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Tales from the peloton, June 4, 2009

Ten former mountain bikers who've switched to the road

By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor

What do Floyd Landis, Amber Neben, Jakob Fuglsang and Cadel Evans have in common?  They all used to be mountain bike racers.  While there are obvious differences between singletrack and pavement, some of the best road riders have made the switch and benefited from doing so.  Cyclingnews' Sue George takes a look at some of cycling's most famous former mountain bikers and what they've been up to on the road.

Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto

Cadel Evans
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The 32-year-old Cadel Evans may be the best-known mountain-biker-turned-road-racer.  Evans has drawn plenty of attention in the road world with a second place at the 2007 and 2008 Tours de France.  He also won the UCI's ProTour competition in 2007.  The Australian is again one of the favorites going into this summer's Tour de France.

In 1995, Evans won bronze in the junior World Championship cross country mountain bike race and also in the junior World Championship time trial.  The next year, he finished ninth at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, which hosted the first-ever Olympic mountain bike race.  In 1997 and 1999, he finished second at the World Championships in the Under 23 category.

Evans used to race pro as a mountain biker for Volvo-Cannondale.  In 1998 and 1999, he won the overall mountain bike World Cup.  He was also seventh at the Olympic Games in 2000.

He now races on the road for Silence-Lotto, but he's previously been contracted by Saeco, Mapei, Team Telekom and Davitamon-Lotto.

Since moving to the road, Evans has won stages in races such as Paris-Nice, Ruta del Sol, Coppi e Bartali, Tour de Romandie and the Tour of Austria.  At the Olympic Games in Beijing last year, he finished fifth in the time trial and 16th in the road race.

Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank

Jacob Fuglsang
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Jakob Fuglsang spent three years as a pro mountain biker for Cannondale Vredestein.  He started riding with friends at age 12 and in 1998, he competed in his first mountain bike race.  By 2002, he'd made the selection for the Danish national team as a first-year junior.

After a few years of bad luck at the World Championships, Fuglsang became the Under 23 World Champion in 2007.

In 2008, the Olympic Games did not go as he hoped, and his prospects were starting to look good on the road.

Fuglsang started training on the road to help his mountain biking.  In 2006, he began a three-year part-time stint with Team Designa Kokken.  In 2007, he turned a few heads with a seventh at the Tour of Denmark and a third at the GP Tell.  Plus he raced the road World Championships.  He's also won stages at the Cape Epic mountain bike race.

In 2008, he won the Tour of Denmark and did two races as a stagiare with Team CSC and Saxo Bank.  In total that year, he logged 18 days of road racing and when the offer came from Saxo Bank to become full time with Bjarne Riis' team, Fuglsang said "yes".

"I'm happy to leave (mountain biking) now, but I still have scores to settle.  I'd like to be the senior World Champion, but I can't see that happening in the next two years, so it's time to move on. On the road there is a new challenge for me," said Fuglsang in a Cyclingnews' interview at the end of 2008.

So far in 2009, Fuglsang, in his first of a two-year contract, has raced Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Pais Vasco and Volta a Catalunya.

Amber Neben (USA) Equipe Nurnberger

Amber Neben
Photo ©: Kathleen Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Amber Neben spent two and a half years with the SoBe HeadShok mountain bike team at the turn of the century.  Sponsored, but unpaid, the team gave her a first taste of elite cycling. She had found mountain biking in college after playing soccer and running cross country. 

In the early years, she paid her own way to NORBA national mountain bike events and she was teammates with racers like Tom Danielson.  In 1999, she also finished second at collegiate US mountain bike nationals behind Willow Koerber and just in front of Kelli Emmett – both of whom are racing these days in the elite mountain bike ranks.

In grad school, Neben found road biking.  After winning the Cascade Classic and the California state time trial championship in 2001, Neben made a permanent switch to road racing.  She represented the US at the worlds in 2001 and 2002.

Neben's road career took off.  She was national champion on the road in 2003. She won prestigious races like the Tour de L'Aude in 2005 and 2006.  She's also won races like the Tour de Ardeche, and in 2008, she finished second at the women's Giro d'Italia. 

Last summer, she was also the World Champion in the time trial.  The 34-year-old is racing this season with Equipe Nurnberger Versicherung.

