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The classic image of cyclo-cross is the high speed dismount-remount manoeuvre. This takes place when the bike is to be carried on the shoulder up a particularly steep or muddy incline, or else when an obstacle on the course cannot be ridden.

In terms of technique, cyclo-cross is one of the most difficult forms of cycle racing. The bicycle resembles the road machine, with its dropped handlebars, 700C size wheels and relatively narrow tires. Yet the conditions for these two disciplines could hardly be more different. For a start cyclo-cross is a winter-time sport. Woodland trails, open meadows, and short, steep hills are the main features of a cyclo-cross course. Normally the circuit is in the region of 2.5-3km, and the race duration around one hour.

The sport had its first world championship in Paris in 1950. In the early years, cyclo-cross was thought of only as an accessory to road racing. The intense work of the one-hour race and the use of narrow tires on muddy hills made a good combination to hone both fitness and handling skills.

Gradually cyclo-cross specialists emerged, and the sport became dominated by riders who were little known in road racing. Apart from some notable exceptions – led by Adri Van der Poel – this remains the case today. Yet cyclo-cross stars do feature prominently at the top level of mountain bike racing – a sport far closer related to cyclo-cross than to road.

Where cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing differ in ideology is in-race technical support. In mountain biking, the rider must be fully self-sufficient to carry out in-race repair work should his machine malfunction. In contrast, a cyclo-cross racer is allowed to use up to three bicycles in a race. Since this is a winter sport and the tracks are often very muddy, a clean cyclo-cross bike can weigh in excess of 10kg less than a muddy one!

The handicaps of excess weight and mud clogging have resulted in a highly organised pit stop system. Trained teams of mechanics work quickly throughout the race to ensure that the rider may have a clean, oiled bike once each lap. Normally two machines are in the use/cleaning cycle, while a third is kept in reserve in case of mechanical failure.

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