Cyclocross has changed significantly over the years. The sport first seen as an off-season side-show for road racers quickly exploded into a cycling subculture all its own. As it’s matured and grown, cyclocross courses have also evolved. Once limited to farms and wooded areas of the Belgian countryside, cross courses now incorporate parks, mountain bike trails, and numerous other public spaces into their design. The open pastures and steep, muddy embankments are now often replaced with groomed, human-made features that, while still challenging, tend to lack the epic, naturally technical quality of old-school courses.
There are, however, still a number of events around the world that still embody that old-school cyclocross mentality of using natural or existing features to make the race interesting. Here are five of the most iconic cyclocross courses that come to mind.
Long before it made its way onto the World Cup stage, Jingle Cross was a mainstay of many U.S. riders’ calendars. Multiple flyovers, sandpits, and muddy off-camber sections all lie in the shadow of the course’s defining feature: Mt. Krumpit. The course designers keep things interesting by utilizing the menacing hill in several different ways as the course changes throughout the three-day race weekend. Aside from Mt. Krumpit, Iowa’s often unpredictable weather gives racers other challenges to contend with at Jingle Cross. Racers experience extreme heat, high winds, rain, and snow — sometimes during the same weekend. Those elements only make Mt. Krumpit — aka the Koppenberg of the midwest — all the more challenging.
Speaking of the Koppenberg…
The Koppenberg is regarded as one of the most iconic — and lung-busting — climbs in all of the spring classics. Come fall, it turns out it’s just as grueling. Koppenbergcross sees riders climb the cobbled monolith 4–8 times in a single race, including a final summit to the finish line. But what goes up must come down. The Koppenbergcross descent meanders its way down through muddy pastures and slick off-cambers. On the Koppenberg, perfectly dialed tire pressure is a must. Too low and the cobbles are sure to cause punctures; too high and traction on the 20% grade becomes nearly impossible.
Set against the backdrop of the Yatsugatake mountains in central Japan, Nobeyama Supercross combines world-class cyclocross racing with breathtaking vistas. The race venue — a working farm and horse ranch — is what old-school cyclocross dreams are made of: acres of woods, muddy ATV tracks, twisty horse trails, and pasture land. The event has rapidly captured the attention of racers from all over the world with several countries now represented in the UCI races. Nobeyama’s organizers strive to create a family-friendly event with the hopes of continuing the steady growth that Japan’s cyclocross scene has experienced in recent years. As such, they place equal importance on the kids’ and amateur events as they do on the UCI races.
For World Cup racers who also really enjoy long — like, really long — walks on the beach, Koksijde is like a dream come true. For those that don’t, well… The course combines comically length stretches of deep, watt-sucking sand with steep climbs, treacherous descents, and seemingly endless off-cambers. It’s hard enough on a dry day when the sand is loose and forms deep ruts that can bring a rider to a dead stop in an instant — often in the form of a nasty, over-the-bars crash. Add a little rain into the mix and the sand clumps together, zapping any energy that riders might still have left. All that being said, Koksijde is a fan and rider favorite nearly fifty years running, a mainstay on the World Cup calendar since 1996, and was the site of the 1994 World Championships.
Nicknamed the “Mother of all Crosses,” Vlaamse Druivencross in Overijse, Belgium was first held in 1960 and is often regarded as a cyclocross Classic. Known for its challenging and highly-technical course, it’s not uncommon to see the sport’s top riders crash. And, that’s on a dry day. Rainy or snowy years make the course downright treacherous. Outside of a UCI C1 classification, the race is not currently part of any international competition series. Don’t mistake that to mean that winning — hell, finishing — the epic race isn’t still considered a major feat though. The best riders in cyclocross still make the annual pilgrimage to the Flemish town to duke it out on one of the most challenging courses in the sport. Thomas Frischknecht, riding for the Ritchey team, won here in 1991.