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.
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.