Cyclocross is no longer cycling's hidden gem. Its rapid growth in the USA and UK means this intense and dramatic sport is exploding into the mainstream. With a season running from September to February, cyclocross is cycling's only purely winter discipline, demanding a combination of athleticism, supreme technical skill and ruthless tactics for the muddy conditions.
In the sport's heartland of Belgium, major races attract crowds of thousands and have a carnival atmosphere fuelled by heavy drinking, ringing cowbells and pumping airhorns. Many top riders have enthusiastic fan-clubs and are national celebrities - one even had his own reality TV show. On race day, Belgian and Dutch television coverage is akin to a major football match in the UK, stretching for hours with pre-race interviews, pundits and behind-the-scenes films.
In Rainbows in the Mud, Paul Maunder spends a season soaking up the sport's rich culture and history, and mixing with the obsessive fans, celebrity riders, and old-fashioned patriarchs of the sport. Following the riders - novices, veterans, American, British - as they slog their way through the season, he captures the spirit of this flamboyant cult sport, and paints a picture so vibrant you can almost feel the mud under your feet and taste the beer, mulled wine and frites.
Ever since seeing flickering coverage of the 1984 World Road Championships from Barcelona, Paul Maunder has loved all aspects of cycle racing. He won his first race - an Under-12s cyclocross around a farmyard near Oxford, for which he won three chocolate bars - but thereafter struggled to maintain such dominance. He has studied fiction with the former Poet Laureate, been awarded a fellowship by Faber, and is a regular feature contributor to Rouleur and Peloton magazines.