The history of mountain biking has been marked by superb athletes who have become real icons in the sport’s various competitions. From enduro to XC, downhill to eliminator, every race has its champion.
But often these super-athletes also represent the story of leading MTB brands and top teams, with whom they are associated. It is not uncommon for them to become ambassadors for various types of off-road bike, or for specific MTB wheels and accessories.
But whatever their sponsors, teams or chosen products, the greatest champions have always won on their own merits and their performance on the ground.
Including former professional cyclists, Italian (and otherwise), and emerging young MTB stars, here's a list of the athletes who have made history in the sport.
Promising newcomers and Italian ex professionals
Let's start with our home-grown champions. These are Italian athletes who have shown their ability to race and win at the highest level within their discipline. Some of them have said goodbye to professional competition, others are still around; meanwhile the Olympus of Italian MTB is being scaled by talented and very young women.
Paola Pezzo deserves a special mention, as she's a veritable milestone in the history of Italian MTB. She won two Olympic gold medals in cross country: at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.
MARCO AURELIO FONTANA
Marco Aurelio Fontana is one of the best cross-country cyclists in Italy. He represented Italy at the 2012 London Olympics, taking home a bronze medal, and was world champion in the team relay in 2013.
This Italian cyclist is a real MTB phenomenon, but he announced his retirement from international competitions in 2022. Gerhard Kerschbaumer became famous for his repeated wins in cross country, and was extremely successful in the World Cup and European Championships.
One of the best Italian cross country cyclists, the winner of two Elite individual World Cup medals and three-time world champion in the team relay. Eva Lechner has been a constant presence in international competitions, and has represented Italy in the Olympics.
Born in 2002, Gaia Tormena is a promise (already fulfilled!) in Italian MTB, as well as an Ursus ambassador. Despite her youth, she has already succeeded in winning, in a single year (2022), the World Championship, the World Cup, the European and Italian Championships in the XCE Eliminator and gold in the Italian Enduro Championship.
MTB athletes around the world
And outside Italy? The history of MTB has been influenced by numerous exceptional athletes, who have helped to establish the sport and take it to ever higher levels in endurance, cross-country, downhill and all the other disciplines.
JOHN TOMAC, "THE BOMBER"
A true legend of MTB, champion of cross country and downhill. He's considered a pioneer of off-road cycling and one of the most versatile riders in MTB history.
This French cyclist dominated the cross-country scene for many years. He won numerous Olympic medals and world championships, showing extraordinary consistency and versatility.
ANNA-CAROLINE CHAUSSON, THE DOWNHILL QUEEN
The winner of numerous gold medals at downhill world championships has left an indelible mark on the sport.
This Swiss cyclist is deservedly considered one of the all-time greats in cross country. He has won many Olympic and world medals and set a new standard for excellence.
One of the pioneers of enduro and freeride, he helped to expand the boundaries of MTB with his incredible riding skill.
This British athlete is one of the best in the world in downhill and women's enduro. She has won a number of world titles and shown enormous adaptability in the various disciplines.
Minaar is a South African cyclist and one of the greatest ever in the history of downhill racing. His ability to handle technical terrains has won him many World Cup and world championship titles.
But how do you become a mountain bike champion?
As with any sport, to become a champion (or a legend, in some cases), you need three things: talent, perseverance and serious training.
It helps to have the best equipment too, of course, but success only happens with dedication.
MTB training: what should never be lacking
Mountain biking requires specific training, which obviously should take into account your chosen discipline.
For example, there are differences between MTB training for cross country, endurance and downhill, as each of these demands specific technical skills and physical conditions.
But there are some common elements that should never be lacking in MTB training:
- Basic aerobic fitness;
- Strength training;
- Balance and riding technique exercises;
- MTB training on the ground;
- Technical sessions;
- Interval training to improve the ability to accelerate and recover rapidly;
- A focus on diet and hydration;
- Recovery periods;
- Work on MTB maintenance skills and interpreting the weather.
The right bike and accessories
Equipment is not what makes a champion, but with a similar level of training, having a higher quality mountain bike and accessories does make a difference. Thanks to new technologies and designs, bicycles, wheels and components are becoming increasingly lightweight and responsive, and can enhance the rider's performance.
In this, even small details make a difference. Smaller-sized accessories, like hubs, for example, are extremely functional and can have a remarkable impact on performance.
MTB hubs should be chosen with particular care, given the nature of the terrain used for races and training. The ideal choice tends to be with extremely smooth ball bearings, and these must be appropriately protected from mud and detritus. This allows the wheels to move optimally, but also reduces the need for maintenance and replacement of the bearings.
A considerable advantage for anyone wishing to enjoy MTB races to the full!
Do you have everything you need to get started in MTB? Download our checklist now and discover the must-have accessories.