Why I hate cyclocross

Cyclocross first began as a way to allow riders to keep fit over the winter by mixing riding, offroad skills and running. But is now a sport in its own right. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s a good workout. But for me so much about cyclo-cross just isn’t right. Here’s why:

  • It’s only an hour long. 15 year olds do longer races. Give me a six hour classic.
  • Cyclo-cross season reminds me that the road season has ended and that winter is coming. It’s like cross is there when road cycling is not.
  • I love the aesthetics in cycling, whether the beauty of landscapes or a bike reflecting the sunshine. 20 laps of a potato field in Belgium or a municipal park in a French town doesn’t cut it.
  • It’s a Belgian version of tractor-pulling: an excuse for people to gather near a muddy field, eat chips and drink beer from a plastic cup (actually, this sounds good). It even inspires country and western songs in Flemish like the clip above.
  • At the pro level the same guys always win. The “World Cup” is dominated by the usual suspects, Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Zdenek Stybar and so on. In France Mourey and Chainel win almost everything.
  • It relies on obstacles like wooden planks and the route is defined by plastic tape and fencing, quite artificial. Tyre choice is crucial and can select the winner. Cycling normally borrows from nature, whether mountain passes or off-road trails.

This is a reprise of a piece from last year but readership of this blog grows so there’s only a one-in-six chance you’ve read it already. Predictably there was a lively response to this back then and to repeat a point made last year, for the avoidance of any doubt, anything on two wheels is good and the use of “hate” above is meant to tease and no more. It’s good for skills and fitness, so give it a try.

In response to my provocation, The Velocast issued a good “Why I love cyclocross” piece but this has been taken down. If anyone wants to write a response in defence of the sport, I’ll happily link to it.

Edit: Joe Lindsey is the first to get his views across over at the always readable Boulder Report and second is the French Portail du Vélo. There have been plenty of passionate responses already via comments, email and twitter and thanks to you all. If the “hate” headline was provocative then I’m glad I’ve helped to spark pieces like Joe’s. We’re all into cycling and I don’t want to be divisive.

Teasing aside, there’s a serious point to finish with. Whilst cyclocross has become a sport in its own right, a genuine winter sport for many… it is not yet on the programme for the Winter Olympics. I think it should be but they say cross is too much of a Euro sport and without enough global coverage. But then again isn’t downhill skiing the preserve of a few countries with the combination of mountains, snow and facilities?

53 thoughts on “Why I hate cyclocross”

  1. I agree with the baiting title, more or less, though with out the hate (no, not “Why I… cyclocross”).
    It just seems wrong. Artificial and tacked together.
    I don’t hate it, but it certainly doesn’t grab me in any way at all.

    Hmmm… I’d go along and drink the beer, eat the frites, though.

  2. I know what you mean. I get more excitement from the Giro video or the Tour de France presentation. The difference is that cross isn’t good to watch but it is when you take part… very big fun!

    PS the velocast link doesn’t work

  3. Chris: Belgian frites are like gloves, a “horn” of paper full of hot frites keeps your hands warm on cold day.

    Łukasz: yes, it is good fun and good for skills. Thanks for the link info, I’ll edit the piece above.

  4. Regarding the Olympics, just because a sport normally is held during the winter doesn’t mean it’s a winter sport. At least not as defined by the IOC, the Olympic Charter says “sports which are practised on snow or ice.” That would make it a Summer Olympic sport (just like track cycling), and it would compete with cross-country mountainbike since they’re quite similar.

  5. It is something to watch, but does get a bit boring after the first couple of laps, particularly as the same guys win every week.

    Certainly draws the crowds.

  6. It’s a bit like mountainbike alas definitely the most boring kind of cycling (along with stupid track disciplines like scratch). Nothing but relentless grind, no overtaking, no tactical nous, just a bunch of pedal-freaks hammering along.

    Like cyclo cross it’s fun to but a bore to watch.

