Super Tough: Cyclo-cross 1962 style featuring Beryl Burton

I understand that some of you find the very notion of cyclo-cross totally repugnant. Honestly, I get that. Cycling is all about the open road, fresh air, looking good, speed. ‘Cross is none of these, except for the open air bit, and only then on days when it is warm enough to actually take in a lungful of the stuff.


Cyclo-cross is, on the whole, pretty rank. It hurts. You get covered in cack. It is cold. Oftentimes a mechanical will mean you don’t even finish the race. More time will be spent cleaning bikes and kit than riding. As unglamorous branches of the sport go, ‘cross is way out on its own.


And yet… and yet…


It is so hard to put a finger on it. Dismounting at an obstacle and remounting efficiently; cornering on mud so deep the tyres have disappeared in the gloop, coping admirably with a section where others have failed. And the broad, broad smiles at the finish line; the post-race stories of mishaps and triumphs – that is what makes cyclo-cross so addictive. Some will hate it; others can’t wait for October to come around.


Either way, it is well worth watching this tremendous film of the 1962 national championships on the Yorkshire Film Archive website, featuring Keith Mernickle (in the 1965 photo above), preceded by the great Beryl Burton, recipient of Rouleur Classic’s inaugural Hall of Fame award, in the inaugural women’s race.


Glorious mud at the 2018 World Cyclo-Cross Champs: Chris Auld gallery


It is, in turns, hilarious, admirable, depressing and jaw-dropping. It features dry stone walls, streams (verging on river crossings) and an awful lot of pushing bicycles through deep mud, all voiced by a gloriously old-school Yorkshireman.


“And there goes Pauline and I’m afraid if she carries on like that, her bicycle won’t last very much longer,” he opines, as our Pauline launches her bike over a six foot drop…


For those of you unconvinced by the appeal of ‘cross, it will serve to strengthen your opinion. For fans of the sport, it is essential viewing.


Think you’ve got it rough these days? Think on…


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