Cyclocross Makes Winter Olympic Bid

Nico Marvin, Sports Editor

Why is it that a bunch of cyclists on snow have a better chance of international sports glory than eSports and other contenders, trying to join the honorable ranks of Olympic events?

USA Cyclocross National Championship. Photos courtesy of USA Cycling.

 To understand one must go back well over a century ago to Athens, Greece. This is the place where the first ever Olympic games were held, inspired by competitions held thousands of years earlier in the same spot. Decades after the first Summer Games, in 1924, the newly-minted Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France. The original event was 9 days long and featured only 13 events, spread out over 8 sports. Now 98 years later, at 16 days long, and with 50 events spread out over 15 sports, 2022’s Olympic games are being held in Beijing, China. Over the Game’s history new events and sports were added, and today there are still multiple sports competing for a slot at the games. 

One of those sports looking to join the games, competes in the tiny European country of Belgium. This sport has been competing under the radar longer than the Winter Games have been around . Cyclocross, started in 1902, is a combination of road biking and mountain biking, often through treacherous conditions. Athletes ride bikes (made for road and easier conditions) through deep mud, up steep hills, over roots, and across sand. Adding to the natural obstacles, man-made stairs and hurdles are strewn across courses. These obstacles force riders to dismount and run, all while carrying their bikes over their shoulders. 

To join the games the first step is to be recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The hurdles to overcome are in demonstrating that the sport is widely practiced across the world, specifically in 75 countries spread out over four continents by men, and in 40 countries over three continents by women. Also, to be admitted, a sport cannot be based purely on mental strategy, or dependent on mechanical propulsion, ruling out popular entertainment events like eSports and NASCAR . Sports must also have “value, and appeal” to the general public. As an added bonus to the winter games, a sport must be performed on snow or ice. 

Even though the Cyclocross happens in the winter, it misses one big part to exist in the Winter Games. Races are held in any weather and snow is no exception. However in Belgium and neighbouring countries there is a lack of snow, translating to not many races following the IOC’s winter rules.

 To combat this in December of 2021 cyclocross took to the high Italian Alps, to race bikes through the snow. At this event, named the Val Di Sole, the sport proved that it can be done in wintery conditions and follows the rule made by the IOC saying a sport “must be done on snow or ice.” 

To increase the value and appeal of the sport, while also boosting its recognition, cyclocross is going to the largest sports market, the United States. The world championship will be held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a star-studded start list. The sport hopes it will gain the eye of Americans and, importantly, the Olympic Committee. Clara Honsinger, America’s best chance at a podium on the women’s side, ranks sixth in the world, and is the current national champion. 

Cyclocross, while mainly European-dominated, also has a host of riders from other countries. Ignacio Esteban took a victory at the national championship of Chile in November 2021. In December, Japan hosted and won a UCI professional event. Oda Hijiri, who won the race, rides for American team EF-EasyPost. 

With cyclocross starting to gain popularity, and targeting big sports markets like the U.S., it is truly an up-and-coming sport. If cyclocross can continue at the rate of growth it is seeing in viewership, and popularity, the 2026 games may have a new sport at the table.