Ten Common Cyclo-cross Racing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By Pete Webber - Article originally published in the Performance Cycling Conditioning newsletter.
In cycling, every event has its own unique set of challenges. The following are 10 common mistakes cyclo-cross racers make. Coaches can help their athletes succeed by reviewing these mistakes and taking steps to avoid them. Click here to find a coach.
Mistake #1: Lack of Pre-Race Ritual
Most successful riders have a well-tested routine and they stick to it. This ensures they arrive at the start line feeling calm and prepared. They know exactly what to eat and when to eat it. They have a schedule for when to pack the car, drive to the race, and recon the course. They don’t forget items at home and they’re ready for everything.
Mistake #2: Not Prepared for Race Day Conditions
Each race is different, with ever-changing weather, courses, and obstacles to overcome. It’s always important to plan ahead. Know the weather forecast and what extremes you need to be ready for. Understand the course specifics and be prepared. Is it very muddy? Could a storm blow in? Is it an area with goat-head thorns? Is it brutally hot? Will you need toe spikes to get up a steep hill? Think ahead and don’t allow yourself to be caught by surprise.
Mistake #3: Making Last Minute Equipment Changes
Remember: Nothing new on race day. Don’t change tires or pedals the night before a race. Don’t test out some fancy new gizmo. Be sure your gear is well-tested and properly dialed a day or two before the race. If it is currently working, don’t change it unless you have time to test it.
Mistake #4: Poor Start
Know the call-up procedure ahead of time, and take steps to ensure your position on the start grid is as good as possible. Don’t be late for call-ups. Practice your starts during training and before your race. Visualize what you need to do to have a good start. When the whistle blows, be ready and stay super-focused on executing a good start and first lap.
Mistake #5: Lapse in Focus during Race
Most mistakes happen in part due to a lapse in focus. Errors like getting caught in the course tape, being in the wrong gear on an abrupt climb, dropping your chain, puncturing on the edge of a concrete sidewalk… these all can be can be avoided. Concentrate, don't get lazy, look ahead, and don’t let your mind wander. Remind yourself of the skills and techniques you need to perform on each and every section of the course, and don’t let your guard down. In short: stay focused!
Mistake #6: Riding Like a Bag of Anvils
Be smooth, baby your equipment, don't jam your chain, and stay focused. Concentrate on proper bike handling and don’t let the pain in your lungs distract you from staying balanced and smooth on the bike. If you make a mistake, use your mental “reset button” to pause, collect yourself, regain focus, and move on.
Mistake #7: Poor Cornering Technique
Understand the art of the racing line. Don’t approach the turn too straight. Aim for spots with good traction and use the entire track from tape-to-tape. Look forward out the exit of the turn. Practice cornering more than any other skill, it will pay off.
Mistake #8: Tire Problems
It happens in every race: punctures, burped tubeless tires, rolled tubular, worn out sidewalls, goat head thorns, etc. To avoid tire problems, devote time to test your setup and be certain it works well.  Use appropriate pressure, use liquid sealant, replace worn-out tires, and of course ride smooth and drive around the rocks!
Mistake #9: Getting Tangled in Course Tape
That dang course tape can really mess up a drive train/wheel/handlebar. You can bet that someone comes to grief with it every race. Don't get lazy with your corning technique. Keep your head up and look ahead. Avoid tunnel vision. Beware of mope in front of you and don’t assume they will always take the proper line. Watch the wind, and be ready for gusts and wayward tape.
Mistake #10: Failure to Learn from Your Mistakes
We all make ‘em, but we don’t need to make them twice! Keep a race “notebook” and write down things you learn. Review your notes before races to remind yourself of your own personal lessons. The wonderful thing about 'cross is there’s always another race and another chance to improve your skills and outcomes!
About the author
Pete Webber is a veteran cyclist with more than 25 years of experience in all types of riding. He started mountain bike racing in college and raced the national and world cup circuits through the 90s. Cyclo-cross became his niche, and he’s been teaching 'cross to up-and-coming racers for more than 15 years. Pete is a four-time Masters Cyclo-cross National Champion and is also a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. He's a full-time coach, and is the head 'cross coach for Boulder Junior Cycling. Pete also teaches USA Cycling's cyclo-cross certification  for coaches and can be reached through www.petewebber.com