As the vestiges of summer sun begin to dissipate behind grey cloud, the temperatures plummet to an autumnal chill and the grounds grow slick with mud, the month of September rolls in and with it – the cyclocross season.
A marriage of road cycling and mountain biking, two disciplines that rarely see eye to eye, cyclocross blends the best aspects of the two to create a sport that is almost as fun to watch, as it is to ride. Mud sweat and gears, cold and wet weather with slurries of mud and sprinkles of sand, cyclocross isn’t for those fair-weather cyclists or more fainthearted spectators – it draws one tough and raucous crowd.
Do you think you have what it takes to race cyclocross? Are you quite partial to a little bit of rough and tumble, officiated by an angered Mother Nature? Then cyclocross may just be your next cycling venture…
What is cyclocross?
Ran over courses of 1-3km, mixing tarmac surfaces with mud, sand and gravel, a full cyclocross race is typically over a fixed time, rather than a set distance – around an hour – with a final lap added on at the end. Field size can vary from a couple of dozen to more than 60 riders, all vying for poll position as they head into the first lap. Bike handling skills are paramount in these races, but as much emphasis is also placed on the off-bike sections – many riders forced to dismount their machines as they encounter barriers such as wooden fences, stairs and wall-like muddy slopes.
From the moment the gun sounds, the race is unrelenting from start to finish – a brutal lactate fest that has both riders and fans reeling by the end. It’s an intense workout and favoured by many roadies during their winter off-season as a perfect opportunity to practice their high intensity interval training, while also getting that same intoxicating buzz that only comes from racing bicycles.
Where did it come from?
Cyclocross is a hallmark of sporting culture for the northern European nations of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The cycling discipline can trace its roots back to the early 1900s when it is claimed that a French army private called Daniel Gousseau opted to ride his bicycle through the woods alongside his horseback-riding friends – unknowingly creating the discipline that we know today.
Born in Europe, cyclocross has since expanded from the cultural heartland of Northern France and Belgium and travelled to the US and Australia, inciting a massive boom in the sport. A renaissance of sorts has also been experienced in the UK, a nation blessed with perfect cyclocross weather – damp, dank and dreary.
How do I join in?
Cyclocross races are often run via local leagues on courses ranging from a quick dash around the local park to muddy marathons across country back lanes. In the UK, the British Cycling website upcoming events near you, providing you with a wealth of races to choose from.
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Such a wide range of races, of differing intensities and course toughness, allows you to be selective as to which you choose as your first taste of cyclocross. You don’t need to blow the bank before you even start, pick an easy course and bring your road bike, albeit with some slightly flatter tyres, and just see where the mud takes you.
This isn’t your average crit, or tame weekend group ride, cyclocross is as much about the socialising at the start and finish as it is the race. Courses are short and create a loop with the same start/finish line, which make them great for spectators. If you’ve got kids, or other family and friends that have always wanted to watch you ride, then cyclocross is the answer.
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The cross season runs from September to January here in the UK, so you’ve got tons of time to have a little taster, sample the muddy delights and then hone your skills before the UCI World Championships roll around at the start of February…