Essential skills toolkit for cyclocross
The unique and perhaps even bizarre discipline
of cyclocross has taken a firm grip on the cycling community. This list
describes five key skills that are vital for CX and which are easy to develop. What's
great is that these are all transferrable skills, so you may well find that
your next road ride will be all the better for it. And if you're completely new
to the sport, this list should help you to work out where to begin and how to
hone your new craft.
The sprint is a hugely important weapon in the
'cross rider's arsenal, and not just for that kick to the finish line. CK
courses are often so technical and fast that there's enormous pressure to get
off to a flying start and to get into the lead group, so you'll need a solid
standing start sprint. Just take a look at this video to see how rapid a 'cross
start can be.
A decent turn of pace will also come in handy
as you come out of a corner, or after remounting following an obstacle. You can
work on your sprint easily on whatever terrain. Just incorporate some ten
second bursts into your normal road rides and make a habit of sprinting out of
corners to get those fast twitch fibres working.
You'll find cornering on a 'cross course to be
a uniquely challenging task as it is nearly always complicated by well-churned
mud, sometimes sand and even the odd badly-timed crash. Race designers like to
make courses difficult by creating corners so tight that they almost defy
physics, making the maintenance of any semblance of pace a real challenge. To
practise their cornering, the pros will set up a square (on grass/mud) with 20m
sides and ride hard for several minutes, getting used to braking and handling
the slip and slide.
Bouncing up climbs
One of the more entertaining features of 'cross
races are the absurdly steep slopes the riders must contend with. These are the
sort of lung-busting, quad-screaming efforts for which the only preparation is
repeated practise. There may also be ramps of the unrideable variety, some of
which will actually be flights of steps. This is where you'll have to get off
and run - unless you have Jedi skills like two-time CX world champion Sven Nys.
Dismount and remount
It is odd to see lycra - and mud - covered
cyclists swinging from their saddles, shouldering their bikes and running up a
flight of steps before leaping back onto the bike without stopping for breath,
but these are key skills when it comes to cycling's fastest-growing discipline.
Practise your dismount by riding slowly towards a carefully placed stick or
water bottle as a marker and unclip when you're a few bike lengths away,
swinging your foot over the back of your bike. Then unclip your other foot as
the first makes contact with the ground. The remount can be more tricky and
indeed scary when you start because you naturally want to protect your
undercarriage. With both hands on the bars, leap onto the saddle at a slight
angle so that the top of your leg takes the strain and time it so your feet hit
the pedals just after you hit the saddle.
Some obstacles won't require a dismount so long
as you are well-practised in the fine art of the bunny hop. Practise with a
stick or bottle in an open area and approach slowly. Stand up on the pedals with
feet level and hands on the tops or hoods. As you reach the obstacle, rock
backwards from a standing stance, bend your knees and pull up to lift the front
wheel. Then, just before the back wheel meets the obstacle, jump and push your
hands forward to lift up the rear.
For more advice from a seasoned ex-pro, check
out this video in which Sven Nys (again) takes GCN through some key skills.
Still looking for the perfect cyclocross steed
for winter? Check out this little selection and remember we're here to help if
you have any questions about what to look for.
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