The Cyclocross “Off” Season

Here in So-Cal, our first CX race of the season is September 27. The last race one is January 17.

That means that all the cyclocross racing for the year is crammed into three and a half months.

For comparison, the first criterium race of the season was January 11 and the last one is going to be on October 11. (To people living in places with four seasons, my apologies. We do have year-round racing. But then again, we also have a drought….)

So for the dedicated cyclocross racer, what do you do during the spring and summer. When it comes to “off-season” cyclocross riders, I find there are three basic types.

You have the professional cyclocross racer who focuses their entire season into those three and a half months. They might do some competitive events during the spring and summer but nothing too serious. Everything is geared towards cyclocross exclusively. While others are racing their road or mountain bikes, they’re laying down base miles.

Then there’s the cyclocross racer who also focuses exclusively on the fall and winter months. But instead of laying down base miles they are focusing on perfecting their beer drinking technique. When cross season is about a week away, they dust off their CX bikes and start riding again.

Finally there’s the rest of us who fall somewhere in between. We like cyclocross but we also like riding our bikes year round too. Riding bikes only 112 days out of the year isn’t enough.


Criterium racing is great for honing in your line selection skills as well as your cornering technique. Picture is from this year’s Dana Point Grand Prix, turn 1. Staying low, having good weight distribution, looking where you want to go. Hey, those are all good cyclocross techniques!

For those riders wanting to keep their fitness throughout the year, here are five tips for staying active during the cyclocross off-season.

1. For time-crunched, real-world cyclists with families and careers, you can’t afford to lose fitness. It’s so hard to build it up when you only have a few hours a week to train. So you really have to focus on having some baseline fitness all year round. Staying active in some capacity is really key.

2. In line with being consistently active is the concept that it’s easier to maintain motivation when you have specific goals for yourself. Maybe you want to do a triathlon with your friends and family. Maybe there’s a local criterium or XC mountain bike series that you want to do well in. Perhaps you want an upgrade on your USAC license. Find specific goals to work towards during the spring & summer.

3. Don’t neglect working on your core and upper body. This one is the hardest for me because with limited time, I always want to ride when I get the chance. But cyclocross really does involve your entire body and for once, I’d like to finish a season without the dreaded condition known as cross back.

4. Pick events that are fun for you. Don’t underestimate the importance of the fun-factor. Cyclocross already has fun built into it, which is my totally biased opinion. So for off-season racing, do what’s fun for you because ANY cycling discipline will have some overlap with cyclocross and can help you in some way. Love high-speeds and sprinting? Then race criteriums. The punchy efforts and close quarters will help you for cross. Love epic riding, adventure, and ripping descents? Then race enduro. The emphasis on bike-driving, being smooth over technical terrain, and picking fast lines will definitely help in cross. Love being fast up AND down the hill? Race cross-country. The events are slightly longer then CX so you’ll have good endurance. Being fast over a variety of surfaces forces you to focus on proper body positioning and maintaining traction which really helps with cyclocross.

5. Finally, use your summertime discipline of choice to guide the start of your cyclocross training. If you’ve been doing crits all summer then you probably have a good amount of top-end speed and repeatable hard efforts. So start focusing on riding technical terrain. Get out on the trails with your bike. If you’ve been racing mountain bikes these last few months then you need to add in the high speed intensity and repeats. Start doing Tabata intervals and practicing your race starts.

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Here are some of the differences but also some of the key overlapping features of CX vs criterium racing. Nothing like a Venn diagram to illustrate things!

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The same goes for overlapping skills with cyclocross and MTB, though this would probably be more specific for XC and Enduro.

I hope those tips help you as you transition into cyclocross season. Now that I think about it, I probably should have posted this at the END of cyclocross season, not the beginning! Oh well. Thanks for reading and have fun this season.

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Check out these power files from a criterium race and from a cyclocross race. Can you tell which is which? If you can’t, it’s because the power demands of crits and cross are remarkably similar. By the way, the top file is the CX one. Some differences are seeing the larger differences in speed with the CX file and the sprint at the END for the crit race.