Analyzing Cyclocross Demands

  • By Tim Cusick
  • 07 Sep, 2017
two cyclocross cyclists riding in a race

Let’s face it: cyclocross hurts! Not only does it require strong mental and physical toughness, it also requires a rider to be able to implement both skills and tactics while going full gas. This means we need some highly specific training with lots of time spent focused in the high intensity range.

As with any cycling discipline, historical and current data go a long way to guiding your training strategy, implementation, and tracking, and this will improve your results. But with such an intense discipline, you also need a very specific approach to training with data.

Understand the Cyclocross Hour

A lot of riders compare a cyclocross race to a 40km time trial or a criterium because of its similar duration. This is a good starting point, but while there are lot of similarities, there are also some key differences. Let’s compare these hour events.

TT crit cx cyclocross comparison of event demands

All three of these events typically result in average heart rate and power at threshold, but how that power is achieved is significantly different for each event. The Variability Index® (VI) of the crit and cyclocross race is much higher than the time trial due to the variable nature of the power required. 

When comparing cyclocross to the crit, the demands are similar but different; the VI is generally higher in cyclocross than in the crit because it is driven by longer periods of time over functional threshold power (FTP). The VI “pulse” compares how the VI is created. Cyclocross tends to generate longer but not quite as intense surges over FTP when compared to a crit (extended vs. extensive), which requires some specific training.

The Demands of the Event and the Ability of the Rider

This is key starting point in preparing properly for any type of racing. In order to identify training needs, we have to spend some time analyzing the demands of the event and the ability of the rider. A lot of riders don’t think this is necessary for cyclocross, but it’s actually extra important due to the short season and low training hours that most of us typically dedicate to training.

Let’s review the general fitness demands of the event. Cyclocross is a shorter, more intense season typically focused on high-intensity, low-duration training sessions. This means that it’s very important to have a good understanding of the general demands of the event as a starting point for designing training plans. For me, this general focus is divided into four areas of focus: Primary, Secondary, Supportive, and Less Effective, as demonstrated below:

cyclocross cx demands of event

General Demands

  • High functional reserve capacity (FRC) is a key to success. FRC is a model-driven metric in WKO4 that allows us to track our anaerobic work capacity development. In cyclocross, focusing on your functional threshold power level (FRC/FTP) gives you the best bang for your buck. FRC is part of the new Power-Duration Curve and iLevels training levels system developed by Dr. Andy Coggan and found in WKO4; it’s similar to the classic VO2max training level but more specific to the individual.
  • Functional threshold power (FTP) is also crucial to success in cyclocross, but it’s often underrepresented in cyclocross training in the name of doing a lot of high-intensity intervals. Increasing your FTP in conjunction with FRC will significantly improve your results.
  • Building muscular endurance and fatigue resistance is crucial to cyclocross success. Think about the typical race: the lead pack starts together, and eventually more and more riders drop off the pace. The ability to maintain power output for the full length of the race will be a difference maker for you. A related, secondary factor is low-cadence, high-force pedaling (Quadrant 2); the pedaling style of cyclocross is different from that of a crit or TT because the terrain and traction often force lower cadence and higher force demands. This needs to be trained.

Measuring the specific demands of your events

Once we understand the general focus, let’s use our data to get more specific. Take a look at the chart below of a cyclocross race. This rider is in high intensity mode (above 105% of FTP) over 32% of the time, while spending a whopping 42% in low intensity mode (below 65% of FTP). This gives us insight into the specific demands being placed on this rider to compete. Reviewing a series of historical races will help you develop a pattern or an average.

cyclocross CX race review chart in WKO4

This type of analysis gives us insight into the demand that the typical race places on a rider. If your races are typically 45 minutes long and you spend 33% of the race in high-intensity mode, you need to target your training to handle at least 15 minutes of hard anaerobic work. This is a typical average, but if you have historical power files for races, I recommend that you complete the same type of analysis on each event to determine your specific needs. 

We can use power files from previous events to determine the specific intensity demands for cyclocross events. The distribution shown here is reasonably typical. Understanding specific demands of your events should be a significant part of your training strategy.

Ability of the rider

When you design your training strategy, it’s important to understand the ability of the rider and the individual strengths and limiters. When I do a quick initial review of such abilities, I highlight areas based on the event’s demands. As stated above, FRC and FTP are important to success, so I focus on these areas, as well as five-minute and forty-minute power. Take a look at the summary report below; it focuses on the rider’s model-derived VO2max, FRC, and mFTP, and it provides some insight into his fatigue resistance.

