Starting fast is one of the most important skills you need in order to race cyclo-cross successfully. Cyclo-cross is renowned for its fast and furious starts but it can be easier said than done – it does require some specific practice and training to master. Short sharp sprint efforts from a standing start is the obvious thing to try first. Being able to clip in the pedals quickly and get the power down is the key.
But there is a lot of be gained from starting fast. By getting a good start you get to the first corner in the leading group giving you a clear view of any obstacles or terrain coming up, avoiding crashes and bottle necks in the first few corners. Cyclo-cross fields can be quite large so by getting a bad start and then having to queue or dismount when too many riders reach a narrow part of the circuit you can soon be 200 m behind and fighting for minor positions, using up a lot of extra energy. By getting a good start you can actually save energy, putting your opponents under pressure and forcing a gap.
Find the Right Gear
Find the right gear.. Before the start of the race make sure you practice the start so you know what gear you need to start in. Too hard and you won’t push the gear off the start, too small and you’ll be spinning out watching the rest of the field power away.
Work your way up the field
Depending on where you are gridded you may need to find a path through the rest of the field to work your way up. Who is the rider directly in-front of you? And are they likely to start quick or are you going to be tripping over them within the first few meters. Don’t be shy! Cyclo-cross is quite different to road riding where the sprinting is done at the very start of the race and not at the end!
The hardest thing then is to try and maintains speed and power for some time after the initial sprint. Interval based sessions such as 30 seconds on 30 seconds off repeated over 5 minutes is a good session to use to improve this top end power and speed.
Don’t forget to try your starts off road and also incorporate hills in to the session in case you have a hill start. You never know what to expect at a cross race!
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Image Source: © Matthew Lasala/Cyclocross Magazine