Training for MTB race starts

I’m challenged staying up with the fastest riders in my class on starts. I can often reign them in later in the race, but my race ends up being harder because I have to pass more people.

My next race is in 2 weeks. I’d like to do some workouts to help with hard start fitness. Since this is a MTB race, I’m thinking Xalibu would be good since it follows the start with VO2 max efforts.

What do others think? Is there a better approach? Should I focus exclusively on these workouts over the next couple of weeks (I’m on a low volume plan)?


Are you in peak and do you still have races remaining?

If so, then yes, it makes sense to includes these workouts in your plan (but not exclusively).

This type of anaerobic fitness is gained and lost quickly so you won’t see as much of a benefit from doing them in off season or base.

Yep - in specialty phase of Trainer Road (XCO focus). I have 2 remaining races. The first in 2 weeks and the second the following week (both on Sunday).

A few thoughts/Qs in addition to doing some workouts with VO2max/anerobic sessions upfront:

  • Are you getting in a good warmup before the race? Sometimes can be hard, as you’re trying to balance getting in a warmup, with getting a good start position. A good warmup makes the intense start a littler easier - in particular to recover from.
  • There’s a balance in getting a good start vs. going too deep anaerobically and into oxygen debt. It could be that you’ve already found the right balance for you - and that you are currently riding to your strengths in pulling people back later in the race vs. trying to hammer it out of the gate
  • I’ve found that passing is “easier” if you are relentless but polite about asking the people ahead to let you pass. If you’re on someones wheel, after the 3rd or 4th time asking to pass its hard for them to not let you by. This way, you can sometimes avoid having to do a big anaerobic burst to get past - as these bursts add up.
  • Another tactic that can make passing easier: I’ll sometimes time my passing to be when the rider ahead is likely tired, and lacking motivation to try “block” me or accelerate to keep ahead. e.g. passing towards the top of a hill vs at the bottom.
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I face this issue in Cyclocross as well. One way I try to mitigate it is to practice standing starts, usually outdoors so I can practice the pedal clip in. These intervals last about 30 seconds and I rest for a few minutes afterward, then go again. You can do this on your trainer, but I prefer doing the longer, slightly lower power intervals indoors. For those, you can do the typical VO2 max interval of 3-6 minutes at 120%-106% of FTP, with a few minutes rest in between.

The second thing is the warmup which @DaveWh mentioned. I do best when I have gotten a 15-20 min warmup and only had to stand around for <10 min waiting for the race to start. I also agree with Dave on the balance between going out fast and going out too fast, which will hurt you later in the race.

Oh yeah, try and get to the staging area early so that you can be on the front row.


All great ideas! Thanks @stevemz @DaveWh @steveh67.

I’ll try the outdoor standing starts as well.

I do warm up beforehand - usually 20 minutes or so with a few hard efforts to get my systems up and running. Then standing around for several minutes waiting for race to start - sometimes > 10 minutes.

I should do some experiments with this - shorter and longer warmups. Probably would be best to bring the trainer with me to have a more controlled warmup, but I’m pretty sure I’d take a bunch of crap from my fellow racers, and I’m not that serious so I’ll hold off. :grin: