I don't claim to be an expert on cyclocross. In the big scheme of world cross I don't even claim to be that good. But, I have done a lot of races and have learned how to maximize some meager talent.
Yesterday at UTCX #3 I had the opportunity to watch some racing. Rosie raced earlier in the day which got us to the venue in the morning. I got to spectate the C men, 35+ B, 45 +, and the Women. UTCX is a growing concern and all of these fields were packed with racers that are relatively new to the sport. The one thing I noticed most racers struggling with was simply shifting the bike and being in the right gear at the right time. Racer after racer was attempting to come out of a corner way over geared. By the time they got on top of the gear it was time to set up for another turn. You get little acceleration when over geared and lots of muscular damage/back pain.
What if we learned to use a smaller gear and used changes in cadence to change our speed and accelerate. Then shift to progressively bigger gears as our speed and cadence allow. Sounds simple but requires practice and forethought. Im not saying we need to spin violently thrashing about on the bike but finding the sweet spot gear that alows us to change speed with changes in cadenece. We spend hours practicing dismount/remount technique only to use it once or twice per lap when really the bigger bang for our buck might be practicing leg speed and cornering, which would be useful throughout the entire lap. How many corners were there yesterday?
If you get a chance to watch video of yourself racing, study it. Look at your position on the bike, are you balanced? Are you relaxed? Can you accelerate while seated without pulling violently on the bars? When are you shifting, before the turn or after the turn? What do you look like coming out of a turn? Seated or standing? What kind of cadence? Are you on top of the gear in every situation? Where can you be using less energy? Where can you be putting down more power? Watch the other races, watch those with more experience, how are they setting up for a corner? Follow others during warm up. Watch video of other races on the same course you race. Watch world cup video, look at there cadence through a sand pit and out of corners. Learn to feel the ground through you pedals. It's all about maintaining velocity while conserving energy.
The cool thing about cross racing is you get to attack the same sections multiple times during a race while also watching others do the same. You get the chance to dial in a corner, find the perfect line, be in the right gear, keep the body balanced and be back up to speed before you realized you slowed down. If you don't nail it the first lap then you get another chance the next lap. And at the end of the race there may even be a corner or section that still got the best of you. Give it a go next week.
Yesterday I nailed some of the corners out at the Utah State Fair Park, but I also botched quite a few. I had maybe 10 tries and still could not nail a couple. If you raced you know what I mean. How about the tight L hander with the 6 inch ledge coming out of the corral onto the gravel drifting left under the bleachers. That corner had a ton of varibles. I tried it slow and tight, which forced a strong acceleration to get up to speed. I tried it wide and loose and just could not keep the drift under control. I tried going inside out and outside in both of which never felt fast. That baby had my number for sure. If you nailed it, let me know what you did.
Cross is a magical sport, you don't necisarily have to improve fitness to become faster.