A Brief History of Cyclocross Racing

Cyclocross has taken off in popularity. The variety of conditions and the presence of spectators, plus the typical time frame of just an hour, make for a fun event. Hopping off, shouldering the bike, hopping over obstacles, and hopping back on all come with the territory in cyclocross racing. Here’s a look at how it all got started. We hope you enjoy this brief history of cyclocross racing.

European Origins

Cyclocross began in Europe. French cyclist Daniel Gousseau is the fellow historians cite most often as the rider who started it. He organized the first French championship in 1902. He may have gotten the idea from a version of the sport where racers at the beginning of the last century would challenge each other to reach the next town first, cutting through farm fields and over fences and generally devising any shortcut they could imagine. Though not on horseback, the races were called “steeplechases” because the church tower in the next town was often the most visible landmark to designate as the finish line. Legend has it that racers added the “portage,” or carrying the bike, to get blood flow back into cold feet during fall and winter races.

Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain, and Italy all organized national cyclocross championships over the next 30 years or so, after Octave Lapize claimed that his 1910 Tour de France victory was due to off-season cyclocross training. Cyclocross first crossed borders in 1924 when Paris hosted the first international championships in 1924. The first UCI-authorized world championships came along in 1950.

Cyclocross Comes to the US

Different sources place the first US national cyclocross championships anywhere from 1963 in Palos Park, Illinois, to 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. Suffice it to say that flatlanders were having fun with cyclocross outside Chicago as early as the ’60s; the sport grew in national popularity during the ’70s with more courses turning up combining pavement, fields, hills, and obstacles.

Throughout the history of cyclocross racing, the bikes evolved and adapted to specialize in this type of racing. Cyclocross bikes are hybrids that look like road bikes with fatter mountain bike tires. They have greater clearances and low gears, and they have to be lightweight, with brake cables relocated to permit easy shouldering. GovVelo offers several cyclocross bikes for sale. We’ll help you find the cyclocross bike that’s right for you.

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