When mountain bikes first came onto the scene and the World Cup was in its infancy, in the early to mid-1990s, mountain biking was largely dominated by Euro ’cross riders who had made the transition. For the likes of Thomas Frischknecht, Henrik Djernis, David Baker, and Daniele Pontoni, ’cross was all they ever knew. In the new millennium, the crossover of expertise gradually lessened, and now very few of the top ’cross riders race mountain bikes, or vice versa. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule—Thomas Frischknecht is probably the one cyclist who can be competitive at both disciplines and who still occasionally races in the winter, and Sven Nys dabbled with mountain-bike racing to see whether he could make the grade—but they are rare. From the top ten in the 2006 ’Cross Worlds, only Nys has been seen on a mountain bike, and from the top ten in the 2006 Mountain Bike Worlds, only Frischknecht and Britain’s Liam Killeen ride more than occasional races in the winter. Killeen was in fact narrowly beaten in a sprint finish at the 2006 British National Championships by road star Roger Hammond—proof, if any were needed, that class shines through irrespective of which discipline a rider competes in. In the United States, Ryan Trebon is the 2006–2007 national champ at both disciplines, but his focus is turning more toward ’cross, and it is increasingly unlikely that he would figure at the front of a mountain-bike World Championship.
It is certainly becoming increasingly unlikely that we would see a world-class mountain biker take top honors at the ’cross Worlds, and with the exception of Nys, the same can be said of ’cross specialists taking the game to the elite mountain-bike competitors, but that’s no reason not to try racing in the winter if you come from a mountain-bike background.
Cyclocross can give mountain-bike racers an edge to their performance. This edge comes mainly from the added bike-handling skills required, the extra speed, plus the extra fitness gained from training eleven months of the year instead of just seven. The other benefits are in line with those gained by road riders.
In many countries, it is possible to race the smaller ’cross races on a mountain bike, and initially this is fine, as it reduces the outlay of expense for extra machinery. But the real advantage will come from racing a ’cross bike during the winter, and then switching to a mountain bike in the summer. On a “proper” ’cross course, a ’cross bike should be the faster option, both for riding and for carrying. This increased speed develops new skills and faster reflexes that can be transferred to the mountain bike when spring rolls around.
Gaining experience on a ’cross bike holds great benefits for mountain bikers. The main improvements you will see come summertime are a faster race start; greater confidence when racing in close quarters with other competitors; improved skill in dismounting for obstacles, in covering unrideable sections on foot with the bike shouldered, and in remounting afterward; and an ability to stay more relaxed and in better control at faster speeds on a variety of surfaces.
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Cyclocross Training and Technique will help you improve your skills, plan your training season, and choose the best equipment for cycling’s most exciting and technical sport.