4 Key Cyclocross Skills to Master

So you want to race ’cross?

Yes! Whether you are brand new to the sport, or a seasoned veteran, there are four key skills you need. 

The 4 key cyclocross skills are having speed and efficiency in:

1. Starts

2. Cornering

3. Dismounting and Remounting

4. Dealing with Obstacles

Let's break these down one by one.


1. Starts 

Unlike a criterium or road race where the sprint is at the finish, in cyclocross, the race starts with the sprint!

Here are 5 pro tips:

-Choose an easy gear so you can get a quick pop off the line. Then once you are off and clipped in, work your way down the cogset to wind up your sprint. Different terrain will require a different gear so practice on or near the actual start line.

-Get a hard enough gear to allow you to complete at least three to five pedal rotations before needing to shift but not one that is so big you can’t get the pedal moving. Start with your dominant foot clipped in (the foot you kick a soccer ball with) Pedal position: Have your clipped-in foot positioned at the 2 o'clock position so that you maximize the amount of pedal stroke you get in on the initial push.

-Don't clip in right away? Keep pedaling! You'll get it eventually and you don't want to give up momentum. 

-Stay seated before the start. Start in the saddle with one foot the ground for balance. Get in the attack position a la Lars van de Haar (fourth guy from the left below). When the ref blows the whistle, simply push down with your dominant, clipped-in foot while simultaneously pushing forward off the ground with your unclipped foot. -Finally, relax and concentrate; you got this! Prepare to have fun!

Want to have the perfect cyclocross race start? Read this training tip.

2. Cornering 

A cyclocross race course is full of twists and turns. During your warmup inspect the course before your race and spend time practicing the corners. Keep in mind: Look where you are going, not at the ground in front of you. In a corner look at the exit point and keeping your eyes “soft” and relaxed so that your weight is balanced around your center of gravity. Tape to tape! Or "Outside, inside, outside". Read the terrain and choose the best line. Start your turn from the furthest to the outside you can be (tape), cut into the apex of the turn (inside) and exit the turn as wide as possible (outside).

Cross courses are wide for a reason and this allows you a lot of room for one to carry their momentum as much as possible. Momentum and long turns in cyclocross and your best friend. Steer with your body. Your hips and shoulders are what will steer your bike, not your hands/handlebars. Try practicing this by holding on to the handlebars loosely and using your weight to determine where the bike will go.

3. Dismounting and Remounting 

Getting on and off your bike is a fundamental component of cyclocross. Smooth and fast are key and the best way to achieve this is to practice. As these movements can be pretty shocking to your system, be sure you are warmed up before you proceed.

To dismount, begin with both hands on your hoods. Unclip your right foot and swing it behind the saddle so it's behind your left leg. Move your right hand to the top tube, and lean against the bike for stability. Then, unweight your left foot by pushing down with your hands, and pivot your hips to the outside, unclipping your left foot and hitting the ground running.

To remount, begin by getting the bike up to speed by jogging alongside it. With your hands on the tops or the hoods, jump and swing your right leg over the rear wheel and land on the saddle. If the ground is bumpy, it helps to keep your right hand on the top tube to stabilize the bike until right before you jump on.

Practice, practice and practice some more! Just like taking batting cage practice or going to the range in golf – you gotta get several hundred reps per season. Finding a local grassy park, getting at least 30 minutes as a warm-up, and then jumping on and off the bike really make a difference in your confidence and cyclocross skills.

4. Dealing with Obstacles such as Run-Ups and Sand 

When faced with intimidating obstacles like a steep hill or a sand pit, it's often faster to simply get off your bike and run! Momentum is your friend and by keep moving forward you'll go much faster than trying to ride the obstacle.

Practice riding steep hills to get a feel for when it's better to ride or fun.

To ride sand, practice at a volleyball court. Keep your weight back by staying in the saddle, and keep pedaling! Sand will sap your momentum, so pedal hard. The more you or others ride through sand, the more a groove or rut will form, which will offer less resistance. Practice riding in that rut, too.

If you'd like to learn more about running for cyclocross, read this training tip all about how to run for 'cross!

If you want to continue up-ing your knowledge game in cyclocross training, click here to browse our directory of 'cross tips!

If you are looking for a cyclocross training plan to prepare you for your first race, check out our 6 Weeks till Cyclocross Plan! It will include all of the skills and drills mentioned above!


Andrew Giniat is an UCI Elite cyclocross racer who competes on the World Cup circuit in Europe. Andrew has been a data-driven cycling coach since 2017, and he enjoys customizing training for each athlete to maximize improvements and enjoyment. Andrew lives in Asheville, North Carolina and also races on the road with CS Velo Team. 

Copyright © 2024 FasCat Coaching - all rights reserved.

Try the FasCat App for Free for 1 month and work on your cyclocross skills.  We'll build you a custom cyclocross training plan and CoachCat will guide you along with unlimited, instant training plan revisions and data analysis.