Adam Hansen (Aus) Team Columbia-Highroad

Adam Hansen
Photo ©: Mark Watson
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Adam Hansen used to play computer games, then it was rugby and chess, and later basketball and running and swimming and finally triathlons.

He did crits to train for triathlons and then he took a chance to go to Austria for a year off from the non-cycling working world to try his hand at racing his bike more seriously.

In 2003, Hansen signed with the division three Merida team which later became the Corratec team.  In 2004, Hansen won nine races, including some mountain bike events.  He also won one of the toughest mountain bike competitions in the world, the Crocodile Trophy stage race in Australia.  En route to the overall win, he captured three stages and the points jersey.

In 2005, Hansen raced for Elk Haus, another division three team.  Again, he won the Crocodile Trophy.  Thanks to his success in the popular race, he is sometimes called the "Croc Man".

Hansen headed back to his old team under a new sponsor Aposport Krone Linz in 2006.  A good year saw the door open to the T-Mobile team, where he signed up as a pro for the year.

A few years passed and Hansen stayed with the team as it evolved into Team Columbia-Highroad, for which he now races at age 28. 

He was the Australian National time trial Champion in 2008 and finished as runner-up in the road national race that year.  This year, he was third at the national road championships.

Miguel Martinez (Fra)

Miguel Martinez
Photo ©: Team Felt International
(Click for larger image)

France's Miguel Martinez has followed a career path that's seen him switch between disciplines more than once.  The 33-year-old Martinez more than secured his noteworthy place in the mountain bike history books with a banner year on the dirt in 2000, when he won not only the World Championship but also the gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games.  The latter came four years after he had won a bronze medal at the first-ever Olympic mountain bike race in Atlanta.  He also won silver medals at the 1995 and 1999 World Championships.

Martinez switched to the road in 2001, and he raced for Mapei in 2002, including racing the Tour de France.  Next came Phonak in 2003, but then he retired.  The lure of competition was strong for the champion cyclist, and he raced well at the Roc d'Azur mountain bike race in 2004. 

In 2008, it was back to the road, this time with Amore & Vita, but not for too long as Martinez jumped on the chance to race mountain bikes with the Felt International team, which signed him last fall.

Unfortunately, things didn't work out with the Felt Team, which was facing sponsorship problems and also dismissed him after he was involved in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife. Martinez sorted out the domestic matter with the French authorities and then returned his focus to racing – he raced to third last month at the Jelenia Gora Trophy in Poland.

Frederick Kessiakoff (Swe) Fuji-Servetto

Frederick Kessiakoff
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The 29-year-old Frederick Kessiakoff is one of the newest full-time converts to the road.  His first road race was the Tour de Langakwi (he finished fourth – ed.) in February.  He also was ninth at the Tour of Romandie.

Kessiakoff started mountain biking at age 14, and he did his first race in 1995.  Fast forward one year, and he was fourth at Swedish nationals, and by 1998, he was winning regularly.  The future looked bright, but Kessiakoff was hit by a car during the winter of 1999 – 2000, and in addition to some damage to his face, a broken knee took a long time to heal. 

He persisted and became the Under 23 national champion in 2002.  His first senior national title came in 2004, when he also scored a fourth place at a World Cup in Livigno and a 13th in the overall World Cup series.

He won a marathon World Cup the next year, and in 2006, Kessiakoff started riding for the well-known Cannondale Vredestein team. He repeated as national cross country champion in 2006, 2007, and 2008.  He brought Sweden its first-ever medal at cross country worlds at the championships in New Zealand when he finished third in the elite race.

In 2007, he achieved what was his most elusive goal – a win at a World Cup – in Maribor, Slovenia.  That led to a move to the Full Dynamix team, and last summer, he finished fifth at the World Championships and was ranked in the top five in the world by the UCI.

Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Slipstream

Ryder Hesjedal
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

These days, Ryder Hesjedal may have his mind on racing the Tour de France, but he used to have his mind on dirtier matters – racing off road.

In his early days of mountain bike racing, Hesjedal helped the Canadian team to win relay World Championship titles in Are, Sweden (1999), Vail, Colorado (2001), and Kaprun, Austria (2002).  In 2002, he won a World Cup in Les Gets, France, and he was the overall NORBA series short track champion.  The next year, he was the overall NORBA cross country champion.

During his mountain bike career, he earned an impressive seven total medals at various World Championships.  For example, in 2001, he was second at the World Championships in the under 23 race and he was also second at the 2003 Worlds in Lugano, Switzerland.

In 2005, Hesjedal made the move to the road, turning pro with Discovery Team, after which he also rode for Phonak and Health Net before his current contact with Garmin Slipstream.

The 28-year-old has found his place on the road.  In 2007, he was Canadian National Time Trial champion, and this year he's finished the Tour Down Under (11th overall) and Tirreno-Adriatico (8th overall) stages races plus taken 10th on the gravel roads of the Monte Paschi Eroica and 11th at Liege-Bastogne-Leige.

Floyd Landis (USA) OUCH Pro Cycling

Floyd Landis
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Floyd Landis may be one of the best known former mountain bikers.  The 33-year-old got his start in the sport of mountain biking when he was growing up in Pennsylvania.  He beat countless other juniors on his way to a junior national mountain bike title in 1993, and he was named NORBA pro rookie of the year in 1995.  He largely followed the singletrack path until 1999, when he made the full-time switch to the tarmac by turning pro on the road with Mercury.

After Mercury, Landis raced for US Postal and then Phonak, which is where his troubles began.  After winning the 2006 Tour de France, Landis tested positive for testosterone in an anti-doping control associated with his remarkable win of that year's stage 17.

Landis' path hasn't been easy.  After riding the 2006 Tour in serious pain, he underwent a hip resurfacing surgery in September of 2006 and extensive rehabilitation followed.  He was suspended for his doping test result and despite a lengthy legal process, was unsuccessful in his appeal and had to serve his ban.

While banned on the road, Landis returned briefly to the dirt for some mountain bike competition in a few races not sanctioned by the national federation.  In 2007, he finished second at the Leadville 100 to Dave Wiens and third in the Shenandoah Mountain 100.  When he was again allowed to race again on the road, Landis returned to the pro scene with his current team, OUCH Pro Cycling.

Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream

Tom Danielson
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The SoBe / Headshok Cannondale team was set up as a grass roots team that could help riders move from regional stars to national champions, and Tom Danielson was of the riders who race for the team in its hay day.  Danielson, now 31, raced for SoBe from 1999 to 2001. 

He became the US Collegiate National Mountain Bike Champion in 2001 and kept his title for 2002.

In 2003, he won the overall classification of the Tour de Langkawi, and from then on, it's road time.  Danielson raced for Discovery, Mercury, Saturn and Fasso Bortolo before his current Garmin-Slipstream Team.

Danielson won the Tour de Georgia in 2005 and the 2006 Tour of Austria.  He also won a stage in the 2006 Vuelta a Espana.

Michael Rasmussen (Den) Serving a ban until July 25, 2009

Michael Rassmussen
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Michael Rasmussen was known as "The Chicken" before he became known as the man pulled out of the Tour de France by Team Rabobank in 2007 while he was wearing the yellow leader's jersey.  The team had some tough questions about Rasmussen's whereabouts and ended up terminating his contact mid-Grand Tour.

The 35-year-old became a household name among mountain bikers in 1999 when he won the World Championship cross country title.  Skinny back then, too, he was also a talented climber.

During his off road career, Rasmussen rode for Scott International, Gary Fisher, Haro Lee, Dungarees and CSC-Tiscali.

After his World Championship in mountain biking, Rasmussen got a break on the road by racing as a stagiare for Team CSC-Tiscali.  Between 2005 and 2006, he won four Tour de France stages, and he won the mountains classification, too, both of those years.

Rasmussen won't be back in time for this year's Tour de France, but that doesn't mean he won't be back in the pro road peloton soon after.

Know any other mountain bikers who made the switch to the road?  Discuss the Cyclingnews' selection and share yours on our forum at forum.cyclingnews.com.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Jean-Francois Quenet

Images by Sirotti/www.sirotti.it

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

Images by Sirotti/www.sirotti.it

Images by Team Felt International

  • Miguel Martinez returned to the dirt earlier in 2009 though he no longer rides for Felt.

Images by AFP

Images by Jonathan Devich/

Images by Kathleen Clinton

Images by Mark Watson

  • Adam Hansen won the Crocodile Trophy mountain bike stage race.

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