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As the weather turns cooler and the tri season starts to wane, many athletes ask themselves, “What shall I do with all this hard-earned fitness?” Cyclo-cross just might be the perfect off-season option.
Also known as ‘cross or CX, cyclo-cross has been around for more than a century, and was originally invented to help European road racers stay fit during the fall and winter. Town-to-town courses often included tricky off-road sections that forced racers to carry their bikes while running, and then remount swiftly for the next stretch of road.
How it works
Today races are held on 2–3K looped courses designed around local ball fields, office parks and malls, with most races lasting 40–60 lung- and leg-searing minutes. With short paved stretches connecting ample dirt and grass riding, cyclo-cross is usually seen as a battle between road racers and mountain bikers. However, given the handful of running sections each lap, triathletes are well-equipped to give their bike racing brethren a run for their money.
Natural obstacles like downed trees, mud and short hills are combined with manmade hurdles and sand pits to reward a strong, crafty, skilled bike handler, a runner with smooth dismount technique (see below) and an athlete with the stamina to keep it all together through the finish.
Why you should try it
Sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons require the ability to “time trial” near lactate threshold, which is a key physiological advantage in CX. 5K and 10K running fitness carries over well— even though the running sections are short—and from the frantic action I’ve witnessed in most transition areas this season, I’d say triathletes have the right experience navigating myriad obstacles both on and off the bike.
As a reward, after a season of cyclo-cross racing you will actually start looking forward to mounting and dismounting the bike, and on-course obstacles like water bottles and CO2 canisters, potholes, fellow riders, tight corners, wind and hills will be no match for your ’cross-tuned bike-handling skills.
Cyclo-cross season usually spans September to Christmas and is most prevalent in New England, Oregon and Colorado, but the sport is growing rapidly. To find a race near you, ask your local bike shop or check the race calendar at Cxmagazine.com.
Scott Fliegelman is the owner and head coach of FastForward Sports (Fastforwardsports.net) in Boulder, Colo.