CX athlete profile chart in WKO4 cyclocross

What does this chart tell me? Area 1 gives me insights into the key areas of review. At the top left, we can see the athlete metrics, including FRC and mFTP, and in the top right we get a deep look at model-derived VO2max and muscle fiber type. In the lower area, there is a unique way of analyzing fatigue resistance. I chose the relationship between five and forty minutes, but this can be customized to your needs (some might choose sixty minutes). This analytic chart simply reviews this athlete’s power against the world class profile found in TrainingPeaks, WKO+3, and WKO4, highlighting five and forty minutes.

Notice the steeper decline starting around five minutes and continuing through the hour. In the lower left and right corners are the athlete’s specific power numbers and % below world class. At five minutes this athlete is only 3.1% off from world class numbers, but it drops off significantly by forty minutes, coming in at almost 27% below world class. This combination of numbers gives some amazing insight into the training needs of this athlete. The athlete demonstrates high VO2max and five-minute power (strengths) and low fatigue resistance and lower than expected mFTP (limiters). Significant work should be done focusing on fatigue resistance and raising mFTP before focusing on just high intensity training.

This gives us some immediate insight into the training strategy and basis for tracking throughout the cyclocross season. Once we have the goals and training strategy in place, it’s time to start designing the actual training.

Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 product leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is a USAC coach with over ten years experience working with both road and mountain bike cycling professionals around the world. He is also the co-founder of Velocious Cycling . You can reach Tim for comments at

This article was originally published on .

Velocious Cycling Adventures Blog

By Tim Cusick 11 Sep, 2017

Probably the most frequently asked question we get about camp is this: should I rent a bike or bring my own? I often suggest packing and bringing your own bike for our tours, but for the Mallorca camp, I recommend that you rent a bike instead. Why? In Mallorca they’ve made it so simple and easy to rent a quality bicycle that it’s hard to find a reason not to take advantage of the process.

So how easy is it exactly? You’ll reserve your bike online in advance, and then when you check in to the hotel, you’ll be handed your bike access key. Bring it down to the bike station, and you’ll find your bike hanging on its numbered hook and ready to go. It’s that simple.

By Tim Cusick 07 Sep, 2017

Let’s face it: cyclocross hurts! Not only does it require strong mental and physical toughness, it also requires a rider to be able to implement both skills and tactics while going full gas. This means we need some highly specific training with lots of time spent focused in the high intensity range.

As with any cycling discipline, historical and current data go a long way to guiding your training strategy, implementation, and tracking, and this will improve your results. But with such an intense discipline, you also need a very specific approach to training with data.

Understand the Cyclocross Hour

A lot of riders compare a cyclocross race to a 40km time trial or a criterium because of its similar duration. This is a good starting point, but while there are lot of similarities, there are also some key differences. Let’s compare these hour events.

By Tim Cusick 03 Aug, 2017

It’s hot, it’s humid, and you’re getting tired. Each August I am reminded that my athletes have been training for eight to nine months now. The typical annual training cycle kicks off in November, and August is usually the final, challenging phase. We all face the challenges of heat, humidity, fatigue, and lower motivation, forcing us to reach deep and finish the season with style.

The challenge? After nine months of both physical and mental focus, we’re tired. Those April feelings of “all I want to do is go fast” have turned into the August “I’m not sure I want to suffer anymore” blues. So how do we combat the combination of physical and mental fatigue? I have one word: change.

For me and my athletes, August is a great time to introduce or experiment with change in order to squeeze in some final performance while improving knowledge. As motivation and fitness begin to fade, we have an excellent opportunity to introduce some change to recharge our late season. At this point in the season, we’re probably as fit as we’re going to be, and our training focus needs to be on speed and performance. Let’s milk the last vestiges of fading fitness in the name of hitting those late-season goals or events.

Change Your Microcycle

You’ve probably been following the same micro cycle pattern for the past eight months now: Monday off, Tuesday hard, Wednesday aerobic, Thursday hard, Friday easy or off, and weekend full of racing or hard group rides. Your body has gotten comfortable with this rhythm and has actually begun to expect it. This is the first area we can introduce some change and elicit some quick results.

What to change? Try a few weeks of block training. Change the rhythm of your training; shock your body out of its norm by introducing a new training pattern. A simple version of block training can be done as three days on (harder training days) followed by two days off/easy, then four days on, then three days off. This creates a twelve-day cycle. Repeat it two times to complete the month. Sure, it might throw off your schedule and make some challenges for longer ride days not falling on the weekend, but don’t worry about it. You really don’t need longer rides this late in the season, and you’ll get more benefit from mixing things up.

By changing up your daily rhythm and requiring your body to first go hard for more days in a row and then rest for more days, you shake things up and push some new adaption by jarring your system back into response mode.

Change Your Training Tactics

Look back over your training for the last ninety days. I bet it will be more patterned than you think. In early spring we start falling into the same workouts, repeating those that best prepare us for racing or the ones that best fit within a heavy race schedule. August is a great time to change our tactics. If you’ve been focusing on threshold-style workouts, complete a full block (as outlined above) of neuromuscular (sprints) and anaerobic capacity-building workouts. If you’ve been pushing a lot of speed work and sprint stuff, go back to some sweet spot work. The goal is to change your intensity and content and shake up the system by changing the tactical focus of your training. Your body is an amazing adaptation machine; it’s used to adapting to the workouts you’ve been doing, so change it up, shock the system, and squeeze out some final improvement.

Change the Way You Race

You’ve been working on your racing strategy and performance all year. August is a great time to test something different. Try mixing it up. If you’re a sprinter, get some early breaks rolling and see if you can make them stick. If you’re a long break rider, sit in and then attack from one kilometer out. Use this time period to experiment with different race tactics while introducing new high-intensity efforts within the race process to shock your system and push some final gains.

Change Your Equipment

August can be a great time to test some changes in equipment. Have you always wondered if you’d be faster on those deep dish wheels versus your light climbers? Try it! Been exploring some minor changes in position? Give them a try and see if they can help you race (just be careful). We can often find some pretty big sales this time of year offers some pretty big sales on different equipment, which can be an excellent opportunity to expand your toy collection.

Change the Measurement

Since I’m the product development leader of WKO4, this might sound sacrilegious, but change the way you train and race with data. August is a great time to introduce some unstructured training and explore racing without data on your handlebars. Here’s a Pez confession: after fifteen-plus years of training with power, I still do not race with power on my head unit. Why not experiment with training and racing by feel?

Turn the dog days of summer into the change days of summer. It’ll refresh you, your training, and your equipment, and you just might up your final performances in the training year!

By Tim Cusick 07 Jul, 2017

Lets face it: climbing is hard! And what’s harder than climbing? Epic climbing! Let’s take as an example the Taiwan KOM Challenge, a 100-kilometer ride from sea level to over 3275 meters (that’s nearly 11,000 feet). In and of itself, the climb is challenge enough for most, but the real crusher is in the final 8 kilometers averaging nearly 11% and topping out above 27% for a short period.

Find Your Gear

With over 11,000 feet of climbing and some significant grade on hand, the first piece of advice is to get some lower gears. The ability to sit and spin is key to reducing muscular fatigue and energy for stronger climbing later in the event.

Spinning puts more strain on the aerobic system, so expect your heart rate to be a tad higher, but it puts less stress on your muscular system, which helps you manage your fatigue better. I would, however, recommend that you avoid over-spinning (using a gear so easy to pedal that you hit very high cadences) as a way of dealing with the elevation gain. There are enough gearing options available to us that we can get some amazingly low gear ratios, but it’s possible to go too low. This is a timed event, after all, and doing well means going faster, not just spinning faster.

My advice to clients doing timed ultra-climb events is to test gears well in advance and find a gear that allows a high cadence target (70-80 rpm) at a tempo climbing pace; I call this our tempo gear. Once this gear is established, we set up the bike with one or two gears easier to pedal to allow for cadence of 75-90 rpm on similar climbs; I call this our spinning gear. We start all early climbing in our spinning gear to help reduce the load on the muscles early, but at some point, to enhance time, you do need to use the tempo gear and push more power.

Find Your Rhythm

Ultra climbing success has a lot to do with your ability to find your climbing rhythm. We frequently hear this term but rarely see it defined; I define climbing rhythm as the ability to synchronize your power output, cadence, and breathing into a coordinated pace or rhythm. Most people seem to think only about the cadence; here’s how you balance all three.

Power: If you have a power meter, you can put an actual number to the effort, but in this case, I simply mean how hard you’re climbing. The rhythm might be different during longer climbs to deal with changes in grade, so the effort required drives the target.

Cadence: Cadence gets matched to power/effort. For ultra events I tell all my clients to put cadence on their device screen in big, bold numbers. Once you’re going at the right power, match a cadence you previously tested in your gearing tests and stay there as best you can.

Breathing: This is the part of the equation most often neglected. As you climb and fall into your rhythm, make sure your breathing does the same. Take deep breaths to get the most oxygen possible and exhale deeply to empty your lungs. I recommend inhaling through the nose when possible and use this phrase to help my clients remember it: smell the roses, blow out the candle. A forceful nose inhale opens up the lungs and diaphragm, and a more explosive exhale through the mouth empties the lungs effectively. Thinking about your breathing in your training rides will help you develop a habit of deep breathing before you have to deep breathe to keep enough oxygen flowing in your system. This takes some mental focus, but it can really help.

Find Your Stance

Should you stand or sit more? I get this question a lot. Generally, the larger you are, the more you should sit and spin instead of stand; the more weight you need to support in standing, the higher the stress on the aerobic and cardiovascular systems. However, standing does not necessarily create a decrease in efficiency, just some different demands.

I believe it’s very important to stand sometimes, regardless of size, because it engages different muscles, changes some blood flow, and gives the sit bones a little break. I recommend my clients take a varied approach toward seating and standing, but I want it to be part of the climbing rhythm, so we develop a pattern of sitting and standing. For example, we might sit for two minutes, stand and climb for twenty to thirty seconds, then sit again for two minutes. Developing a practiced rhythm of sitting and standing helps you get the most from each.

One note: when standing, always shift into one harder gear (assuming the grade stays the same). The standing effort will always increase aerobic stress and heart rate, and you can justify the cost by using the weight to push a slightly bigger gear to get a tad more speed.

Find Your “I Won't Quit” Voice

At the end of the day, the battle of ultra climbing is won in the mind based on your ability to control (or at least ignore) that little voice in your head that eventually starts whispering, “This hurts, go slower, please stop, we are done, ouch…” All endurance athletes spend a lot of time hearing this voice, but the difference is whether or not you listen to it.

There’s a great video rolling around the Internet about a Navy study on this inner voice. According to the video, when the average person's mind says, “You’re done,” the body is actually only 40% done. I don’t usually quote Internet “studies” designed to be more motivational than scientific, but this message resonates with me. As a long-time coach, I’ve seen the mentally tougher athletes win out time and time again. I’ve also seen athletes decide to believe in themselves and, as a result, go way beyond what they thought they were capable of.

The negative whispers aren’t likely to stop. Ever. But you can fight them with a strong positive message. I tell my clients to find a message that inspires them and keep it in their mind. It can be a short mantra that represents your goal for the event, something that inspires you to overcome, or something that simply motivates you. Regardless what it is, use it every time your body says, “I’m ready to quit now.” Counter the inner negative voice with a positive message and a desire to achieve. And remember: you are only 40% done!


The ability to achieve ultra climbing challenges boils down to training and desire. A well-prepared athlete equipped with the right equipment, tools, and mindset can thrive and end up with a very rewarding experience.

By Tim Cusick 22 Sep, 2016
Fall is an especially wonderful time for cycling as we ride through its colorful foliage and under its clear blue skies. But along with the clear skies come chilly temperatures. After a summer of easy choices (a jersey and shirt), we’re back to the thirty-minute dilemma of what to wear on our long Saturday rides. It’s tough enough just to find those lost layers after months of neglect, not to mention making sure we own the right pieces for the different temperatures.

We all know that when we’re cycling (or doing hard exercise of any kind) in chilly weather, the first rule of thumb is to rule out any clothing made of cotton. Cotton retains moisture (perspiration) and can leave us feeling wet, clammy, and chilled. For comfort on the bike, choose moisture-wicking layers made of synthetics or merino wool. These fabrics dry much faster than cotton and help transport perspiration away from our skin.

I personally have over thirty years of high-mileage cycling experience, and you’d think dressing for a cycling outing would be easy for me by now, right? Not so much. Part of the problem is that I have too many choices (see below), and I’ve learned I can mix and match the pieces to fit all types of riding and all types of weather. I find it helps to take mental notes on each daily ride or even write down my clothing combos and the approximate temperatures so that I can plan for future rides.

