I've never really been very athletic - I started cycling around the city a few months ago, did a 30 mile ride recently (and felt great after it - could have done more, although the pace wasn't very fast). Did some other shorter rides with some groups that killed me (lots of hills, pace was around 12-14mph which wasn't bad, but man, those hills), but I've definitely noticed an improvement (I'm much faster now than I was 3 months ago). I'm currently dieting and working with a personal trainer to be more fit (he's mostly working with me on my core), but there's still a long way for me to go. I could probably lose around 15lbs.

Anyways, winter is approaching, and I've been fascinated by cyclocross. I want to be able to do some races next year (yes I realize that the season has just started). So, what should I start doing now to get myself in shape, so that in a year I can race cyclocross? I wont really be able to train outside, since it'll start snowing soon.

Relevant information - I'm 22, female, I have a really old road bike that I ride around the city and when I go out to longer rides on the weekends, and a cheap mountain bike. I was considering buying a trainer for the winter (should I?). I'd like to eventually buy a better road bike (~$1000 range) for the next season so that I can go on some serious rides, and well, if I end up doing cyclocross, maybe buy a cyclocross bike as well.

Any advice would be appreciated!

  • 1
    You can do anything regardless of your athleticism. The two major factors are your training and determination.
    – krs1
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 19:40
  • There is some related discussion on this question. In particular, my answer discusses that there are a number of cycling events which are less winner-take-all, be that by nature of the event or by organizational culture. Cyclocross for both genders is one such competition format; men's road racing may be more winner-take-all, but I'm not sure if women's road follows suit. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/69808/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 20:19

4 Answers 4


Looks like the main question you have is "what should I start doing now to get myself in shape, so that in a year I can race cyclocross?"

Periodization is the Roadmap - Intervals and Hills are the Key

Periodization The main principle in athletic improvement is interchanging periods of Base Building / Recovery with periods of Strength/Speed/Skill Building. Where you are looking at starting a race schedule a year from now you have the chance to go through several of these cycles.

For your base building the primary activity is riding a lot, and maybe some cross training. You can use an indoor trainer or stationary bike, but with the right clothing and equipment you can continue to ride outdoors. If 30 miles is your longest ride, you may want to set a goal of riding a metric century (62 miles) in 10-12 weeks. Any beginners plan for riding a century will work as a guide for your base building period, but you would alternate hard and easy days and do progressively longer rides on the weekends. Normally base building periods last 8-12 weeks.

For your Strength/Speed/Skill Building you add event or goal specific activities - but the two primary activities are intervals and hill climbing. Doing a search here on 'intervals' will give you some direction, but basically within a given ride of say 30 miles, you would intersperse periods of high intensity riding with brief recoveries. Doing so trains you to ride efficiently at a higher level of effort. Climbing hills works the same way and builds muscle strength. Typically you follow a base period with 2-3 build periods each lasting 3-4 weeks with a rest week in between.

After doing a couple of build periods you go into another base/recovery period. So, if your goal is to start riding races in October of next year, you can build a calendar backwards from your first race and build in several build/recovery cycles.

For good books to get training ideas look at Book Recommendation: Training

For building a base or strength while commuting look at How to make the most out of daily commute?

  • It's worth noting that Friel, in the Cyclist's Training Bible, states that you shouldn't really think of periodization in the first 3 or so years of cycling competitively. Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 22:00
  • @bikesandcode I don't have the CTB in front of me, but IIRC the point is to have a sufficient base. Still, I think that periodization is important and useful, even for beginners who want to improve. It's a matter of length and intensity. For a beginner, strength or speed periods will only be marginally more intense than the base period.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 16:41

You can race your mountain bike at the beginner CX races around here and all ranges of beginners show up and race. Typically only about 10-15 in the beginner female group.

The beginner races last around 30-35 minutes and you do multiple laps. If you get lapped by the leaders you end up just completing one less lap. Always a lot of fun and very supportive of all the racers.


A collections of thoughts about a few of the questions you've raised. The short answer to the title question is 'yes'. Read further for some specifics.


If you have the budget for multiple new bikes, that's great. However, based on your apparent wants, I'd suggest the 'more serious rode bike' be a cyclocross bike. You can put slicks on a 'cross bike and it is effectively a road bike. You simply put on different tires for when you want to race/train in the mud.

Winter and Spring Training

If it's in your budget, definitely get a trainer. They are far from exciting, but regular sessions on the trainer through the winter will do wonders for your fitness coming into the spring. For the most part you will want to be riding so that you're sort of breathing deeply, but could still carry on a conversation.

There really isn't a whole lot of point to doing anything really painful during this period, other than combat boredom of long winters. If you're into snow sports, cross country skiing is a great way to get/stay fit over the winter that doesn't involve being inside all the time.

Spring and Summer

Ride lots. Have fun. Listen to your body and get professionally fitted on your new 'cross or road bike, it is surprisingly easy to get injured early in a new sport. You will want to start riding faster every now and then. Find a couple of local routes or hills that you occasionally try to set personal records on.

You are new at the sport, so in most places your races will be < 40 minutes. This means you don't need to go out and hammer for 4 hours. (And shouldn't unless you really enjoy this)

The only real specific training I'd suggest at this point in time (later summer) is occasionally do things like 20 seconds sprinting, 20 seconds soft pedalling, repeat for several minutes at a time. Take a break for a few minutes then do it again a couple of times. Do this once or at most twice in a week.

The major reason I suggest this is because 'cross is extremely stochastic. Unlike road racing (running or cycling), triathlons or most other reasonably common endurance sports, a 'cross race is often 10 seconds flat out, 5 seconds braking and coasting around a hairpin, 30 seconds flat out, get off the bike, run, pedal carefully through an off camber corner, flat out for 15 seconds... You get the idea, but your body needs to experience this a few times before you do it in a race.

Technical Skills

While I don't think you need to spend huge amounts of time on this early in your career, you also don't want to try this stuff out for the first time in a race.

Find a nice park nearby. Find some trees that are close together and try riding in an '8' pattern around them as quickly as you can. Do this in dry and wet conditions. Your bike will slip out from under you eventually. Learn what it feels like just before the bike washes out, this is important.

Every race will have a part where you need dismount. Ride for 30 seconds hardish, dismount, run with the bike for 30 seconds, then hop back on and ride again. (Youtube for techniques, I'd suggest not trying the flying remount, it's generally not worth it...)


You've practiced, you've been riding for a year, great! Get out there and race. Do at least a lap or two of the course before the race. You want to be pretty warmed up before you start and then just cut loose.

A couple of other random points. Due to the hard/coast/hard/coast nature of a cyclocross race, you will almost certainly blow up. This can be a new and exciting experience so you should be aware of it. You will want to get off your bike Right Now and maybe lay down for a while. This is normal. Cyclocross is an endurance event, so you will need to occasionally lower your pace and recover.


What you can do depends on skill, training, determination, and innate ability. If you have sufficient quantities of each then you can do serious, if not competitive, cyclocross or any other activity. And an excess in one area can help make up (to a limited degree) for a deficiency in another.

While it is utter BS to say that "You can do anything you set your mind to do", a goodly amount of determination can make up for shortcomings in other areas (though don't neglect training -- there's a difference between "determination" and "too lazy to actually work towards a goal").

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