A cross fail: what lessons to learn?

So, I was looking forward to this cx season. I can now race with the masters, and my power numbers are higher than last year. I did my first race yesterday… and got my ass kicked. Just below mid pack.

Now I know very well my cornering was poor, and I also know that I’ve got a very low level viral infection (feel slightly below par, HRV down)*. But I was also struck that my engine wasn’t where it needed to be.

So the question is, where do I go from here? How much of this can I put down to below-par bike-handling and a mild illness?

I’m actually wondering if pulling volume and adding in lots of VO2 work in the last month has hindered more than helped.

Any thoughts welcome.

*EDIT: it’s not Covid - I have tested twice.

Cross is highly skill based, and if you lose a second in every corner, 2 seconds on every dismount/ remount etc., there is not much of a chance to compete, no matter the power. Something I had to learn, too.

Regarding training: it really depends on a myriad of factors. How often are you racing? If this is your racing season (your primary one of the year), pulling volume makes sense. However, I wouldn’t go over 3 HIIT sessions a week - this includes races.
In general, I find specificity a little overrated. You do not need to train for the exact effort required in the race to become fit enough.
The classics (30/30, 30/15, 6-8x4‘, 4-6x8‘ etc) will serve you well.


Yeah if I do the maths, I’m probably giving away 20-30 seconds a lap that way. Thanks for pointing out the numbers. I think I need at least 1 dedicated skills session each week. Any obvious cornering tips would be appreciated.

I think I overlooked this last year as I was competing against strong riders in the 18-39 age group so just put poor results down to being old for my category and my first season racing in a long time.

Nb - this is where you realise that a lot of z2 road stuff, and most intensity on the trainer, does not prepare you for a cx season!

Quick thoughts:

I don’t know where you race, but around here the masters categories are perhaps more competitive than the seniors.

A cross course has what, 30-50 corners? If you lose a second in all of them, that’s minutes of time over the race.

IMO, vo2max work (at least TR’s version) is not good prep for cx (and even worse during the season). What you need is high FTP, and high anaerobic capacity. High FTP not only helps with long slogs, but it also helps with fast recovery from anaerobic efforts. Anaerobic capacity (30/30s) helps with snap. Also, efforts in cx are rarely as long as vo2max intervals, so it’s not even that race specific.

Lastly, it was the first race of the season. It’s always a shock to the system. Maybe you just need a couple to get back into it?


I think there is a big difference between intensity indoors, and intensity on pretty unsuitable terrain outdoors (which is what cross is). Being able to power up a slippy, rooty, steep climb can just not be reproduced on the trainer. You might have the power, but not the right body coordination to actually use it.


My coach once said the most important stat in a race is place. Racing is another beast compared to training (indoors or out). So much strategy, pacing, digging down deep when you’re hurting. Not to mention weather and terrain.

I think the Z2 and VO2 did help… it provides a good base and in training your numbers are better. As mentioned here the 30/30 type of workouts with hard accelerations and short hills is huge. And as you said a skills session would also help. Keep working and best of luck to you!!

In my experience, CX is 60% skills, 35% fitness, and 5% random. Also, racing in Masters means you’re competing with guys who have been doing this for years, possibly decades.

Train CX skills til you’re doing them in your sleep and you’ll improve your results. In the meantime, TR will see to it you have a good engine to launch those skills.


You didn’t include any numbers, but I reckon putting aside one day per week for skills drills is likely a better investment than training your engine. Things like descending or cornering skills can make up so much time, it isn’t even funny. Especially for cross, which is skills-centric, this likely has a bigger impact than raising your FTP by a few more watts.


One of the things that helped me the most with handling skills was to take the cross bike to some mild singletrack. Forces you to make good line choices around rocks/roots…Where a MTB may soak this stuff up and you dont even notice it, on a cx bike with skinny tires, youll learn damn quick what happens when you pick a bad line. Good to practice things like bunny hops and mounts/dismounts. Anything taller than “barrior height” id work on a dismount at speed, jumping over and remount. Its so much fun being that under-biked on singletrack! Im grinning ear to ear every time I do it

Another thing that takes time is learning to brake as late as possible but under control as to not lock up. Do as much straight line braking as possible so your tires are only steering and not braking and steering. Much less chance of washing out. Your greatest traction is straight line, as you increase your arc, youre losing grip and ability to hold speed.

Learning the race line is big time. Taking your turns as wide (straight) as possible. I come from a car racing background so this was second nature to me but its the difference between coming out of a corner and pushing 500+w to hold pace and doing 250-300w. Theres only so many 500w pulls you can recover from.

Anticipate your gearing. Nothing sucks more than pushing up a hill and being in too hard a gear that you cant hold cadence. Look a few corners ahead so you can anticipate. If theres a dismount coming up, look ahead to see if its flat or uphill on the remount, and select an appropriate gear beforehand so youre ready to spin on the remount. Rememer, power is force x cadence. It doesnt matter if youre putting down huge wattage if youre only able to spin at 30rpm

Dont let one bad race get in the way of having fun. When all else fails, just remember…Its only hard for the first 2 halfs of the race! haha


This is another decent point. There were a couple of corners every lap where I was coming out at a virtual standstill and putting in a massive 15 second dig to get back to pace. By lap 4, those digs weren’t there and I started to go backwards a couple of places a lap from that point.

On the plus side, I’ve just seen I set a 20 min heart rate PR!

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Last q: what tyre are people using for dry, very grassy cx courses? My Pirelli Cinturato M (35) had pretty poor grip on that surface, I felt.

I like baby limus or pdx for pretty much anything that isn’t a mud fest. Even so, the pdx work pretty decent for that too if you don’t want to spend the money on another set. If I was using only one tire, I’d stick with one o those

I agree that CX is all about spiking big watts and a big ftp to sustain pace. Since there’s not really any effective drafting, you see where you really stand.

OP, don’t worry too much about it. Try to learn something from every race. I personally learned to try to carry as much momentum around the course as possible. This allowed me to recover where I once had to work and then put in even more power when it counts.

For training in non race weeks, I do a 30/30 session Wednesday and a morning 20min run session with some strides on same day. I then do some threshold work with short rest (1min off) on Saturday targeting 20min power numbers. All other riding are just endurance work plus one lifting day. Good luck!

One point i’ve not seen reading this post is the ability to relax whilst cornerring and on difficult terrain. I like to do one 2hr+ CX ride a week on paths and single track with plenty of cornerring, for feeling and adjusting one’s skills. I also practise simple cornerring skills on a football pitch using the lines and corner posts to push my skills on not so grippy tyres. A progression from stepping onto the bike to fast remounts help get you clipping in faster, again in a relaxed manner. Finally, find some short punchy climbs - I use those leading up to a canal bank.

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I’m newer at CX, but have found the farther up the grid the better I do, and its mostly due to following the lines and cornering speed of the better riders…also, if its a tight course and I’m near the back of the starting grid, your 1-2 minutes down from the front packs before I’m even halfway through the first lap.

I have never felt as useless, slow and unfit as I feel during a cx race. Usually it’s because I’m trying so hard to make up for bad technique by red-lining, which only makes my technique worse. That’s about as far as my cx career got. I’d probably do better if I backed off a little bit and cleaned up my skills.


That’s how I am as well.

Feel somewhat ridiculous both during races for the reasons you mentioned as well as self conscious when I’m practicing by myself in a park. And avoiding the latter leads to the former.

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