Since we made the transition from road cycling to mountain biking nearly two decades ago, we’ve tracked the fortunes of former mountain bikers in the Tour de France. Usually there are a handful of mtb champions in the Tour, and on occasion they’ve been among the leaders.
Twice, in fact, mountain bikers have won the Tour. But you won’t find their names on the roll call of champions.
In 2006 Floyd Landis took the yellow jersey home but was subsequently disqualified for doping. By now you’d have to have spent the past two months in a diving bell not to know that Landis, who for years denied wrongdoing, has come clean and implicated a whole culture of deception in pro cycling.
The following year an mtber also came close, when Dane Michael Rasmussen had the title wrapped up but was forced off his Team Rabobank due to failure to report his whereabouts in training.
Given the allegations swirling around the sport today, you have to wonder if the Nos. 2 in both cases, Spaniards Oscar Pereiro and Alberto Contador, were any cleaner than the disqualified winners.
You don’t have to wonder about the mountain biking champion leading this year’s Tour, however. Aussie Evans, riding for Team BMC Racing, has made it clear from the start that he doesn’t dope. No one has ever questioned Evans on the point either — and his bad luck and perennial bridesmaid status (which may finally be changing, as he’s also the reigning World Champion road king) has never given reason to doubt him.
The other ex-mtb contender this year is Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, whom we’ve followed since his junior ranks due to his close proximity to our Seattle home base (Ryder grew up on Vancouver Island). Lanky and muscular, Hesjedal does not fit the rail-thin physical profile of a typical Tour winner. But he’s sitting at 6th and most Tour watchers give him at least a shot at a podium finish.
Cadel in yellow, Ryder No. 2? Unlikely. But their presence alone cements our longstanding observation that mountain bikers are better overall athletes than road racers. So far there’s never been a roadie who has transitioned from Grand Tour competition to world-class mountain biking, and that includes Lance. [Note: An exception to the rule comes to mind: Three-time national NORBA champion Jacquie Phelan. The parallels aren’t as easy to draw on the women’s side, but we have little doubt Jacquie — who beat the majority of male riders she raced against — would’ve rainbow-jerseyed in both disciplines had Tour and World Cup equivalents existed for women during her prime.]
In any case, it’s great that mountain biking fans have riders to root for in the Tour.