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Cyclocross (CX) racing consists of multiple laps of a short 2.5–3.5 km course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount.
There are many stories about the origins of cyclocross. One is that European road racers in the early 1900′s would race each other to the next town over from them and that they were allowed to cut through farmer’s fields, over fences or take any other shortcuts in order to make it to the next town first. This was sometimes called steeple chase as the only visible landmark in the next town was often the steeple. This was a way for them to stay in shape during the winter months and put a twist on road racing. In addition, riding off road in more difficult conditions than smooth pavement increased the intensity at which the cyclists were riding and improved their on-the-road bike handling abilities. Forced running sections, or portage, were incorporated to help deliver warm blood to the feet and toes, as well as exercise other groups of muscles.
Daniel Gousseau of France is credited as having inspired the first cyclocross races and organised the first French National Championship in 1902. Over recent years cyclocross has grown majorly in popularity in non traditional countries such as the UK, Ireland and the USA in particular.
Races for senior categories are generally between 40mins to an hour long, with the distance varying depending on the conditions. The sport is strongest in the traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium, France and the Netherlands with the season typically taking place in autumn and winter with the International and World Cup season running between October to February.
Cyclocross has some parallels with mountin biking and criterium racing. Many of the best cyclo-cross riders cross train in other cycling disciplines during the summer season. However, cyclo-cross has reached such a size and popularity that more racers are “cross” specialists than ever before.
Clothing is similar to that of road racing. However, since cyclo-cross is a cold-weather sport there is an emphasis toward warmer clothing such as long sleeves, knee and arm or leg warmers. Skin suits are also used regularly in cyclo cross. Mountain bike shoes are adopted with toe studs as they allow the competitors to run, up steep muddy slopes.
Cyclocross bikes are similar to road racing bikes: lightweight, with narrow tyres and drop handlebars. However, they also share characteristics with mountain bikes in that they utilise knobby tread tyres for traction, and cantilever style brakes for clearance needed due to muddy conditions, however disk brakes are now starting to appear on many cyclocross bikes. They have to be lightweight because competitors need to carry their bicycle to overcome barriers or slopes too steep to climb. The sight of competitors struggling up a muddy slope with bikes on their shoulders is the classic image of the sport, although most modern courses are fast and hard packed.
Compared with other forms of cycle racing, tactics are fairly straightforward, and the emphasis is on the rider’s aerobic endurance and bike-handling skills. Drafting, where cyclists form a line with the lead cyclist pedaling harder while reducing the wind resistance for other riders, is of much less importance than in road racing where average speeds are much higher than in cyclocross. A cyclocross rider is allowed to change bicycles and receive mechanical assistance during a race. While the rider is on the course, his or her pit crew can work quickly to clean, repair and oil the spares. Having a mechanic in the “pits” is more common for professional cyclocross racers. The average cyclocross racer might have a family member or friend holding their spare bike.