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

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.

Sprinting

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.

Cornering

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.

Bunny hop

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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