Unlocking cyclocross efforts

After years of XC racing racing from 1:30 to 24hrs events I am struggling to get max efforts out in Cyclocross races. In the moment during the race I feel that I am pushing to my limit but when I finish I always feel that I could go that bit extra. Its frustrating as if I could find 3 mins I would jump up around 20 places, so I am on the back end of the midpack which would jump me up to the top 1/3.

Has anyone else found the transition difficult? Its my 3rd full season doing cross. In a MTB race I would normally be in the top 1/3.

This season hasn’t gone to plan and I started the structured workouts late, I have completed SSB 1+2 Low volume (with some outside rides each week) then SPB Mid volume and I am nearly at the end of that replacing workouts at the weekend with my races when they happen. I will be going onto to the Cross specialty after. I have had the same issue in previous year when starting the plan on time.

I am not an experienced xc racer, but I know exactly what you mean. I raced what I thought was pretty hard on Saturday to eke out a NP of <90% of ftp, on a really fast course. Felt like my legs had a lot left in them at the end.

I think part of it is the structure of the course. I’ve only raced on 4 different XC courses I think, but 3 of those had laps where it was just a long climb followed by a descent, and it’s really easy to go hard on those climbs. CX is a little different, a bit punchier maybe?

But really I think my main problem is that cyclocross is just really mentally fatiguing for me. My technical skills are not strong and when I get tired mentally, I get really sloppy and scared, which makes it hard to keep up the power output.

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I think coming from a MTB background I have the opposite issue, my skills are probably better than the riders around me but then I am missing maybe a bit of punch out of the corners and although my fitness is a bit higher I cant get past and then fall into their speed.

Where as in a MTB race I can get past in the technical bits and then push on at a steadier pace to the next group. I guess I have answered my own question and when I get into the Specialty phase it my address my shortcoming (too late for this season)

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Two things, I did short power build before the season, and it was the wrong plan for me to do. I wanted to use speciality after that during the season, but didn’t. It might depend on your stregth and weaknesses, but I’m racing much better since I’ve focussed on sweetspot and over-unders again. I’ve since realised that the speciality plan actually has sweet spot workouts in the second half, so I now think you’d go better completing it before the season starts.

The second thought is that there’s something in cross that is not just skills and fitness, and riders coming in from other disciplines find it sometimes hard to grasp. Not quite sure how to describe it, but experience will help.

I think this applies to everyone…not just those coming from other disciplines.

Cross is just hard in a lot of ways, and it takes time. I made a lot of progress from my first season to this, my second. I’m stronger…but also I think I’m making better decisions. I need to find about 30 seconds a lap to podium…

Ok so here are the issues I’ve encountered that can counter superior fitness AND skills

1- pacing. You just have to figure this out on your own. You’re going to go into the red right from the start gun…yhe question is how much. Go hard, pick up as many spots as you can. If you’re staged high enough that you can effectively move into a better place than you’re hoping for…do it. Evem if it slows you down more than would be ideal. Because everyone you passed at the start has to pass YOU now, and it taked more energy to do that mid race as things get strung out.

2 - Dont needlessly pass people. I made this mistake my forst year. I’d gas myself to pass 2 or 3 people that I really wasnt moving any faster than. Only pass if you can sustain a higher pace. Or if it is super close…fall in behind and then wait until you are sufficiently recovered from a previous hard effort to pass and continue on wothout going too deep.

3 - Pick your spots to expend enerygy on the course. And, do it BEFORE the race. Pre ride to make a plan. It doesnt make any sense to sprint out of every corner in a technical section only to slam on the brakes 50ft later. Focus on just being smooth and conserving momentum there.

Spots to plan on expending energy IMO - lead up to short sharp hills. If punching it in a straightaway before a hill gets you up it quickly, where otherwise you might have to grind up the second half, or hop off and run, put in the effort to fly up and have a bit of momentum through the top. Also longer straightaways, especially if they are uphill. Just go, as hard as you can, especially if they lead into a more technical section, which they often do. And heck…even if you do blow up and need a couple minutes to cone down…you’re in a technical section and the people behind you who you passed in a straightaway, will have a harder time repassing you in the twisty section.


Try racing a category higher and attempt to keep up. You’ll find new levels of previously undiscovered hell.


I am in the UK so race in age categories Vet 40

Sometimes its the course too. If its very muddy, slippy, and full of corners, grip is your limiter. You might never be able to go full blast, because you just haven’t got enough grip.

Your serving your cx apprenticeship @Travers_Bikes. Suggest training with some local fast seniors and then watch in a race how hard they push and where they make up time in a race.

I developed good technical skills on rocky and rooty terrain where I do most of my mountain biking. I learned how to float over and or power through the tech stuff but I didn’t develop the skills to flow through turns that are found in CX. There are a couple races in my area where those skills are needed and I have generally sucked on those courses but put me on a course with rocks and decent climbs and I will generally be towards the front of the field.

I thought that my technical skills would help me more in CX but found that the only time they do is on rougher courses, singletrack like terrain, or log overs.

IMO CX places an emphasis on maintaining momentum and being smooth. Laying off the brakes, pedaling through turns, and not sprinting out of every corner seem to be the big things needed in CX. A racer who is smooth through turns will out ride someone with a higher w/kg but has poor flow.

I’ve been trying to improve my flow and become a smoother rider but I’m trying to break a lot of bad habits. It is slowly working though. I had one of my best CX seasons this year and have finished higher in mountain bike races that are twisty and require flow.

This is what I love about CX. That’s true, until it’s not and then you look for grip, or you look for the shortest distance, or you look for the repeatable route; and all of that applies unless you’re trying to pass or not show your cards.
I came into CX with a decade of motorsports including road racing, endurance road racing, and auto-cross, which are all different in the rain, and I knew what I was doing in those for about 3-5 of those years (good but not great). Cyclocross puts all of that together and then demands fitness from you instead of just squeezing the gas pedal. That’s why this sport will never grow old for me and I’ll always consider it the pinnacle of cycling.

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I’m in a similar position to you @anon67840561, in my second season of cross and getting better. #2 in your list was a total blind spot for me—I do this ALL THE TIME, and it always bites me in the ass.

Watching the pros, I see that they will sit in on someone’s wheel, sometimes for a whole lap, and then really give it the gas when they’ve recovered and reached a spot on the course that favors their riding. MVDP and Nino Schurter on MTB do a good job with this.

Yup. Yea it only makes sense to dig deep to pass at the opening gun IMO, or a similar scenario where maybe you want to be in front, in the clear for a technical section that you KNOW you are faster than the person in front of you on. I will put in an effort leading into sand pits, for example.

But yea. Last year…I was passing needlessly. I’d pass two people, then be gassed and trying to recover (at a slower speed…) for half to a full lap of a 4 lap race. Dumb lol :astonished: