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Lance Riddile was hurting after pedaling furiously on his mountain bike. His thighs were blazing, his chest was pounding.

Still, that was nothing compared to some other riders.

One was sent flying forward when his bike upended and landed in a tree.

"That's cyclocross," Riddile said.

Cyclocross races … likened to a steeplechase on bicycles … are one hour long on 1-mile circuits that typically include a mix of grass, dirt, pavement and short, steep hills. Riders also must dismount and hurdle 2-foot barriers on the course.

Dozens of riders will race at high speeds while navigating mulch, wooden barriers and other obstacles during the state cyclocross championship series Sunday at Largo Central Park Nature Reserve. This is the third of four races in the state championship series. The first two were in January. The last one will be Feb. 26.

This niche-but-gnarly sport has a huge following in Europe where it originated in the early 1900s by French and Swiss cyclists who wanted to maintain their fitness in winter by pedaling through muddy fields and pastures when snow made mountain passes unridable.

It is now starting to get attention in Florida. Riddile, the director for Florida's championship series, said he heard about it while searching the Internet.

"It just seemed like a crazy, fun sport," said Riddile, a recreation supervisor for Largo. "We had a series of races in Largo last year and this is the first year we've had a state championship series. I think it's something that'll definitely catch on."

Cyclocross races are contested in more than a dozen categories based on age and ability, which makes it fairly accessible to anyone interested in trying a bike race.

"This is family oriented," Riddile said. "Not to mention fun."


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