Here are my favorite cool-weather clothing tips. Everyone has different comfort levels and certainly different warming needs, so these are my personal choices and merely guidelines.  
By Tim Cusick 18 Aug, 2016

We are always striving to reach higher levels of cycling performance than we’ve ever achieved before. And we all know this is easier said than done. How can we follow through on this goal? The key is to realize and accept that you’ll need to make some sacrifice and some change. If you're already training smart (or at least reasonably so), you’re ready for three areas of change that will help you smash your fitness and performance plateau.

Increase volume more than 20%

This is the hardest thing for most of us to accomplish because life tends to limit our time to train, but the investment will yield high returns. The key is to increase the volume by enough to really make a difference, and 20% is a great target. It sounds like a lot of time (and it is), but let’s break it down a little. A typical recreational rider, gran fondo participant, or category racer trains about 10-12 hours a week, which means that a 20% increase for these riders means training for roughly 12-14.5 hours a week. Most of us can actually find an extra 2-2.5 hours if we really want to.

It’s important to use the time well. I don’t recommend adding 15 minutes to every workout; to maximize your gains, add an hour to just two workouts each week.

Here are a few tips for making it count:

  • Ride to your group ride. I know, this means you might be a little more tired for the ride itself, but leaving the house early and riding down is a great way to pick up time, because most of us can get up a little earlier. If you don’t have the time to ride home afterward, make a deal with someone to drive you home. This is an easy way to add an hour of cycling time each week.
  • Pull a double. Pick one day a week to ride the trainer early in the morning for an hour, then complete your regular workout later in the day. This is another way to gain time simply by getting up a little earlier.

Increase time at threshold (or just below) by 25%

Threshold power is the single biggest contributor to cycling performance success. Don’t get me wrong; you still need to be able to power climb and surge and sprint to the finish, but building your threshold will give you the biggest possible bang for your buck. It’s also a great focus for the winter season.

Again, lets break down the numbers. Most analytical software programs can show “time in zone” analysis for power or heart rate. Take a look at your time in the zones. If you’re an average recreational cyclist, I bet it’ll be in the 10% range (if you group ride a lot, it may be a tad higher). Using the 10-12-hour total average, you’re probably working in your threshold zone about 1-1.5 hours a week. To increase that percentage by 25%, you’ll need to move your time in that zone up to 1.25-2 hours.

To get the best results, this extra time at threshold needs to be consecutive (accomplished as extended intervals). Here are some ways to get there:

  • Add more sweet spot training (SST) in December, January, and possibly February. Sweet spot means extended intervals ranging from 15-60 minutes of riding at about 90% of your threshold (88-93%, to be specific). SST gives us most of the benefits of pure threshold work with a lot less fatigue, so we can do more in a week or month. The classic target is 2 x 20-minute intervals, but you can expand that to be 3 x 15 minutes, 2 x 25 minutes, and 4 x 15 minutes (or 3 x 20 minutes). An hour of SST in a single workout is a good goal for most recreational cyclists, and you can complete up to four of this type of workouts each week.
  • Plan your progressive workouts. It surprises me how many people do not have a training plan. Ad hoc training is fine if you’re just getting in some exercise, but if you really want to improve your cycling performance, you’ll need to make your workouts progressively harder; this will keep your body overreaching and adapting. Plan your weekly SST load to give yourself a target.
  • Progress to threshold work. In your mid to late base phase, start building your time at true threshold (95-105% of your tested threshold). And then start the process over!

Take a look at the chart below as an example of increasing time in SST zones. This athlete made a significant increase, resulting in a 30-watt improvement in threshold from the same period the year before.

By Tim Cusick 02 Aug, 2016
Sprinting is a primary component of cycling for racers and recreational riders alike, but it’s often neglected in training programs. Sprinting is about generating high watts, but we have to remember that a watt is defined as how fast you pedal multiplied by how hard you pedal, so don’t start with the assumption that it’s all about strength and mashing pedals.

To better understand sprinting, lets define the three components of success: acceleration, top end speed, and fatigue resistance.

Acceleration is the ability to increase speed rapidly. Sprinters with great acceleration create immediate gaps and leave other riders fighting to get on the wheel. In my experience, acceleration is driven more by cadence than pure power. Riders with smart gear selection and the ability to spin high-cadence sprints will always out-accelerate riders who love big-gear, heavy-power sprint accelerations. Acceleration rates measured in WKO4 give us insight into the “snappyness” of a rider. 

