One of the most interesting things about cycling compared to most other sports are the different disciplines that any given rider can take part in – road racing, time-trialling, mountain biking, track racing and cyclo-cross.
Stephen Roche once said that “maybe it is a view of a dreamer but I have always believed that a complete bike racer should be able to ride on the flat, in the mountains, in the time trials and on the track.”
Not long after Roche finished third in the 1985 Tour de France at the age of 25, he rode the Paris six-day race on the track with the British rider Tony Doyle. Roche crashed and hurt his knee, an injury which would plague him for the rest of his career.
But his sentiment about being a master of all trades remains:
The crash I suffered towards the end of the Paris-Six in November 1985, which led to such disappointment in 1986, has not altered my belief about the complete bike rider.
It’s strange that Roche doesn’t include cyclo-cross in his list of requirements for the complete bike rider. He was the Irish national cyclo-cross champion in 1979 so he appeared to have that skill-set in his locker too.
It is common to see riders who excel at one discipline at an early age only to make a move into another later on in their career. Cadel Evans is a prime example. The Australian was a hugely successful mountain biker in his younger days and didn’t move to a professional road team until he was nearly 25. He has been even more successful as a road rider winning the Tour de France and the World Championships road race.
There are also many examples of riders who find success on the track first and then make the move to road racing. Guys like Mark Cavendish, Stuart O’Grady, Mark Renshaw and Theo Bos were all world champions on the track before moving sideways and concentrating more on road racing.
Although it is hugely impressive to see riders capable of excelling in two different disciplines and different points of their careers, it is fascinating to follow riders who attempt to excel at more than one facet of cycling concurrently throughout the year.
To shift the focus to cyclo-cross – the art of mixing cyclo-cross in the winter with road racing throughout the remaining seasons has become less and less prevalent in recent years.
Adrie van der Poel won the world cyclo-cross championships in 1996 having previously finished second on five occasions. While on the road he also won Amstel Gold, Liége-Bastogne-Liége and the Tour of Flanders.
The Swiss Pascal Richard also combined being world cyclo-cross champion in 1988 with a successful road career. He won Liége-Bastogne-Liége, the Tour of Lombardy and the Olympics road race.
Perhaps most impressively, Roger de Vlaeminck won stages in all three Grand Tours, won all five of cycling’s monument classics (including a record four Paris-Roubaixs) and in 1975 he was also the world cyclo-cross champion.
In addition, big names such as Franco Bitossi, Charly Gaul, Eugene Christophe and Marc Madiot have all been national cyclo-cross champions of their respective countries.
Two of the most high profile riders who have attempted to juggle both road racing and cyclo-cross in recent years are Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar. Other riders who race both disciplines are the French riders Francis Mourey, John Gadret and Steve Chainel. Though they all have a long way to go though if they are to emulate the multi-tasking stars of yesteryear.
Although, in terms of multi-tasking, Lars Boom had a rather incredible year in 2008. He won all three national Dutch titles for cyclo-cross, time trialling and road racing as well as winning the world cyclo-cross championships.
A further special mention is deserved by the rather unheralded Czech rider Roman Kreuziger who finished on the podium of the junior worlds cyclo-cross, time trial and road race back in 2004.
Although Stephen Roche’s ideals of the perfect cyclist are not personified completely by any active rider, there are many willing to spread themselves a bit thinner than most and fly the flag for the multi-cyclo-disciplinarians.