For the last six years the elite men’s British cyclo-cross championships has been dominated by Ian Field and Liam Killeen. Before them there was a host of other usual suspects who’d been sharing the title amongst themselves.
So, despite a track record that includes three under-23 titles, it turned heads earlier this month when young Scot Grant Ferguson got the better of both Field and Killeen to win this season’s championship. A mountain biker by summer, Ferguson attributes his success to putting more focus on his running ahead of this year’s title race.
Rouleur: Did your British elite cyclo-cross title feel like some kind of changing of the guard? The young guy taking over?
Grant Ferguson: No, not really. I’ve been racing Liam [Killeen] for years in mountain bikes and trying to beat Fieldy [Ian Field] for the past five years, so it was good to finally do it in a national championship, but I don’t really feel like the young guy anymore. That’s how you’d describe [Tom] Pidcock or [Dan] Tulett. I’m somewhere in the middle these days!
You didn’t target the title?
Well, sort of. I wanted to win it and in recent years my running really let me down. So I did a bit more preparation this year, but the first few training runs ruin me. I take it easy in because I wouldn’t be able to walk for days afterwards. You don’t run in cross-country mountain biking!
You’re a World Cup mountain biker by trade, riding for CST-Sandd-American Eagle, so where does cyclo-cross fit into your year?
I just love racing. I love riding off-road and that one hour intense racing is great in the winter. I really enjoy it. I normally take time off after the World XC [cross-country] championships, but last October I did a week-long, off-road stage race in Brazil.
The first stage was 90 miles of single track. That was kinda tough. I did four ‘cross races prior to the championship, a couple of UK National rounds, a Scottish national race and a World Cup in Belgium, that was it.
You don’t need a lot of time to adapt, then?
I don’t know about that. I raced my first ever ‘cross World Cup in Namur and that was an eye-opener, that’s just another level. It was like a European mountain bike race in a way, tight course, big, noisy crowds – but with more beer!
The way they ride ruts on descents and their running was something else though. I learned a lot that day – it really is a step up.
Do you think it’d be possible to do a season that combined racing at the front in World Cup mountain biking and cyclo-cross?
Yeah, I do, although it’d be hard. Maybe more mentally, I mean. Mathieu Van der Poel did really well in a couple of mountain bike races last year. I reckon he could win one, but at the moment, each ‘side’ is really more focused on their sport.
I saw a few guys I normally race against at in XC at Namur, but we’re racing against guys who prepare the whole year for ‘cross. That’s the peak of their season. It’s tough.
Read: Bike change – Tom Pidcock returns to cyclo-cross
OK, so if I held a gun to your head, and said it was either mountain biking or cyclo-cross…
Ah, I just love racing!
That’s as maybe, but the gun in my hand…
OK. Cross-country mountain biking! I’m off to the Costa Blanca for a four-day mountain bike stage race next week.
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