Top end speed is exactly what it sounds like: how fast can you go in an all-out sprint. Top end sprinting is all about generating speed and is a combination of form, cadence, strength, and positioning (aerodynamics). Power clearly plays a role here, but tracking sprint speed gives us insight into the ability to translate watts into speed through quality of form and aerodynamics.

Fatigue resistance is often neglected in sprinting but is very important. Simply put, fatigue resistance is the ability to resist a decline in power over time when sprinting compared to your Pmax (max power output for at least one revolution of the crank). The ability to measure decline in power vs. Pmax gives us insight and diagnosis to possible developmental needs in sprinting.

Sprinter Types

I get a lot of questions about what is normal and what is average in cycling. I use data to track performance of an athlete over time and measure the dose and response of training. WKO4 gives me all the information I need to diagnose an athlete, prescribe workouts to improve select components of speed, and track results. WKO4 also helps athletes understand themselves and use the data provided for race and performance success.

Using top speed as a measurement, I divide sprinters into three groups and make certain sprint recommendations.

High Acceleration and Low Fatigue Resistance
These are the sprinters who can put three bike lengths on you before you know it but cannot sustain the long sprint. This type of sprinter needs to be skilled at positioning in the finishing setup, finding the right lead out, and using it to wait to the last second possible to complete the final sprint. I often recommend that this sprinter be more of a freelancer and focus on racing the other racers, targeting key competitors and looking to pass them late in the sprint. Starting the sprint too early is death to this type of sprinter, as they open a gap, get chased, and end up passed by more fatigue-resistant riders.

Low Acceleration/High Fatigue Resistance
This is the classic long sprinter. The long sprinter wants things fast and hard over the last two kilometers to soften the peloton so he can prepare his move. For this type of sprinter, I often recommend having a marked sprint point (not as much freelance) on the course that triggers the sprint. This will help the long sprinter focus on the pre-setup lead-in instead of waiting too long to start his move.

High Acceleration/High Fatigue Resistance
This is a rare combination, but it obviously opens up lots of options on how to win. For this type of sprinter, the strategy becomes very specific to the race and to the competitors.

So how can you build your cycling sprint speed?

Now that we understand and see some measurements of the three components of speed and how they affect racing and performance, the final question to be answered is how do we improve our speed? As with any training, the answer is specificity! In the early winter phase, I typically take a “train your weakness, race your strength” approach, but as we get into the season, I eventually focus on strengths.

• During this time of year, add one sprint workout a week (possibly two, depending on overall training volume).
• Complete the sprint workout after a rest day. You want to be as fresh as possible.
• Rest more during sprint workouts. I see lots of sprint workouts with rest intervals too short for muscular recovery. I know your heart rate returns to normal quickly, but give your muscles time to fully recover so you can do each interval 100%.
• Focus on form in each workout. Improving your form will make your top end speed higher by better utilizing the power you put out.
• An advanced tip: learn to be more aerodynamic in your sprinting. As part of your form work, learn to sprint deep in your drops and low over your top tube.

So what type of workout should you do? Here’s a good sprint workout focused on building all three components of speed.

Warm-Up : Warm up for 10-20 minutes with some 1-minute high-cadence, low-power efforts to open things up. Make sure you are good and warm.

Main Set : Small chain ring / high cadence sprints
• 3 x 3 50-meter sprints in small chain ring (39 x 16/17). Roll onto the sprint line around 8-10 miles per hour with a cadence of 85+ rpm. Jump as hard as you can, quickly accelerate your cadence to the max you can sustain, and hold that for the entire 50 meters. Do NOT shift. Focus on the fastest rpm you can generate (without crashing). Rest for 3-5 minutes between sprints; be very fresh for each. Soft pedal for 5–10 minutes before the next set.
• 3 x 3 100-meter sprints in large chain ring. This time roll to the sprint line in your big chain ring and smaller cassette (so maybe 53×19/20) at a speed of about 14-16 mph, again with a cadence of 85+ rpm. Jump as hard as you can and maintain the gear till you hit max cadence, then shift into one harder gear and focus on getting your cadence back up to max as quickly as possible. Hold the cadence till you hit the 100-meter mark. Soft pedal for 5-10 minutes.
• 3 x 3-minute 150-meter sprints, high-speed, big-gear version. Using a big gear set such as 53×16, roll up to the sprint line at 22-24 mph, again with cadence over 85 rpm. Jump hard, accelerate to max cadence, shift into one harder gear, get cadence high again, and then shift into one harder gear. Focus on maintaining high cadence to the finish line.

