What you should know about cyclo-cross
There are races and big races
A quick glance at the UCI cyclo-cross calendar leaves absolutely no doubt that there are countless races between the months of September and February.
These races are divided into two main categories, Class 1 (C1) and Class 2 (C2), for both Men Elite and Women. Added to these are National Championships (CN) and Continental Championships (CC). On the next level up, we find the Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (CDM), then the most important race of the season, the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships (CM). In 2017, this leading cyclo-cross event of the year will be contested in Bieles, Luxembourg, at the end of January.
UCI Ranking and start order
The races described above can earn riders points which count towards the UCI Ranking for cyclo-cross. Logically, most points are at stake at the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships. The UCI points collected during the previous 12 months are used to make up the UCI Ranking. That 12-month rolling classification is used during the call-up of riders before the start of a race. The riders at the top of the UCI Ranking get to choose their starting spot first, while riders without points start at the back of the pack. Belgian athletes Wout Van Aert and Sanne Cant currently top the Men Elite and Women Elite UCI Rankings for cyclo-cross.
Big names from the past
Many riders have left their mark on the history of cyclo-cross. The late Erik De Vlaeminck (Belgium), almost unbeatable in the late 1960s and early 1970s, captured a record seven wins at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. Other names from the old days are André Dufraisse (France), Renato Longo (Italy) and Albert Zweifel (Switzerland), who all have five world titles to their names. Between 2000 and 2005, Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany) won four world titles, the same number as Roland Liboton (Belgium) in the 1980s and 1990s. Of course, there’s more to cyclo-cross than UCI World Championships. For example, Liboton won the Belgian Championships ten consecutive times, making him one of the greats in the sport. Recently retired Sven Nys (Belgium) won the UCI World Championships ‘only’ twice, but was nearly unbeatable in most other races. He won the overall UCI World Cup seven times and was nine-time Belgian Champion. Nowadays, he’s considered to be the greatest-ever cyclo-cross rider.
Big names from the present
Matching Erik De Vlaeminck, Marianne Vos (the Netherlands) has also won seven UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. Vos still races, which means she could add a record-breaking eighth win to her tally in Bieles, Luxembourg, on January 29. Katherine Compton (USA) just won her twelfth consecutive National Championships race. The 39-year-old won the overall UCI World Cup twice but has so far failed to win the UCI World Championships, not helped by the presence of Vos. In the Men Elite category, there’s been a massive transition. Wout Van Aert (Belgium) and Mathieu van der Poel (the Netherlands) became the new kids on the block, taking over the command from riders like Sven Nys, Niels Albert (Belgium), Bart Wellens (Belgium), Lars Boom (the Netherlands) and Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic). Van Aert and Van der Poel have been dominating cyclo-cross for the last two seasons and each have one world title to their name. However, due to their young age, they do not yet have lists of achievements as long as those of their predecessors.
A rich variety of courses
Cyclo-cross races are held on a closed circuit between 2.5km and 3.5km long. Every course has its own characteristics: some are dry and fast, others muddy, some feature a lot of climbing or sand sections, sometimes courses are covered with snow… Often, riders are forced to dismount their bike to tackle an obstacle, sometimes carrying their bikes on their shoulders. A course may include no more than six man-made obstacles, where riders are likely (but not required) to dismount. Examples of man-made obstacles are fly-overs, planks and artificial sand-pits. Cyclo-cross riders must combine physical and technical skills to excel in the sport.
Duration of events
Elite Women’s events must last between 40 and 50 minutes. Elite Men’s events must be as close as possible to 60 minutes, except for the Telenet UCI cyclo-cross World Cup and UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships where the duration must be between 60 and 70 minutes.
Pit areas are zones where riders can swap bikes or wheels, or receive mechanical assistance. The most urgent reason to swap a bike is a mechanical problem, such as a broken derailleur or a flat tyre. Bikes can collect dirt on the course and being able to get a clean bike is often a good reason to enter the pit zone. Riders might opt to swap bikes for tactical reasons too, changing to a different tyre pressure or opting for a different bike set-up for different parts of the course.
Homeland of cyclo-cross
If one region is to be considered the homeland of cyclo-cross, it’ll probably be the Flanders region, in Belgium. Flanders is host to twenty C1 races and three UCI World Cup rounds. It attracts massive crowds and a great many television spectators. An fast-growing cyclo-cross region is the USA, where a large community of professional athletes and non-professional riders race cyclo-cross. The USA host nine C1 races and two UCI World Cup rounds.
History of the discipline
The cyclo-cross discipline was founded in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. France held its first National Championships in 1902. Belgium followed in 1910, and Switzerland in 1912. The first National Championships in the USA were contested in 1963. The first UCI World Championships were held in Paris in 1950 with Jean Robic (France) becoming the first UCI World Champion. Women’s racing was included for the first time at the UCI World Championships in 2000, with Hanka Kupfernagel claiming the rainbow jersey. Belgium has the most Men Elite titles (28), while the Dutch have topped the Women Elite podium the most often (nine times).