efforts. Another option is to integrate your start practice into race-specific intervals.

  3. Skipping Race-Specific Intervals
    Intervals on the trainer or on the road bike are fine preparation for cyclocross, but ideally you want to do some intervals under race conditions. Find a local park and set up a lap that takes around five minutes to complete. This lap should have some different features in it: grass, sand, hills, stairs and pavement/hardpack dirt. Start each interval like a cyclocross start: one foot on the ground, max effort for first 30-45 seconds and then settle into a hard pace for 2-3 min, dismount the bike and run up stairs or run up, finish the lap at race pace. Do an easy lap between intervals.

  4. Only Doing VO2 Max or Race Simulation Workouts
    While a cyclocross race is filled with countless accelerations and short maximal efforts, you end up spending a good deal of time riding at or near threshold, 10-20 min efforts. As a result you should do some threshold intervals in training. They won't be like the threshold efforts you typically do on the road, where you build up to a specific power range and maintain it for the given interval. These will need to be dynamic intervals, so they mimic the efforts that you're doing during a race. You could do these in the form of an Over Under interval workout, varying the power at designated times. For example, 3x12 min intervals and during the 12 min minutes you spend 2 min at 240-250 Watts, then 1 min at 250-260 Watts, then 2 min at 240-250 Watts. The alternative way is to do these on your practice course, focusing on keeping your effort steady. On the practice course, you'll get the varied effort through the terrain and the obstacles.

  5. Digging a Hole for Yourself
    As you get into the season and you're racing every weekend, sometimes twice a weekend, there won't be much time for training. When you're in this phase of the season, it's critical that recovery becomes a priority, otherwise you'll just be digging a big hole for yourself. Recovery is different for each person, but as a general rule of thumb, give yourself one day of recovery for each day of racing, which means Monday and Tuesday should be easy/off days and maybe you'll be ready for a training day on Wednesday. Listen to your body and when in doubt, take an extra day easy.

Jim Lehman has been a CTS Premier Coach for 15 years and coaches two-time Cyclocross National Champion Ryan Trebon, Olympic bronze medalist Georgia Gould, and pros Kerry Werner and Caroline Mani. For information on CTS coaching, training camps, and Bucket List events, visit