  7. I agree with your points against cyclocross… but keep loving it. First of all, I had the chance to go watching it to Ettelbruck and in real it’s really amusing for the same reason it’s boring in tv: 20 laps in front of you! Then it’s true the main contenders are few and always the same but when you know some guys you also enjoy to see what is happening behinde and/or if he is going to be on the podium or not. My favourite is Kevin Pauwels but I also like Stybar…. and so on 🙂 In add: there is a ‘mudd aesthetic’! Some pics of muddy riders are definitely beautiful.
    If I have time I write something more on http://www.allezandy.blogspot.com. I did it already too but can do better 😉

  8. “….the same guys always win.”

    True but then this is true of most “racing sports” – Swimming, running, most motorsport (most of the time) and even time trialling.

    That’s why we cycle fans are blessed – we get to argue about tactics and all the other variables of road racing. It’s these variables that make us sit on the edge of our seat 60 or 80km from the finish line (or practically from the gun on the Alp d’Huez stage!) wondering what will pan out. It’s also why Gilbert’s season was so stunning – somehow time and again he was able to control the variables. And why Fabu’s spring was so…..fascinating. He was by far the strongest man out there and came away with very little. For me this is why road cycling is the king of all sports. Every race starts with the feeling that “anything could happen today and the winner could come from 30 or 40 guys”

    Cyclocross lacks this element of “anything could happen today”. A spectacle, sure, but then so is bog snorkling.

  9. I’m a bit surprised by the character of your ‘critical’ notes about Cyclo cross.
    While you look into details with road racing, and always think ahead looking for improvements for the sport, i would expect you would do the same with Cyclocross.
    For example…Why are there only a handful of top riders battling for the win…?? I think that answer to that question would tell a lot and could hand solutions how to make the top wider. Let me fill in my opinion about that…. I think riders are drawn to road racing or MTB (Probably for financial reasons, or pulled by the fame of a road/MTB racer). Cyclocross is only popular in certain country’s (Nice task for the UCI here… 😉 Only a handful of country’s have specialized riders (funny…. the more popular the sport is locally the more the local riders from that country dominate the sport on a worldwide level).

    I personally think it has a bigger entertainment factor for many as most road races, also or maybe especially for live spectators. (I love watching a full road race on TV… but how often does it happen that one has the time for that anyway and just watch the last 2hrs?).
    As for live spectators… I do take my (6/7yr old) kids to a pro road race. They wont really enjoy the racing, however they have loads of fun at the less popular events like the six days or a cyclo cross where they be on the look out for their favorites (ok, daddy’s favorites 😉 and cheer for them every round!! I think this is one of the aspects how they learn to love the cycling sport… by enjoying watching it.

    Tyre choice is crucial… what a weak argument not to like Cyclo cross.
    the same can be said for road racing (especially at certain races/timetrials.) wrong gear gets your ass kicked in the sprint or in the mountains (maybe less important as the Tyre issue at Cyclo cross, but everyone knows the blog’s here about choice of gears etc). Its part of the specialism! (Like many sports… no-one ever complained about the waxing at skiing/snowboarding etc… if you havent that part down you will never win a ski race)

    The duration… its a winter sport… i think an explosive sport that takes 1hr – 1.15 mintes is perfect for the winter. A 4hr Cyclocross race would be silly with temperatures around zero. If you long for a 6hr road race just be patient… in a couple of months you’ll get that again… just like sunny skies and mild temperatures.

    Anyway… i think its perfect as it is… and mark my words… Cyclo cross will become much bigger in the next years! I’m expecting the Americans to join the top or at least sub top. I expect more amateur road racers to get a Cross bike and will get into the spirit of the winter racing on the fields, just for fun… not for fame or money, and hopefully this will spread the popularity of the sport, so it can grow.
    Next time i would love to see a positive blog on Cyclo cross… i mean the WC competition is very exciting right now and the top has become wider already. Big race tomorrow!!!

  10. Still aching from sunday’s cyclocross outside Amsterdam, Holland. Chainring scar on my shin. Got a round of applause from crowd for very almost falling into a river and staying on the bike. mouth tasted of blood and dirt during race. heartrate meter showed ridiculous data. many bikes broke. I was twntysthgth (Welsh for not very good). main feature of cyclocross is that the pace is killingly high as all the local road racers cane it from start to finish. I hate cyclocross. But I love it too.

