You know that we at Higher Gear are pretty wild about cyclocross season. There’s much to lure us out of the house on dark, crisp fall mornings. Well, we’re not the only ones attracted to the sport.
Many hardcore road cyclists use cyclocross as a way to keep in shape and stay on their toes in the off season. In fact, it’s believed that cyclocross got its start as a way for roadies to keep fit over the long cold months between cycling seasons.
Now, cyclocross has gained enough momentum that it has its own cult following and those who ride road all summer to keep in shape for cyclocross in the fall. But the concept of cyclocross as cross-training still stands.
And now, even the neat, tidy, shaved triathletes are spending time in the mud to hone their skills over the winter season. Professional triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker, who is one of those triathlete converts using ‘cross to his advantage, recently said what personal trainers and coaches have long known: “Doing non-specific but complementary activities can only improve any triathlete.”
Lava Magazine just ran an article about some of the benefits triathletes get from cross-training with cyclocross – namely technical skills, power development and efficiency, and “heart, guts and cojones.”
According to Lava Magazine:
The technical aspects of cyclocross riding—tight corners, difficult terrain, and awkward conditions—are a huge benefit to any triathlete. If you can develop the skills to ride well through these varied conditions you’ll be that much more efficient on a smooth flat road.
Shoemaker likens cyclocross to a draft-legal triathlon where the rider must be “present” at all times while on the bike.
And then there’s the flying mount. I remember my first triathlon. I swear I was at the bicycle mount line at T1 (transition from swim to bike), struggling to click into my pedal as a dozen other athletes mounted their bikes and road on. (Well, I don’t remember it so much, as it is obvious in photos.)
Preparing for cyclocross season, the first thing I learned was the flying mount and dismount. After that, I never had an issue with needing to clip in to my pedals before take-off. I learned to just start pedaling and clip in when the moment was right. For a competitive triathlete, the precious seconds saved in a flying mount can make a difference. For the rest of us, well, we just look cool.
Power and Efficiency
Cross is hard. It’s just solid pedaling for the 30 or 40 or 60 minutes your category requires.
Technical sections require the mental acuity and physical strength to get through. Straightaways require sheer endurance. Technical sections or rough terrain often demand a quick spike in your power output to get though a particular section. As Lava Magazine points out, “do this 10 to 20 times per lap for 40 to 60 minutes and you have yourself a power development workout.”
Both technical sections and straightaways require the ability to keep pedaling – and to power through obstacles and mud. Cyclocross requires a strenuous combination of endurance and power. As I said, it’s hard.
Lava Magazine put it more scientifically:
To improve as a cross racer you’ll need to improve your maximal power as well as your ability to recover quickly from these efforts. Both of these factors will help your triathlon racing by affording you a higher max power with a more efficient application of that power (or a portion of that power during a triathlon).
Did I mention cyclocross is hard?
Aside from the all-out effort that the race demands, conditions can be tough. Like triathlon, you’ll race through it all – Mother Nature can provide wind, rain and cold; terrain can provide ups and downs. In addition to the physical, the sport requires a mental toughness.
As the article points out, “when the conditions aren’t a factor the intensity of the racing makes up for it.” I learned that lesson myself when I raced Montrose CX State Championship the year when a few feet of snow fell the previous night. The course had to be rerouted and shortened. As a newcomer to the sport, I was so relieved to avoid the intense pace of races from earlier in the season. That said, the frigid temps and the semi-frozen ground proved to be their own challenge. There just is no “easy.”
Regardless of conditions, as the article points out, “you can usually summon the courage to tough it out. When it’s all said and done, however, you’ll find yourself wishing you had another 10 minutes to race. It’s just that damn fun.” And it is, you should give it a try, even if your game is “tri.”
Excerpts are from Cyclocross: The Ultimate Cross-Training? Read the original article in Lava Magazine by Jimmy Archer, who is an 11th year pro triathlete, coach and regular contributor to lavamagazine.com.
Interested in learning more about the sport of cyclocross, Chicago’s Cyclocross Cup or how to race with Higher Gear’s Gearhead team? We’ve got the scoop for you, just click here.
Want to stay in cycling shape, but escape the bike for a little while? Check out these cross-training suggestions from our fitness guru.