The UCI awards a gold medal and a rainbow jersey to the winner. Silver and bronze medals are awarded to the second and third place contestants. World champions wear their rainbow jersey until the following year's championship, but they may wear it only in the type of event in which they won it.
First held in 1950 it replaced the Critérium International de Cyclo-cross (French for International Cyclo-cross Criterium) which, as the first international cyclo-cross race, was considered the unofficial world championship. It has since been held annually and is traditionally disputed at the end of January or the beginning of February. At first there was only the event for elite men. Juniors got added in 1979 and under 23s in 1996. Finally in 2000 the event for women was added to the calendar as well. Beyond these, there also was an event for amateurs from 1967 till 1993.
Cyclo-cross being mostly centred in Europe has made it take quite a while for the world championships to be held in another continent. This finally changed with the 2013 edition which took place in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.