  11. Everyone should check out Sven’s clip and see the poll on Ilaria’s blog plus BIGRINGRIDING “gets” the sheer forcefulness of cross, more mudsucking than wheelsucking.

    jkeltgv: yes, it shows how road racing has this big uncertain element that even other forms of cycling don’t. For the record, if the same guys do win, it is still impressive.

    Serge: I wasn’t being too serious, it was more in jest.

    Mike C: that says it all, thanks for the comment.

  12. @inrng of course i noticed it was in jest, there for i said ‘critial’. But i love your analytical posts about the cycling sport… would be nice to see some serious ideas and thoughts about Cyclo cross cause i think c.c. could help gaining more popularity for the cycling sport in general (something which seems essential with all the sponsor pulling back)
    Anyway…. sorry for being serious 😉

  13. I watched a live feed of the Superprestige Zonhoven yesterday and found it thoroughly entertaining. Watching the pros maintain that kind of intensity for a full hour was impressive in itself, then throw in the ridiculous obstacles plus the huge crowds and it’s just something else! It was the first pro cross race I’ve ever watched and needless to say I’ll be tuning in to see how the rest of the season pans out, especially tomorrow at the Koppenberg.

    Whilst there’s no road racing to follow right now I feel Cross is a decent substitute, especially when my mates of short attention span who think all cycling is “boring” are just as impressed as I am. This can only be a good thing in terms of getting more people into watching pro cycling.

    It even been inspired me to buy a friend’s old Cross bike off him and now I cannot wait to get stuck in!

  14. To Lukasz. It might not be that enjoyable to watch on TV but in person it is one of the most fan friendly types of races to watch. Fans can get extremely close to the riders and can see the riders every lap.

  15. you missed the worst part about spectating cross! …even though the races are only 60 min, most world cups are decided in the first 3-4 laps (normally by one of the usual suspects). of course, as others have hinted, this means that the fittest/best riders usually are at the top. …which is a plus for cross, i’d argue.

  16. Yes. but 15 year olds don’t race cross for more than an hour. Very few in fact could and still manage across the finish line. CX is a tough sport. Rarely is a 6 hour classic exciting for 6 hours. A good CX course though can be exciting all day as the different heats race.

  17. I agree with Robbo, the race in Plzen was incredibly exciting with multiple lead changes in the last half of the last lap.

    of course a race like Zonhoven or Tabor where one riders goes off the front and stays there can be boring, but you never know what will happen (especially on a course like Zonhoven)

    @jared there are plenty of cross races that come down to a sprint, especially later in the season when everyone is getting ready for worlds, and Kevin Pauwels is the odds on favorite for those just like Cav on the road.

  18. I smiled when I read this, because you created a list of the reasons why I like cyclocross:
    -it’s only an hour long, so it’s easy to hold multiple men’s and women’s events in one day (fan friendly)
    -it reminds me that the winter sports season is coming, and it’s ok to cross train
    -it doesn’t rely on picturesque landscape aesthetics to be appreciated
    -it’s an excuse to gather in a muddy field, drink beer, eat chips, and get rowdy
    -at the PRO level a few dominant riders prove that it is a serious discipline
    -it combines natural and man made obstacles

  19. Thank you for coming out and stating the ugly truth. Road racing, mountain bike racing — sport, cyclocloss – silliness. Come on — there’s just something ridiculous about a sport that is marked off with miles of yellow plastic tape like it’s one big crime investigation scene. Which also makes it just a visual mess. It strikes me as a sport that was concocted by some reality TV show producer — the ramps and obstacles and general artificial quality of the course thrown up in some park like a circus side show. Irrelevance.

  20. Thank you twisted spoke. Silliness, indeed.

    Plus, cyclocross looks totally easy….rub your legs with smelly stuff, ride around in a field for an hour, then drink belgian beer and talk about what hardmen you are. Geeeezzz.

