How do cyclocross professionals train and eat to prepare for cyclocross racing? We interviewed standout Canadian pros Maghalie Rochette and Michael van den Ham to find out.

Rochette has dominated North American racing this season, winning every single USCX Cyclocross Series event thus far! Van den Ham has also started his season strong, currently sitting in 6th place in the USCX.


When Rochette describes cyclocross, the first word that comes to mind is “dynamic.”

“Cyclocross is dynamic,” said Rochette. “If you compare CX to a time trial, it’s very different. In a time trial, power usually determines who wins. In cyclocross, it’s more about speed than power. How do you use the power you have to create speed?”

Rochette cautions riders can get too focused on power and this won’t serve them well for cyclocross. She can say this with certainty because she used to over-focus on power and effort. “I used to really focus on the power,” said Rochette. “How ‘hard’ can I go? But it’s not the person who suffers the most who wins. It’s the person who goes the fastest!”

If it is not about power, how do you go faster?

“It’s really about understanding how to create speed,” said Rochette. “Sometimes it’s looking for where you can rest. A lot of times, it’s looking for where to accelerate and how to carry speed.”

“People think cyclocross is about dismounting and remounting the bike, but it is so much more,” said Rochette. “It’s picking the right line, carrying speed through turns, moving your weight on the bike so you always have traction…..”

To work on these skills, Rochette does efforts on a short course. She creates a short and simple course, 30 seconds to a minute long. Then she rides increasingly faster laps. Her first full-speed lap is her benchmark. For the remainder of the workout, she aims to beat her benchmark time by riding more efficiently.

“I’ve already used all the power that I have,” said Rochette. “I cannot go harder, but I have to find a way to go faster.”

Michael van den Ham also emphasizes the “sharp and snappy” power dynamics of cyclocross, but he adds another wrinkle. Van den Ham, like so many other athletes, transitions to cross off a summer of racing gravel.

“In some ways gravel is great prep, but in other ways, it’s actually really terrible prep for cyclocross,” said Van den Ham. “You are getting in a lot of long miles and that’s valuable, but those long hard gravel efforts dull your legs a little bit.”

Van den Ham transitions between disciplines by ending his gravel season in August, taking a rest and then rebuilding.

“I am trying to undo a lot of that tempo-type work I do for gravel,” said Van den Ham. “One way I do this is through motorpacing. Being behind the moto and having to sprint up hills and constantly shift your pace helps you become snappier.”

“Cyclocross requires hundreds of little accelerations per race,” said Van den Ham. “You have to be snappy to do well in starts, to accelerate out of corners, to climb small climbs and to win out of your group.”

Van den Ham’s favorite off-road workout for training repeat accelerations is 40/20s (40 seconds on, 20 seconds recovery).

“For the 40-second acceleration, start out with a sprint and then settle into a pace,” said Van den Ham. “For the 20 seconds, you are barely pedaling or just coasting. This can be done on a soccer field with the long side for the 40s and the short side for the 20s. Just like in cross, you are turning and sprinting. Start with two 8–10 minute sets and build from there.”

Race Day Nutrition

Cyclocross’ dynamic efforts require lots of calories, particularly carbohydrates.

“People would be surprised how much you need to eat to fuel the race,” said Van den Ham. “It’s only a couple hours of racing over the weekend, but there is also warmup, pre-riding and cooldown. The race efforts are super draining and all ‘top-end,’ so primarily carbohydrate-fueled.”

For Van den Ham, fueling for a race weekend actually starts on Monday.

“Although cyclocross training rides are not that long, it’s super important to be on top of your ride nutrition,” said Van den Ham. “You could do an hour and a half ride and not eat anything, but that’s not a good idea. You want to show up on Saturday topped-up on carbohydrates. That starts on Monday by making sure you are not falling behind.”

Race day fueling is a balance of fueling and minimizing the risk of stomach upset. As such, food tends to be bland, repetitive, and precisely-timed.

“Race day might be the only time that I eat not for pleasure but for feeding myself,” said Rochette. “I always eat basically the same thing. For breakfast: 2 eggs and 2 toasts with fruit and coffee. Three hours before racing: oatmeal, sometimes with raisins. From then until race time, I snack on race nutrition products like waffles, chews and gels.”

Van den Ham’s race day menu is similar, but includes an additional meal since his race is later.

“On race morning, I really like pancakes and maple syrup,” said Van den Ham. “Lunch is super boring like rice and eggs. In the hours leading up to the race, I use drink mix. Then I take a gel 15 minutes before the start.”

The race isn’t over until riders consume their recovery meals.

“I make sure to have recovery drink as soon as I finish and take a meal soon after. I find my belly aches if I don’t eat right away.”

Similarly, Van den Ham has a rule for his cooldown: “I don’t get to get off the trainer until I’ve eaten my post-race meal. I spin and have more rice or more pasta.”

We thank Rochette and Van den Ham for sharing actionable “pro tips” to improve your cyclocross!

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