Cool-Down : Get in 15-30 minutes of easy spinning home.


There are a lot of cycling skills we should work on. But if you’re racing in organized events, or even the town line sprints, winning and bragging rights come down to the ability to sprint and finish the race. This vital skill is pretty hard to replicate indoors, but when most of us are able to get outdoors regularly, it's a great time to work on this critical skill. Even if you never race, there's a huge thrill in seeing just how fast you can make your bike fly.

Ride fast and have fun!
By Tim Cusick 26 Jul, 2016

Remember when you were young(er) and you went to practice? In team sports like basketball or football, you go to practices and spend upward of 70-80% of your time focused on improving your skills. Now you train, right? What’s the difference?

One of my observations from my years of coaching is that cyclists approach our sport in a unique way as we balance skills and fitness. Think about it. In team sports like basketball or football, you go to practices and spend upward of 70-80% of your time focused on improving your skills, with the rest of the time spent on building fitness. This is even more evident in skill sports like golf, where skill practice can claim as much as 90% of the focus.

Now think about your cycling training. How much time do you spend on improving skills? Sure, you could say racing a lot is skill building in itself, but that’s like saying Peyton Manning is a great quarterback because he plays in a lot of football games.

So how does a competitive cyclist practice? Well, I’ve been to very few towns that don’t offer Tuesday night racing, Wednesday night worlds, or Thursday night throw-down. The problem is that we tend to use these races as ways to improve our fitness instead of using them as “practice.” If you really want to improve your racing, you need to start practicing in these events and stop focusing on winning. Yes, you read that right: practice at the practice race and accept not trying to win it.

Once you’ve accept that mindset, here are two skills to practice in these races.

Staying Up Front

The Problem: Too many racers do not learn how to ride at the front of the peloton and thus spend a lot of energy and effort being in the wrong spot in the peloton.

The Drill: One of the things everyone new to racing (or looking to improve in racing) needs to learn is how to stay at the front of the peloton. This is both a skill and an art, and it can only be learned in “practice.”

The drill is simple: focus on staying within the first ten to twelve riders in the peloton. Don’t stress breaks and attacks; just totally focus on staying up front in that top-ten range. The best advice here is to pay close attention to position, as it is typically your focus that defeats you and drops you back. Don’t try to win the race; this drill is too much work for that, but it’s a skill that will serve you well once built.

Comments: I’m not saying you should always race at the front of the peloton, but you need the skill to be there when you need to be there.

70/80/90 Attack

The Problem: Too many riders execute attacks too hard and quickly find themselves alone, only to be caught in two or three minutes and then struggle to hold the group.

The Drill: This drill is focused on helping you make early, mid, and late race breaks (not necessarily the winning move). It was designed for riders who train with power, but it also translates well to perceived exertion. The goal is to learn to make moves that take a few riders with you (or drop the ones struggling) without burning up your matchbook and leaving you alone off the front. It’s simple to understand. They are laid out in specific target numbers and effort goals, you don’t need to be this exact but try to be close. Here are the steps:

1. Attack. Have a place early in the race where you plan to attack. When you get to your spot, hit it and attack! Punch it hard for 10 seconds, then settle into it and drive it at 70% of your max 1-minute power. To get away at this power, you need to select a good spot to execute.

2. Establish. Once you’ve hit it hard for the first 30 seconds as above, now settle in for 3 minutes at 80% of your max 5-minute power. Use this pace to establish the break. Some (maybe all) will jump over to you. If you can, work with a few riders, but keep this pace; don’t get sucked into going harder.

3. Stick it. Now that you’re established, settle into a pace at 90% of your max 60-minute power till you get caught. Use other riders and try to get them established at this pace. This will move you down the road at a solid pace but not at a full break pace.

Comments: This is tough to do at times, but the point is to learn to attack and run the break. Try talking to those with you and focus on executing the drill. Don’t get too wrapped up in exact numbers; the idea is to just learn to feel the process of the break. As you practice this, you’ll slowly make each step stronger as you learn the pacing and in the end it will look more like an 80/90/100% drill. Repeat this drill multiple times in a race.

Staying up front and the 70/80/90 attack are both crucial in cycling. Learning how to execute them will lead to knowing when to execute them.

