The Perfect Cyclocross Race Start

The cyclocross race start is unlike the start of any other discipline of cycling. Cyclocross race starts are unique because athletes need to have their best sprint at the start of the race, rather than the finish. I’ve written about starts before in “Cyclocross Skills to Bring to Your First Race”, but here I’m going to expand on what it takes to have a perfect start in a cyclocross race. In other cycling disciplines, the start can be intense, but most races do not require an all out sprint at the beginning of the race. In cyclocross racing, every athlete needs to be ready to go from a standstill to an all out maximum 2-3 minute sprint/anaerobic/vo2 effort. If you’re cringing in pain when you read that, there’s no way for us to sugarcoat it: cyclocross race starts are hard. Our recommendation is to embrace the pain and refine your technique with these four tips and leave your competitors in the dust!

1. The Line-Up

The line-up at a cyclocross race start can’t be overlooked and will play a critical role in the success of your race. Start by choosing a good starting gear based on how you’ve practiced race starts as well as the race course. If the start is on pavement, choose a larger gear than if the start is on grass or uphill. Experiment a time or two during during your race warmup to figure out what’s the best gear choice! The secret to a quick start is to choose an easier gear to pop off the line quickly. Pay attention to the referee when he or she gives you 30 seconds notice. The whistle may go off any time after that! When the ref blows the whistle simply push down with your dominant foot while simultaneously pushing forward off the ground with your un clipped in foot. Start from a seated position with your non clipped in pedal leveled out. Once you are clipped in, sprint out of the saddle with your hands on the hoods.  

CX Race Start

During cyclocross race starts, nearly every rider we’ve seen uses a hand position on the hoods. This may seem obvious to some of you, but starting with your hands on the hoods makes it a lot easier to execute the seated start while also giving you easy access to your rear shifter as you accelerate.

2. The Start

When the race starts, you need to be ready for a near-maximum effort in order to ensure good positioning for the rest of the race. This type of start is a bit of an art-form and requires you go as hard as you can without completely blowing up after the first 5 minutes...which is easy to do. Know the course! Every start is different, and getting the holeshot may or may not be that important depending on the passing opportunities each lap offers. In addition to understanding where to pass during the first lap, think about what you’re good at. If you excel in corners, you may be able to make up a few positions without using raw power to move up. Anytime you can use skill over power to pass in cyclocross - DO IT! 

3. Practicing Cyclocross Race Starts

Practicing your race starts can be done on every single training ride! At the stoplights and stop signs during your ride, practice your race start by working on clipping in smoothly. Count down 3, 2, 1 at the stop signs or wait for the green light and GO! As you would at a race, start in the saddle, pick the right gear and work on clipping in during the first pedal revolution for the most pop off the line. Ideally, you’ll work up to clipping in perfectly during the first pedal revolution 10 out of 10 times. Based on our experience, getting in 100 reps each week for 4 weeks before the season starts is a good goal that will set you up for getting the hole shot all year long!

4. Race Start Training

From an imaginary start line in a park or at your local cyclocross course do 5 x 20 second race starts focusing on: gear selection, starting position in the saddle, clipping in smoothly and accelerating as hard as you can for 20 seconds. This is an all out, full gas, maximum effort. Cyclocross race starts are a critical skill to develop if you want to perform your best this season. We believe that following these recommendations will set you up for success - as well as getting better call-ups as the race season progresses.

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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