First cross race? Maybe
This is quite possibly the first description of a Cyclocross race in a letter for the French Cycling Union. The French describes a 100km road race where riders chose their own route, intentionally or otherwise, like an anarchist, point-to-point randonee. That meant they crossed farms, over fences, past steeples and rode/ran whatever was necessary to get to the finish line. Of the many Cyclocross origin stories, ones that describe the terrain raced as “uphill and down dale, over stone walls and through shallow streams” stoke the tradition the most.
This matters little likely to the growth of the sport or the people lining up to race grass crits with steeplechase barriers and mud pits. At times, when I’m out there burying myself and wondering why I even do it, my mind drifts to the legend. To a sport born from and made for the media. Géo Lefèvre, who blurted out the idea for the Tour de France, cause he couldn’t think of anything else to say to his bosses, also said this.
Think about a cyclist in wartime. He can’t use the main roads; he has to ride or walk across unmade roads and worm his way through the undergrowth and clamber across ditches. Think of that and you’ll get the principle of the cross cyclo-pédèstre.
A race format created to sell more newspapers, like the Tour de France, now fills social media with content.
Max Missile O’Neal found this archive and said
Daniel Gousseau, who’s credited with creating cyclocross, wrote this letter introducing the concept of the sport and seeking official sanction from the French cycling union in 1901. He suggests that this new form of racing which would mix bicycle racing with running over difficult terrain also served the purpose of maintaining military readiness and fitness (he was a private in the French army and possibly a member of the bicycle infantry).
What’s interesting is that it casts doubt on the general belief that cross was developed by euro road racers as a method of winter training and instead was created to sell more newspapers or if today, blogs.