How I got into cyclocross – Rachel Connerney

The sun sets at York National Trophy

For me, cyclocross started as a way to keep fit in the off-season for Time Trialling and road racing – I had no idea of the journey it would take me on!

My first race was a baptism of fire, I’d done no cyclocross specific training, no skills practice, I just jumped in with both feet and went for it. The first practice lap I remember saying; ‘I have no idea how I’m going to ride this’! But I did and each lap I worked on improving small bits of the course and developed my motto of “what’s next, how can I do it better?”

I love the personal challenge that cyclocross presents, the racing is almost secondary, it’s about how well you can ride the obstacles on the course, being consistent and eliminating errors as much as speed and strength on the bike. 

Text Box: “Keep it smooth.
Keep it upright.
Keep pressing the pedals”
- Katie Compton

In my first season the courses often phased me, and I spent a lot of time stressing that I wasn’t technically good enough. But as with all things, you get better by keeping going. There definitely came a time when practice laps became stress free, and more about working out the quickest line rather than just making it through a particular section. Don’t get me wrong, I still get to some National Trophy courses and feel like a rookie again!In my first season the courses often phased me, and I spent a lot of time stressing that I wasn’t technically good enough. But as with all things, you get better by keeping going. There definitely came a time when practice laps became stress free, and more about working out the quickest line rather than just making it through a particular section. Don’t get me wrong, I still get to some National Trophy courses and feel like a rookie again!

I know the mud puts a lot of people off from cyclocross, but it’s so much fun once you get to grips with it! There will always be days in winter where the weather stops you from training outdoors, but cyclocross gives you the impetuous to get out there and improve your skills and fitness! Plus, you don’t notice the bad weather once your racing.

I knew I was hooked by cyclocross when I started incorporating running into my training. I was initially dead set against any training off the bike! But I can still remember after a particularly muddy race, coming home and announcing ‘I need to start running’! As cyclists we don’t do enough weight bearing exercise, so running not only helps your cyclocross racing but your health in general. 

If your summer goals are to be stronger, quicker and just better bike rider, there is no better place to start than with cyclocross. 

Tips for becoming a better cyclocross rider

Steps are a great technique to
practice before race day

Practice those skills

Make a small course for yourself with a few obstacles and tight corners. Then go full gas round for 3-5 minutes. Recover and go again. I would to do this 4-5 times and finish with some easy trail riding home. 

This is one of my favourite training sessions, and super easy to tailor depending on how you feel that day. It’s also a great idea to make it specific to the next race you’re doing, if there’s a particularly difficult bank or set of corners, incorporating it into this session works well.

As cyclists we generally think that anything involves running is bad for us! But a bit of running practice is essential to not only being a good cross racer but a healthy human being.

A cold day in Yorkshire
for running practice

Make sure to start it slow, there’s no need to be running miles and miles. Build it up slowly to avoid be too sore to walk let alone ride a bike! 

Another good tip is to keep it specific. There’s no need to be able to pound the miles on the road. Try finding some trails to run on, with maybe some steep climbs and banks to incorporate. Being able to be smooth on an off the bike will certainly pay dividends in the race. If running isn’t for you, start with a off road climb that’s too steep to ride, and practice dismounting and sprinting to the top with your bike on your shoulder. A few reps of these a week will certainly get those muscles working!

Make friends with the Gym

Having a strong core is essential for cross racing. It doesn’t have to be the most complex programme but you will most definitely reap the rewards not only during the cross season but as a healthy human too! The gym can be an intimidating place, but a lot of the work can be done at home. I find a reasonable weight kettlebell is one of my most used items. Body weight exercises are a great place to start, try planks and variants of that such as side planks. Cyclocross is a full body workout and it’s a good thought to be prepared.