Cyclo-cross racing is a fun, yet incredibly physically demanding sport. A typical race is about an hour long and filled with straight aways for sprints, obstacles, and mud. The season generally runs from fall through the winter. The World Championship is held each January, and Canadian and US National Competitions are in December.
Cyclo-cross differs from mountain biking because participants are required at multiple points in the race to dismount their cycle and run with it over and around various obstacles as well as up very steep hills. Endurance and bike handling are important; it is vital to dismount, run and re-mount fluidly at the risk of losing precious time.
The 2-3 mile courses are run more than once, each lap involving sprints, wooded terrain, grass, jumps, hurdles and other barriers. As cyclo-cross is a hybrid sport, participants use hybrid bicycles. Because races are run in the fall, the woods are full of mud, requiring the narrow tires to have thick treads for traction. The bicycle frames are as lightweight as possible so as not to slow down racers during their runs.
The sport has its roots in “steeple chase,” a game created to keep cyclists in shape during the off season. Cyclists would race each other to the next town, and could cross anyone’s land however they chose to get there the fastest. The first organized race was the French National Championship in 1902, pioneered in part by Geo Lefevre, who also came up with the idea for the Tour de France.
Today, the sport is most popular in cycle-oriented nations like Belgium, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, though cyclo-cross is becoming increasingly popular in the US. Participants claim that cyclo-cross offers the fun of cycling without the pretention of street riding.