  21. I used to have similar opinions about Cyclo-Cross. Then I rode some. I changed my mind. Racing is a flat out effort for one hour over various terrain with constant changes in pace, totally exhausting. It is a very accessible branch of cycle racing, perfect for introducing younger riders to the sport. Cheap and simple to organise, perfect for the grass-roots and the amateur club level of the sport. It would be an ideal Olympic sport, but instead the IOC/UCI gives us BMX, as it appeals to the ‘yoof’.

  22. Which sport qualifies for the Olympics? The ones which are globalized? No way!
    The ones which are popular in the US, simply because this is (or at least used to be) the main source of funding the whole event.

    So forget about Cyclo-Cross. Not that it matters, inrng, as you’re basically right. It’s folklore. Just like the beer tents forming part of the circuit, and the beer showers being part of the atmospherical circumstances, not to mention the slappping and harrassing of the rider(s) you don’t support.

  23. I just started watching cyclocross this season. I liked Joe Lindsey’s comments. I also saw the Boulder Cup, and the race the day before, the Colorado Cross Classic, as well as the USGP New Belgium Cup.

    The Boulder Cup actually became a tactical race, with guys expecting Trebon to chase everything down, and Berden picking his times to attack. If you get to know the sport, it becomes more interesting, especially the different motivations of the riders. I agree with a comment above about how financially it’s probably less well compensated, because Trebon set up his own team to find a way for cross racers to be able to make a living from the sport.

    I love, love road racing, but one of the things I like about cyclocross is if someone gets a good lead, they can hold it and get something for their hard work (unless they have a mechanical, or they’ve gone out too hard), unlike the breaks that get pulled back 95% of the time in road racing. And then, you get to walk around to different parts of the course — it’s more active spectating, like cross-country skiing. Lastly, it lasts longer than 1 hour if there are multiple classes; you can watch all day at some venues.

  24. If “they” say that cross is too Euro, then “they” should come race in the US for a season. Or just ask Bart Wellens…. It’s definitely time for cross to get in the Olympics.

  25. Thought provoking, as always. Just because it’s done on a bike doesn’t mean that it’s good. I don’t care much for BMX either.

    BTW: As someone who was born near Quambatook, home of tractor pulling in Australia, I must register my most strong objection to your casual and cruel slight on this magnificent sport. Gulp. Yes it’s terrible; but the crowd is most interesting. And a Full Pull can be exciting.

  26. Cyclocross RACING’s OK. Watching it on TV is dull, just like watching MTB racing. Standing in the mud with beer and frites can be fun as can actually getting out there and getting muddy on a bike. What turns me off on ‘cross these days is the bike industry in the USA. There were ‘cross races in New England and other parts of the USA when these now-huge importers of Chinese-carbon bikes were still owned by the guys who founded them. But once MTB sales started to slow, ‘cross was suddenly discovered by these guys…and the hype began. Homer J. Simpson once said, “it may be a fad, but it’s here to stay”, though he was not referring to CX, but I hear the same stuff from recent converts to ‘cross racing. I’ll be happy when it goes back to just being a sport and not the newest-latest excuse for “competitive shopping”.

  27. I don’t mind watching cyclocross; it has a lot in common with track racing, which is great. However, actually competing in a cross race I find to be tedious. Just when you get up to speed you’re expected to dismount and carry (!) your bike. Whose bright idea was that?

    I know the history of cyclocross, but that doesn’t make it any more appealing to me personally. Once on the bike, I’m staying on it, thank you. That said, I’m all for others doing it.

  28. funny to see so many people talk about how boring cross is to watch on tv.

    how is a road race any more exciting? coverage never comes on until the break is away so most of the time you are waiting for a climb that is 10-20km of the stage or for the final sprint.

    now I love watching road as well, but it is a bit ridiculous to say that it is much more exciting than cross.

  29. Watching cyclocross on TV or on-site is hot and easily beats 90% of stage races in terms of spectacle and excitement. But like in any sport, or any TV soap series, if you don’t know the actors, it is hard to get warm for it. And of course it does not help for every non-Belgian (plenty of those in the world) that the Belgians dominate the male cross scene. However, that is not the sport concept’s fault. Very surprised to read an argument such as “15 year olds do longer races” – hands down the silliest comment you have ever posted on your otherwise brilliant blog! Did you actually post this article yourself?