By Tim Cusick 18 Jul, 2016
One of my favorite (and most frustrating) things about racing is how hard it is to win. There are few sports that rank with cycling as far as all the things that must align to capture that elusive victory. This is why it’s so crucial that when cyclists start to race, they learn how to win races.

As a professional coach I have the luxury of “replaying” hundreds of races through my client’s eyes, and I’ve learned that there are three common racing mistakes that I see repeated time and time again as riders acquire the skills to race.

Mistake #1: The Hero Move

You know this move. It’s the moment when you tear open the zippered Lycra of your cycling jersey to reveal the large capital yellow “S” on your chest and unfurl your streaming red cape, attacking and dropping your competition from 50k out, then effortlessly holding them off to the finish.

The hero move often looks different in reality, though: more like throwing down a 1,000-watt attack, opening a gap, holding it for 3-5 minutes, then getting caught by the pack and hopefully hanging on or even getting spit out the back. In reality the hero move is often a ticket to disaster, typically ensuring a pack finish at best.

Some Suggestions

Bike racing is all about understanding the odds. Because of all the factors that have to go right in order to win, you have to learn patience and begin to think about the odds. So here’s the “Rule of 3” that I teach my clients as they learn to race:

 Step 1: Narrow the odds
 Step 2: Narrow the odds
 Step 3: Win the race

Learn to think through the race to go for the win. Your first two moves (I use two as an example, though it might be one or five) as ways to improve your odds of winning. How can you winnow down the pack? Get rid of the riders on the edge? Shell your key competitor? This is accomplished by smaller moves, often in conjunction with other riders. How can your moves narrow the odds? Here are some ideas:

1. Don’t go it alone! In a pack of fifty riders, early moves should focus on splitting the pack in half or at least reducing the counts some. How can you do this?

 a. To narrow the odds, don’t attack so hard that other riders aren’t willing to follow (or believe you’ll just blow up the road). Attack hard, but bring a bunch.
 b. How to bring others? There’s a simple answer that many racers don’t think of. Try telling others before you attack. Yep, give away your super-secret strategy (which most other racers are thinking about themselves) and tell a small group of select riders that you think might have the horsepower to attack, then see if they’ll work with you for a while to at least drop a percentage of the pack.

2. Once you’ve dropped off a chunk of the pack, focus on ways to set up the next separation. Now it’s time to start thinking about how you can win the race; then do something to set it up. Are you planning on the sprint finish? Are you a killer TT artist looking for the longer break? Your second phase of narrowing the odds needs to begin setting up your winning move.

3. Your winning move is your strength (or at least we plan for it to be). Bike racing often forces you to improvise as you go, but focus on setting up final moves that allow to implement your strength as the move.

Mistake #2: Over-focusing on the course and not the other racers

In any mass start event, you’re affected by the terrain, but you race other racers. Too many people focus mostly on the course and its terrain and layout and forget to pay attention to other riders.

Some Suggestions

Observe others on the course and on terrain to understand how they ride, how tired they are, how they can beat you, and how you can beat them. Here are a few tricks:

1. Look around on short climbs later in the race. Many riders really show fatigue on short climbs later in races. Look to see who is really suffering and who is not. Use this knowledge to improve your odds. If you’re strong but a good percentage of the group is suffering, talk to some of the other riders going well and plan a strong push on the next riser to get rid of those suffering.

2. Look at the riders and their bikes. How do they look? Are their water bottles full? Have they been drinking and eating?

Mistake #3: Attacking When Things Are Easy

This one might be well known, but I cannot tell you the number of times I have reviewed files from smart racers who get impatient and attack when things are easy and cruising along. The reality is that if things are just cruising down the road, everyone is ready to attack. Most have caught their breath and will be quick to respond and chase.

Some Suggestions

Learn to attack when things are hard. This is a big key to success. Yes, it hurts. Suck it up, buttercup. This is bike racing. If you want to win, it will hurt.

When things are going hard and you attack or make a move, many riders will sit back hoping others will do the work to chase you as they do an internal gut-check on just how demoralizing that flyer you just took was. This doesn’t mean that catching everyone sitting up for a second and throwing down a little surprise can’t work, but it’s much better to hit them when it hurts.


There are plenty of ways to use these tips, and there are more mistakes to be made, but hopefully this provides a little food for though. The most important thing is, of course, to train well in order to be fit enough to handle the demands of the race event and implement your strategy to win.
Share by: