As the cross (CX) season begins its final push towards Nationals and Master's Worlds, some random thoughts come to mind.
CX is as much a learning process as it is an endurance sport:
Source Endurance has done a couple CX clinics this fall with the goal of providing the basic skills from which a solid CX season could be built on. What we didn't have time to explain or show was that the skills are one third of the process. Fitness is also a big part. Experience sums up the final component to CX success.
There is no such thing as a perfect CX race. Everyone will make mistakes and the key is to minimize the effect those mistakes have on your race. Mistakes can be anything from not getting clipped in to sliding down a muddy hill on your stomach. Next, how does each rider react to the mistakes?
At some point there is a limit to how many mistakes you can make before it affects your ability to ride unhindered through all the obstacles of a CX course. This can influenced by number and severity of the crash/ bobble but also by how much you lose in each instance strategically.
General CX Strategy: Keep in mind that this is very dynamic and that the time frame for the 3 stages are dynamic.
Beginning: All out, fast, establish your field position. Take some risks but the general understanding is that you can't win the race in the first couple of laps but you can lose it. Stay upright. Remember that you have to be in a position to win before you can make that happen. Many riders will fail here because of a bad warm up or creative excuse making.
Middle: Once the field position is established, the shift should be towards the tactical race. Remember, you are racing other riders on the course for places. Many inexperienced riders race the course with other riders on it. The goal here is to race to gain advantages that you can exploit over your opponents. Some risks should be taken here and perhaps bigger risks depending on the reward. Often times, you'll see small groups form and break up as the attacks happen. Once you gain an advantage, it's off to the races! But if you are put at a disadvantage, you'll be chasing hard.
Finale: By now, fatigue has started to wear on everyone and depending on how the race has gone thus far, you are either reacting to your opponents punches or they are reacting to yours. However, risk/ reward is now more important as it is dramatically influenced by the tactical situation on the course. The tables can be turned here quickly and the rider with the advantage can quickly become the rider who is stuck in checkmate. The general rule: If you have an advantage, take it to the finish line.