Actually, it’s a combination of the races and the training that will increase your power at VO2 max. When you look at the demands of ‘cross racing, events are characterized by repeated short efforts at maximum intensity, separated by very short recovery periods. To prepare for these demands, the training for ‘cross must incorporate similar efforts, starting with 3-5 minute maximum-intensity efforts to build power at VO2 max, and then shorter, more race-specific efforts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes as you get closer to goal races. Recovery periods should be equal in duration to the previous interval (1minute interval, 1minute recovery, etc). A typical race-specific workout might be a 1-3 sets of 10 1-minute maximum efforts (10/10 RPE) with 1-minute easy spinning recovery between efforts.
The peak of the cyclocross season carries deep into December, and in some places continues into January. The period between Halloween and New Year’s is when most people lose the battle of the bulge. The energy expenditure of low-intensity off-season rides is often too low to keep a cyclist’s waistline from expanding, and the additional expenditure from high-intensity interval workouts for cyclocross training can tip the scales in your favor. In this case, the weight you don’t gain is weight you don’t have to burn off in the New Year.
Every cyclist crashes, but the more comfortable you are with getting out of control the more likely you will be to keep your bike upright when conditions get squirrely. ‘Cross is a great place to learn better bike handling skills. You’ll be cornering in grass, gravel, sand, mud, and snow. There will be sliding involved and you will probably fall a few times. The good news is that the speeds are typically lower and the surface you’re falling on tends to be softer than crashing during a road race or criterium. Even the dismount/remount skills come in handy when you transfer back to the road or mountain bike; ‘cross racers are the men and women who manage (sometimes) to land on their feet when everyone else is laying in pile.Cyclocross Toughens You Up
Being dirty, wet, and cold is part of training for and racing cyclocross. During the spring and summer, when the skies open up during your races you will be one of the riders who isn’t fazed by the drop in temperature, the spray coming off the wheel in front of you, or the slippery pavement or trail. You’ve experienced worse, and that becomes your competitive advantage. The best competitors turn adversity into opportunity and racing ‘cross helps you see a rainy criterium as an opportunity to win.
Low-speed acceleration is one of the aspects of cycling that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. This is the high-torque, low-cadence kind of acceleration that happens when you slow down for a corner and have to get back up to speed after it. It’s a race-specific feature of almost every kind of bike racing: criteriums, track racing, mountain biking, and even road racing. When you train for and race cyclocross you experience these accelerations over and over again for 45-60 minutes. On top of that, the added resistance of powering through sand pits and soft grass – typically with a relatively low cadence to maintain traction – is great for developing the ability to produce high torque, not just high power. When you go back to the road, track, or trail, this translates into quicker accelerations out of tight corners and higher speeds through rough surfaces like gravel or cobblestones.Side Note: Time-Crunched Cyclists Don’t Need an Extended Fall Break
Some summertime cyclists cling to the idea they need an extended break from structured training and competition, and therefore resist the notion that racing cyclocross is a good idea. While there might be some cyclists for whom this is true, it’s not true for the majority of time-crunched amateur cyclists who spent the summer training about 8-12 hours a week. At most, riders in this category need 3-4 weeks of light, unstructured riding to recuperate from the season.