Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Katie Compton….  These names conjure images of the gods of the barriers floating with grace through muddy run-ups… dismounting with precision into a full-on sprint over the obstacles in front of them in a lung-searing, leg burning hour of pain.  Sound like fun?  It surely is!


So this begs the question, why should I try cyclocross?   I’m perfectly content sitting here on my trainer in my heated house, or running on the treadmill at the gym; why would I want to go outside and play in the mud?  Here are a few reasons:


  • improved handling skills
  • high workout intensity in a short amount of time
  • change of workout routine from the ordinary
  • weight bearing exercise
  • great opportunity for socialization



As a staunch track racer for more than half of my life, I really never gave cyclocross a second thought until the point in my life where my results began to significantly improve, putting me in the higher categories.  I needed to find a way to continue to improve my level of fitness over the winter to be competitive with my pro counterparts come spring.  Cross was the solution to the dilemma.


Among the many reasons for racing cross (and I must admit- I was never a contender for the win) I found it to be an amazing way to improve my bike handling skills and balance.  There’s nothing like slipping and sliding through the mud on relatively small diameter tires to teach you how to stay upright!  Combine this with 40 or 50 other guys all attempting to do the same thing, and you’ve got some quality comedy for those standing on the sidelines!   And if you’re a mountain bike racer, you’re not too far from home to begin with.  Your acquired skills on the mountain bike will compliment your cross racing, and vice versa.  It’s simply an extension of something you’re used to doing all the time.


Another vital reason for racing cross is the opportunity for a high quality, high intensity workout in a short amount of time.  From the word “go”, it’s a full tilt race to get the holeshot, and then an hour’s worth of near maximal effort to maintain that lead.  More times than not, the leaders quickly separate themselves from the rest of the pack and “work together” to maintain that lead.  In actuality, those leaders are looking for any opportunity to exploit a weakness of their counterparts, whether it in the dismount, the barriers, or any running section.  Therefore, the pace is high, reactions are quick, and when you’re finished, you’ve done the equivalent work of a 40k time trial, or more.  The cool thing about cross, though, is that there’s so much to focus on, you really don’t have time to think about how much you’re hurting!


In addition to improved bike handling skills and the intensity, cyclocross provides the athlete with a break from the tedium of sitting on the trainer or running on the treadmill for hours on end.  It’s a tremendous opportunity to be outside doing what we all love- competing.  It’s a far cry from watching that Tour or Ironman video for the hundredth time, and a time to sharpen skills, test the boundaries, and discover what we’re really made of.  It’s often through an anaerobic haze that this becomes most evident.


Because of the weight bearing nature of cyclocross (due to the running), some thought must be given to training before jumping into your first race.  A solid two to three weeks of consistent running 2-3 times a week should take place prior to racing in your first event.  By doing this, you’ll allow your body some time to adapt to the nature of the sport.  Trail running is ideal, as it very closely simulates the type of terrain you’ll encounter in any race. If you’re a triathlete, you’re already ahead of the game on this end, and your running fitness will serve you well. Plus, if you take some time to practice your dismounts and barriers, you’ll find the race situation a little more forgiving than if you had just jumped in with no practice.


Probably the best reason for racing cross, besides the obvious physical gains, is the camaraderie and socialization before, and especially after an event.  Where else, besides a cross race, is there an opportunity to actually race through the beer tent?  Where else besides cross do you have thousands of screaming fans with cowbells in your face at every turn?  Hey, at the very least, if you’ve put your time in on the course, you can feel good about just cruising back through the beer tent after your last lap to enjoy the just rewards of a virtuous race!!  Cheers!!

Reach out to Dave to learn more about Cyclocross at and on Instagram @coachdavemac88