Purpose: To describe pacing strategy and competitive behavior in elite-level cyclo-cross races.
Methods: Data from 329 men and women competing in 5 editions (2012-2016) of Union Cycliste Internationale Cyclo-Cross World Championships were compiled. Individual mean racing speeds from each lap were normalized to the mean speeds of the whole race. Lap and overall rankings were also explored. Pacing strategy was compared between sexes and between top- and bottom-placed cyclists.
Results: A significant main effect of laps was found in 8 out of 10 races (4 positive, 3 variable, 2 even, and 1 negative pacing strategies), and an interaction effect of ranking-based groups was found in 2 (2016, male and female races). Kendall tau-b correlations revealed an increasingly positive relationship between intermediate and overall rankings throughout the races. The number of overtakes during races decreased from start to finish, as suggested by significant Friedman tests. In the first lap, normalized cycling speeds were different in 3 out of 5 editions-men were faster in 1 and slower in 2 editions. In the last lap, however, normalized cycling speeds of men were lower than those of women in 4 editions.
Conclusions: Elite cyclo-cross competitors adopt slightly distinct pacing strategies in each race, but positive pacing strategies are highly probable in most events, with more changes in rankings during the first laps. Sporadically, top- and bottom-placed groups might adopt different pacing strategies during either men's or women's races. Men and women seem to distribute their efforts differently, but this effect is of small magnitude.
Keywords: off-road cycling; pacing profile; performance analysis; sex differences; tactics.