  30. here in belgium i am in a family were a few of us are in competitive road-racing, a few others who are into recreative road-racing, and a few who love cross! and boy, do they love it! if some of us are watching it on tv i tend to sit/stand at a safe distance as they tend to become neanderthal as the race progresses, and can be so loud that the neighbours can follow the race without the tv on! personally i couldnt give a flying butt-sucking monkeys toss about cross! or mtb! or track! give me the road, endless km’s of asphalt and cobblestones, climbs to conquer and speeds to make you feel like you’re actually flying! hope none of them read this!!!

  31. Yeah, cyclocross blows. Boooring. I’ll take three straight days of grainy lo-res TV coverage of flat sprinter’s stages in the Vuelta instead. Now, *that’s* entertainment.

  32. you guys must be doing something wrong, cyclocross, like any other form of bike riding or racing is FUN. the fact that you’re complaining about it on the internet is funny and strangely disheartening. everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but honestly, why hate on your fellow cycling brethren?

  33. I always suspected that you don’t have personal experience racing at any level in any and this is glaringly obvious. Your lack a lot of insight give us your comments and this is very disappointing. I think now more than ever you should reveal your identity, put yourself up for scrutiny for once. Just who are you exactly?

  34. There’s no hate, just make it to the end of the piece to confirm. I just wanted to contrast cross with the road with a provocative technique and encourage a response from fellow bloggers. See the comments from Pavé, Portail du Vélo and Joe Lindsey at the Boulder Report.

  35. Rider Council: Whoa buddy, ease up. Personal attack, petulant demands – somebody forgot his manners, if not his/her pills today. “The Inner Ring” owes zero to you, the reverse is the truth. I come here for the thought provoking honesty and yes, the quality of the
    comments. Please do not destroy something which you have played no part in making. (I regret taking this public even but have no other way of contacting you.)

  36. One of the single most important parts of road cycling to me is the aesthetic and I just don’t get that with cyclocross. Weather change, fitness levels, undoubted skill and bike handling, I get all of those things but in the same way that I don’t watch Sunday league cricket (as it doesnt have the beauty and flair of full blown Test Matches), so cross leaves me cold.

  37. The first real race I ever rode was a ‘Cross – back in 81 (ay carumba!). They are incredibly tough (and fun) to ride and necessarily short to make them fast and furious. I have a soft spot for ‘Cross but have to agree it is a winter side-show.

  38. When asked I always recommend newbies not to race cyclocross, because once you’ve done one race you will be hooked. Then you have to explain to the spouse why you have to buy 2 new bikes and extend you bike racing season all the way into December. And why she has to come to the races to be ready to hand you your B bike and then change the wheel on your A bike in six minutes and be ready to hand it back to you on the nest lap. That’s the kind of thing that can put a strain on a relationship. More so when it’s 36 degrees and raining.

  39. I actually really enjoy cyclocross. Sure, it’s not road cycling but I enjoy it for a few reasons. It’s a change-up when I get a bit unenthusiastic about riding on the road. It’s easier to stay warm in the woods (and safer) when the weather is really bad. Some days I only have an hour to ride. An hour on the road doesn’t seem worth it & I barely get to the good country roads before I have to turn back. An hour in the woods can be a lot of fun. It also has helped my bike handling skills on the road immensely, as I’ve never done much road riding.

    Racing can be fun too but it makes me so nervous at the line that I don’t love it. Having played sports competitively for most of my life, I’m ready to relax & just have fun with them.

    Was in Louisville last week and that was awesome. Yeah, the same guys win often, but it’s still fun to see in person. I don’t watch nearly as much online as I do of road cycling.

    One thing I don’t like: all the hairy Pabsters who probably hated sports and athletes growing up who now LOVE cross. Tattoos, bad attitudes, too cool for school. Lame. Then again, there are plenty of roadies who I bet hated sports and athletes growing up who are now data-crunching dorks on Treks with saddle bags. Don’t like them either. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

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