I am just getting into racing, and like offroad more. I'm also a runner so I'm used to training programs. I wondered are there any of these for bike racing, and specifically offroad?
If you new to XC (cross-country) you will need to develop three different components:
- Technical Skill - This can include descending, switchbacks, riding drops (even hucking the odd drop - I have had to resort to this in many a race and even in a cyclocross race or two (a good way to get cheers from the crowd is launching yourself into a sand pit!). You should also work at carrying speed through corners and over flat rough terrain. The more momentum you can carry the faster you will be for a given fitness level.
- Endurance - Being an endurance sport, this is a critical component. Believe it or not it will help you with (1). It is very hard to concentrate on technical sections if you are coughing up a lung and bleeding from the eyes.
- Short term power - This is used to get up short steep climbs, to surge through technical sections and get you up those difficult step-up climbs.
1. Technical skill
If you are relatively new to off-road riding you should really focus on component (1). This is your foundation, if you cannot efficiently navigate the terrain you cannot compete effectively. Here getting out and simply riding is a great approach. Try and deconstruct how you approach trail obstacles. Experimenting with lines, body position on the bike (e.g., how you weight the wheels in turns, over drops and jumps) and attack strategy (e.g., maintaining speed or scrubbing speed for different obstacles.
Depending on the terrain of where you compete/live the amount of time you will need to dedicate will differ from area to area. (For comparison I used to live and train on North Vancouver Canada, which have some of the most technically challenging trails in the world - so I spent a lot of time honing my technical skills).
Have a look through the SE questions for tips on riding techniques or ask around within your local community.
Some dedicated mountain bikers may shudder at this suggestion, but the best way to build endurance is on the road on a road bike. The environment is very consistent so you can pace much better than on the trails which tend to have a lot of periods of rest or inconsistent power output. For me personally, I went from lower categories to begin reasonably competitive in Pro/Elite once I started putting significant time in the saddle on a road bike.
A quick search on SE will uncover lots of questions and answers about training on a road bike
3. Short Term Bursts of Power
While you could train this on the road, the trail is best for this component as you often need to be able to put down huge power while gingerly maintaining your balance and traction. Training these components together is only possible off road.
Find some difficult off-road climbs and practice on them so you can climb them without putting a foot down. My personal favourite was a steep 20% climb that had five large step-ups (each one as 2-2.5 feet high) in sequence. (Most rode down that trail, I preferred to ride up!)
It helped me to hone my focus and concentration, develop explosive power and develop determination to clear these obstacles. I first practiced after resting so I was at my best, then as I got more proficient I would ride harder and harder up to this section until I was basically full out the entire time with my heart in my throat.
Remember you can always breath on the descent (maybe)!