I’ve heard cyclocross referred to as “a cult within a cult”, a reference to the fact that cycling isn’t quite a mainstream sport (in the US), and that cyclocross is even more obscure. However, the sport has been growing steadily and odds are if you read this blog, you’ve at least heard of it, which is more than I can say for most of the general population.
It isn’t a new sport (the inaugural French National Championship was held in 1902), but it has been a little slower to catch on than road cycling. The first World Championship wasn’t held until 1950, and the first race on US soil wasn’t until 1975.
The specific origin of the sport is unknown, but most agree that it is the cycling equivalent of the steeplechase, with competitors traversing variable terrain and obstacles on the route to the finsh line.
The sport is very accessible for beginners. The culture is more welcoming than the often elitist vibe in road racing and the races are shorter (less than an hour). You can race on a mountain bike (no bar ends allowed), or a cyclocross bike if you have one. In the lower categories it is perfectly accepted to ride whatever bike you’ve got. If you’ve never done a bike race, cyclocross can be a fun place to start.
For experienced road racers, cyclocross can be a good way to keep winter fitness up. It can be hard to stay motivated in the winter, and ‘cross can keep you moving. Also, the bike handling skills you’ll pick up can be very beneficial, especially for hardcore roadies who don’t ride on dirt. Even without any offroad experience, fast road racers will move up the ranks quickly on fitness alone.
Personally, cyclocross is one of my best disciplines in cycling. I spent a lot of time riding my bike around the neighborhood, challenging my friends to ride curbs/obstacles. I also started off racing mountain bikes as a Junior. My physiology also is happiest in shorter races, so it is a good fit.
For me, it also allows me to say fit throughout the season. We have a long winter in Colorado, and I don’t generally start road training until January. Cyclocross is a perfect bridge between the end of road season and the start of training for the next.
This year I’ll be racing CrossVegas, the USGP here in Colorado, and the Boulder Cup UCI races, along with the local calendar. If I’m getting decent results, I’ll probably look into traveling to a smaller UCI race in search of some UCI points.
Next up: I’ll continue this post with a cyclocross series throughout the season. I’ll cover a few topics including training and equipment in upcoming posts.