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This article was originally published in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
Cyclocross is a group activity. While the learning curve can be steep at first, tagging along with experienced riders is the best way to pick up the skills needed to hang with ’cross riders, which will have you more ready than ever to break your own bike records when triathlon season rolls around. In addition to providing a fun mental break from an occasionally rote tri training schedule (the beer handouts and heckling make the cyclocross environment feel more like a barbecue than a race), cyclocross will improve your abilities in many important skills that are often overlooked.
What Is Cyclocross?
Sometimes called CX, cyclo-X or ’cross, cyclocross is a cycling race contested over a variety of surfaces including pavement, grass, sand, dirt and trail that forces the rider to cross big obstacles while repeatedly circling a short course.
Benefit: Better Top-End Fitness
Most ’cross races last less than an hour, but they are decided in much less time than that. You have to jam to the front of the pack right from the gun or else the group will leave you behind — moving up from the back is a monumental task. In this sport, even pacing isn’t rewarded.
How to: Developing the punch needed to be in the mix during the first few hectic minutes raises top-end fitness, which ups the ceiling for your endurance performance as well. Just about every cyclocross training ride will force you to hit full-gas without the mental strain of regimented intervals. Don’t bother with a sprint workout plan — just find a group of local cyclocross riders and show up for practice around a course or section of trail.
Benefit: Improved Cornering Abilities
Ripping through unpredictable off-road corners takes (at least) three skills: proper body position, the ability to force the tires into the ground and willingness to test the limits. Riding wheel-to-wheel with off-road veterans is a great way to pick up these skills.
How to: Forcefully press into your outside foot and inside hand while looking through the turn. Trust the bike and rely on the front wheel for traction. All these skills lead to faster cornering and descending on roads as well. And if you misjudge a corner and lay the bike down, dirt is a much more forgiving crash pad than pavement.
Benefit: Flawless Flying Mount
Dismounting the bike and leaping over obstacles is a part of every cyclocross race. You’ll have to master jumping off then back onto the bike just to make it around a course — perfect practice for nailing your triathlon transitions.
How to: Developing the courage to launch off the ground when remounting the bike after an obstacle is the first and most important step to mastering the flying mount. Commit fully. Jump off the ground with one leg and throw the other over the saddle. Land on the inner thigh, then slide your butt onto the saddle. Dedicate a few minutes of each ride to learning this all-important skill until you have it mastered. Once you get comfortable executing a flying mount over mud while half-delirious with exhaustion, doing so after T1 becomes much easier.
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