Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mountain Bikers at the Tour

Well put another exciting Tour in the books. This one had all the drama, doping, crashes, hot weather, and team tactics that we come to hope for in "le Grande Boucle". One difference this year is the predominance of former Pro MTB racers who have made the huge leap to the biggest bike race in the world. To be a successful MTB racer, you need to be able to time trial and tempo ride for long periods of time through a variety of conditions. It also helps to be a pretty good climber and a great bike handler. All these skills can translate well to the rigors of road racing.

This year there were four former MTB racers in the Tour. Surprisingly they either rode for Silence-Lotto or Garmin-Chipotle. I am not sure why, but I think it is just a coincidence. Who knows, maybe the team managers have a special place in their heart for MTB racers? Each rider had a different path to France, and they all shined in different ways over the past three weeks. Here are brief descriptions for each rider and my predictions for the next MTB heroes of July in France.

Dario Cioni (Italy)
Silence-Lotto (83rd place, 2:20 back)

Dario is a former Junior XC world champion who really shined as being the most blinged out, Euro-Pro in his days as a MTB racer. I remember seeing him race at the Napa World Cup in the late 90's with bright Northwave roadie shoes and outrageous sunglasses, and he usually could be found walking around the pits with perfectly coiffed hair. Following his fashion sense, he made the permanent transition to the road where his style blended in with the rest of the pelaton.

Ryder Hesjedal (Canada)
Garmin-Chipotle (47th place, 1:33 back)

Ryder started turning heads on the MTB scene back in the late 90's up in Canada. As a Junior he was crushing his older peers and it did not take long for him to end up as a fully-sponsored pro with Gary Fisher. Ryder's specialty was mashing a big gear really early on in the race. In fact one of Ryder's more famous ads said "Flat Out Fast" with a picture of him just hammering away in the big ring. If he could keep the pace he would win races, but he never was able to win the big one. In the 2003 worlds he led for most of the race before the doped out Felipe Mierhage passed him for the gold. It's too bad Felipe never gave Ryder his medal. Ryder vowed to make up for it in Greece at the 2004 Olympics and unfortunately crashed in the very first sharp turn of the race. Sometimes you can be going too fast. Soon after the Olympics, Ryder made the switch to the road and has never looked back.

Trent Lowe (Australia)
Garmin-Chipotle (77th place, 2:14 back)

Trent is a little guy and a natural climber. He won a few big races, including the Sea Otter XC, and then started showing up at the Redlands Classic and winning there too. He was one of those guys that started racing both road/MTB in the early 2000's and has done better on the road. I don't know too much about him and did not see much of him during the Tour. I imagine he was protecting VdV, but I saw more of Ryder than Trent. Maybe it's because he is so little?

Cadel Evans (Australia)
Silence-Lotto (2nd place, 0:01 back)

Another Aussie and another 2nd place. After all the drama, stress, and screaming at the press, this is a really big let down. He has repeatedly said that he "needs a better team", but he said the same thing last year and got exactly the same result. Plus he lost to a Spaniard in the final time trial again. It's deja vu all over.

Cadel was one of the first MTB pros that I really admired. He was riding for Diamond Back on one of those bright yellow mid-90's aluminum bikes and he seemed to have a good style and flow on the course. He eventually ended up on Cannondale and became their poster child for XC dominance. But again, he never won the big one. He came close, but was never able to win a World Championship or Olympic Gold. After the Sydney 2000 games he switched over to the road and made his first big splash in the Giro when he was actually leading the race for awhile. He eventually cracked when Tyler Hamilton passed him on some big climb (in 2003 I think?). Tyler was probably juiced, who knows? But Cadel has been cleanly plugging away to his current status of one of the best cyclists in the world. It's too bad he has not figured out a way to deal with the pressure. He needs to be more "tranquilo" like the Spaniards.

Future MTB Stars of the Road???
  • Ryan Trebon. A time trialing machine and built for the classics. He could win in Flanders some day.
  • Tom Danielson. A great climber with a great future. Wait a second, he already had his moment of fame.
  • Chris Eatough. How many 100 mile MTB races can you do before you lose your mind? Plus, all that endurance riding has given him a great base for the road. Plus he rides for Trek, so he is in for sure.

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