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Winning Starts in Cyclocross

The start of a cyclocross race can be vital to setting yourself up for a good race. A good start won’t win the race, but a bad one can lose the race. We’re going to cover the three major aspects of having a good launch from the line.

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Choose Your Gearing Wisely

Choosing the proper gear on the start line is the most important aspect of a good start. Having too hard of a gear selected ends with you standing still while everyone flies past. Selecting too easy of gear, however, will end in almost the same outcome. The only saving grace is it’s easy to quickly shift to a harder gear to minimize your losses. Everyone is different, and the ideal gearing may not be the same for any one person. The only way to find what works best is to go out and practice jumping off the line, starting in various gears until it’s just right. Remember to take into account terrain. Starting off-road will result in an easier gear choice than a race with a paved start line. Poor weather conditions will also play a role, so don’t limit start practices to only sunny days. With time, finding the perfect gear won’t take any thought at all.

Find How You Like to Sit on Your Bike and Stick With it!

Figuring out how you want your start position to be isn’t as important as the other two main points of a cyclocross start, but it’s worth mentioning. You will often see two very different approaches to how people sit on their bikes while waiting for the whistle. They will either be seated or standing over their top tubes. There is no right way to do this. Both options work. They work better for some people than others. Standing over your top tube lets you load more force into the pedal while waiting for the whistle, but requires a bit more movement as you have to make sure you don’t hit your saddle as you launch upward to find your pedal. Staying seated doesn’t allow you to have as much force loaded into the pedal, but gets the saddle out of the way and lets you pull back on the bars, resulting in being able to put more power into the first few pedal strokes. When it comes down to it, one isn’t faster than another. Go out, practice a bit, and find which method you are more comfortable with.

Sprint Like You’re About to Win

The third and final part of a successful cyclocross race start is the sprint. I’ll keep it simple: sprint really, really hard. There’s no grabbing the holeshot with a half-assed acceleration. Burn a match and grab the best position you can get. Practice by finding a park or empty parking lot, and do sprint repeats from a standing start. It’s painful, it’s fun, and it’s the only way to practice them. So go do some sprints.

Kent Woermann

Kent Woermann is the owner/operator of Move Up Endurance Coaching. He is currently a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and holds a category 1 license in road, mountain bike, and cyclocross disciplines.

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