Cyclocross Race Pacing

Firstly, this new forum is awesome. Super stoked.

Next, I have a pretty simple question regarding cyclocross racing.

I’m coming into the cyclocross season after a season of being staged front row for mountain bike, but now with cyclocross I’m pretty far back. From the front row my strategy was always to go as slow as possible without being dropped by anyone, but I’m guessing that’s going to change with cross.

If I’m staged towards the back of the field, let’s say maybe mid-pack in a 100 person field, is it better to burn a bunch of matches in the first lap trying to gain as many places as possible as quickly as possible, but knowing that I’m going to fade or is it better to pace myself from the start and try to pick up places a bit more slowly but be able to put down super consistent lap times?

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My simple advice is to do what ever you can to place the highest in the series so you can start taking advantage of call ups. I won my state series this year, one thing I focused on was being able to go full gas for the first 2 minutes from the gun, doesn’t like much, but being able to go full gas then sit on VO2Max for 50 minutes wasn’t easy. Every CX race there is much to be said about gaining as much ground as possible in the opening 10 minutes or so then you’re in a good spot as the pace starts to ease. Of course, pacing is huge, no sense in going full gas only to fade later on… find your balance and go hard, then take advantage of the call ups in future races.

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My advice is to get there early and watch the start of an earlier race with a similar sized field. Watch carefully and see where the first bottleneck occurs. Doing a hard effort is really only worth it if you can move up enough to get past the bottleneck without being caught up in it. After that, you should be able to settle into your race pace. If you can’t move up enough and get caught in the bottleneck then there is no point in burning matches to get there. After the first 1/2 to full lap, your goal should be to ride as consistently fast as you can.

Here is a good video (bottleneck at 1:00) that highlights this tactic:


Funnily my experience is to go as fast as possible without getting dropped :slight_smile:
There’s always a group of riders who are immense racers and there’s no point trying to keep with them, at my level at least, but gaining places at the start is crucial, then it’s just damage limitation till the end without blowing up

My pacing advice is that I would recommend you go out hard on the first lap to try to get to the front group so you can keep an eye on moves and not get behind less experienced riders that tend to crash.

I’m in a similar position, near back of pack staging (gradually working myself up with crossresults points), I’ve really tried to really nail the start to gain some positioning ahead of the bottlenecks. I guess I’ve had a little success, in the past couple of races I’ve ultimately placed about 20 spots ahead of my staging position. I’m hoping that by continuing to improve my initial placing, to say mid-pack that I can keep improving on that.

I had kind of a related question that I’d post here, rather than start a whole new thread. I’ve been using my powertap the past few races to get a better sense of my effort. I’ve been consistently having an IF of 0.81, I seem to always get faster as the race moves along, and I’m finishing not super gassed (not compared to other people who just seem spent at the end). Does anyone who uses a power meter notice a trend between their intensity factors and their placement? I guess on one hand it’s highly dependent, super strong guys can probably podium with less effort, whereas mid-pack folks like me work hard to get whatever we can get. But I just wonder if I’m leaving too much on the table, and what a race outcome would be if I could get myself to a 0.9 IF

Those are really good results! Moving up 20 spots is hard to do. Hopefully, your call ups will improve, you’ll start at the front and won’t have to worry about bottlenecks.

I’ve done quite a few CX races with a power meter and have found there is no correlation between any power meter metric and race result or placement. There is far too much variability in courses, conditions, other racers, etc.

I think a power meter data can be somewhat useful if you are able to create lap intervals and compare laps within the same race to see where you gained or lost time on a lap-by-lap basis. However, there is also a lot of variability lap-to-lap (say you had to run a sand pit on the last lap that you rode on the first lap).

Personally, the only reason I ride with a power meter on my CX bike is to avoid blowing up on courses with longish uphills/flats and because the power graphs look cool with all the spikes :slight_smile:

I also ride with a power meter. My first lap is always my highest average power, and then it tends to taper down for two laps then is pretty flat, on a lap average (which matches my lap speed/pace). I think it is best to get in front of anyone that you will find your self stuck behind early on. My equal power laps are also very close in terms of lap times after the initial two fast laps, give or take 10 seconds.
One thing i would love to see is the ability to overlay each lap on top of one another to visualize the lap differences. I personally look to see how many times per race i repeatedly hit instant max efforts, 350w, 450w, 550w, etc. and try to improve on that with my training vs worrying about my overall average power since there is often a lot of on/off the gas.

The best strategy is the one that allows you to finish the race in the best placement possible. It’s impossible to tell you which scenario you’ve laid out is superior. Unless you are the fittest person in the race or the field is weak, making up 50 spots in the first lap, let alone the entirety of the race, is going to be very difficult regardless of what your tactics are. Just ride as hard as you feel you can that allows you to finish the race. Experiment with one vs the other. A race is never won on the first lap, but can be lost on the first lap.