Cyclocross Training for The Time-Crunched Cyclist

Of all the disciplines within cycling, cyclocross is exceptionally well suited to Time-Crunched Cyclists. The events are intense but short, and the season is relatively short as well. This means a Time-Crunched Cyclist can use the cyclocross training plan and principles described in “The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 3rd Edition” to create race-winning fitness for the upcoming ‘cross season!

Time-Crunched Cyclist’s Cyclocross Training Plan

The core of the Time-Crunched Cyclist’s Cyclocross Program are the two weekday interval sessions. These workouts are very difficult, ramping up quickly into short, maximal VO2 efforts. There’s not a lot of focus on base aerobic conditioning because you’re carrying plenty of that into ‘cross season from your summer of road and/or mountain bike racing. Plus, high-intensity training efforts have been shown to improve performance for all energy systems (aerobic, lactate threshold, and VO2 max), so they’re the best choice for when you don’t have a lot of time to ride.

In addition to intensity, you’ll also notice workouts in the program that challenge you to accelerate and surge repeatedly. During OverUnder intervals, you’ll alternate between your lactate threshold power and 1-minute surges well above threshold. These surges generate a lot of lactate, and the adaptation you’re after is an increased ability to maintain high power outputs while your muscles are working hard to reintegrate that lactate into normal aerobic metabolism and break it down to usable fuel.

While you’re on the TCC Cyclocross Plan, I’d encourage you to start jumping into races as early as Week 4. ‘Cross season is short, so there’s not really any point in skipping races. And if you can race both days of the weekend, go for it. Going for an additional 2 hour road ride on Sunday would still be a good idea in that case.

View “The Time-Crunched Cyclist Cyclocross Training Plan
Download CTS Workout Descriptions and Field Test Instructions

Cyclocross Workout: Threshold Ladders

There’s an additional cyclocross workout that’s not included in the Time-Crunched Cyclist’s Cyclocross Plan, but it one that CTS Coaches use with our top cyclocross athletes. Threshold Ladders take the lactate-processing goal of OverUnders up a notch. Here’s how they work:

The basic ThresholdLadder interval is 9 minutes long and can be done on your road bike or cross bike, outside or on a trainer. It starts with a one-minute maximum-intensity effort; accelerate quickly over 10-15 seconds and then try to stay at the highest power output you can achieve until the end of the minute. At the one-minute mark, drop your intensity to 10-15% above your lactate threshold power output. If you’re not using a power meter, aim for your road time trial heart rate or your maximum sustainable climbing heart rate. Stay at this intensity level for 3 minutes. When you hit the 4-minute mark drop your intensity level again, this time to your lactate threshold power output, and stay at this intensity for 5 minutes to close out the interval. Spin easy for 5 minutes between intervals.

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Beginners should complete three intervals, intermediate (Cat 3 and Masters racers) should complete 4 intervals, and advanced racers (Cat 1-2 & elite Masters racers) should be able to complete 5 intervals. A longer version of this interval increases the individual segments from 1/3/5 minutes to 2/4/6 minutes to create a 12-minute total effort.

By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach, co-author “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

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Comments 5

  1. Pingback: How to start cyclocross? - What Type Degree

  2. Pingback: NCCX is here! |

  3. On the training schedule you list 30-45 minutes “cyclocross practice”. Does that mean skills practice (dismounting, mounting, etc) at an easy pace or a simulated race ?

  4. Hi folks, I’ve got the CTS book and have used the CX training plan this year for my first season of ‘cross. In fairness I didn’t start it until two weeks into the season! It’s been great though and I’ve definitely improved as the season has progressed. Question is since I’ll no doubt use again next season but before the season starts, what do I do when I’ve finished the plan?


    1. My suggestion would be to take a week recovery (as in week 5 but with one less interval day) and then do the program again if you still have races coming up. Keep building your fitness.

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