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Introduction to Cyclocross

Cyclo-cross (cyclocross or cross) is a very popular form of bicycle racing in initially Belgium, France, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
Races typically take place in the autumn and winter. They consist of many laps of a short course featuring all kinds of underground such as wooded trails, grass fields, steep hills. The tracks are partly artificial and natural. They contain obstacles requiring the riders to quickly dismount, carry the bike, navigate the obstruction and remount. Different bikers will conquer these obstacles in different ways. The sight of competitors struggling up a muddy slope with bicycles on their shoulders is the most classic image of the sport, although unridable sections are generally a very small fraction of the race distance.
Races for senior categories are around an hour long, with the distance varying depending on the ground conditions. The most important races are watched by thousands of people. Especially in the Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium in the north, the popularity is gigantic.
One current famous rivalry is between Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel winning lots of cross races.
Both exceptional cyclocross riders have made the giant step to road racing, following the example of Czech rider Zdenek Stybar. The two of them turned out to be equally successful on the road. They won classics, Tour de France stages, time trials, etc. For several years already they are regarded as two of the best road cyclists in the world. Also Julian Alaphilippe originated from cyclocross.
The popularity of Van Aert and Van der Poel has strengthened even further the globalization of cyclocross. Most big events though still take place in the so-called Low Countries of Europe.

History of Cyclocross

Origins in France

Daniel Gousseau of France is credited as having inspired the first cyclo-cross races and organized the first French National Championship in 1902.  Géo Lefèvre, the originator of the idea for the Tour de France, also played a key role in the early days of the sport.

After Octave Lapize attributed his win in the 1910 Tour de France to his off season training in cyclo-cross the sport began to spread to countries bordering France. Belgium organized its first national championship in 1910, Switzerland did so in 1912, then Luxembourg in 1923, Spain in 1929 and Italy in 1930.

Cyclo-cross proved itself as a sport extending beyond the boundaries of France when in 1924 the first international race, Le Critérium International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris.

Like many international cycle sports, cyclo-cross is administered by the Union Cycliste Internationale; although it was not until the 1940s, around 40 years after cyclo-cross' start, that the UCI began its regulation and the first world championship was held in Paris in 1950.

For decades dominated by Belgium

Despite the origins of the sport laying in France it was Belgium that turned out to dominate cyclo-cross, a country where cycling is watched by more people than football.  Over the years, Belgian and especially Flemish cyclo-cross riders came to dominate international cyclocross.
Since 1998, 44! of the 63 podium places at the men's elite World Championships Cyclocross have been occupied by Belgians, including 15 gold medals. Flanders has many champions, such as Wout van Aert and Toon Aerts. In the past, Belgian cyclocross was led by riders such as the brothers Roger and Erik De Vlaeminck, Albert Van Damme, Roland Liboton, Paul Herygers, Danny De Bie, Mario De Clercq, Erwin Vervecken, Bart Wellens, Niels Albert and Sven Nys.

Challenged most by the Netherlands

The Belgian cyclo-cross riders have always faced and will always face a lot of competition from the Dutch cyclo-cross riders. In the past, these included Hennie Stamsnijder, Rein Groenendaal, Adrie van der Poel, Henk Baars, Richard Groenendaal, Gerben de Knegt and Lars Boom. Currently, the strongest Dutch riders are Mathieu van der Poel and Lars van der Haar.

Other countries' champions

In addition to Belgians and Dutch, Czechs (Radomír Šimůnek, Zdeněk Štybar), Italians (Renato Longo, Enrico Franzoi), Swiss (Albert Zweifel, Julien Taramarcaz and Marcel Wildhaber), French (André Dufraisse, Francis Mourey and Clément Venturini) and Germans (Rolf Wolfshohl, Philipp Walsleben and Marcel Meisen), among others, play and have played a significant role in international cyclo-cross.

Popular in parts of the USA, less so in Great-Britain

The first United States Cyclo-cross National Championships took place on 20 October 1963, in Palos Park, IL, near Chicago. These championships in the midwest continued until 1969. Cyclo-cross began to become popular in the United States in the 1970s, in New England and California. The Cyclo-cross National Championships restarted in 1975 in Berkeley, CA and have continued to be held every year at various locations throughout the United States. The Surf City race series held in Santa Cruz, CA has contributed to the history of cyclo-cross in the United States. The sport has experienced a growth in popularity in the United States since the mid-1990s. Cyclo-cross races are now regularly held in the fall and winter seasons throughout the United States and continue to grow in popularity.

Cyclocross is not so big in Great-Britain. There are British National Cyclo-cross Championships. They are held annually. The winners of each event are awarded with a symbolic white cycling jersey featuring blue and red stripes, which can be worn by the rider at other cyclo-cross events in the country to show their status as national champion. An international super star though came from cyclocross. His name is Tom Pidcock. This cyclocross champion is just like Frenchman Alaphilippe sometimes considered as the fastest descender in the peloton. Add the names of Wout Van Aert en Mathieu Van der Poel to that, and you'll find a perfect reason how skilled road riders are, especially those that learned their trade in cyclocross at a younger age.

Most important cyclocross races and competitions

  • UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships
  • UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup
  • National Cyclo-cross Championships
  • Superprestige (Europe)
  • X²O Badkamers Trophy (Belgium)
  • United States National Cyclo-cross Championships (United States)
  • USCX Cyclocross Series (United States)
  • MFG Cyclocross (United States)
  • Cross Crusade (United States)
  • SSCXWC (Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championship