11 August 2023

Multi-discipline riders shine in combined worlds

The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships is the first time cross-discipline riders have been able to battle for rainbow jerseys at the same event.

France's Pauline Ferrand-Prevot wins the Women Mountain Bike Cross-country XSS Short Track at Glentress Forest

With the win of Mathieu van der Poel on the road last Sunday, the Dutch superstar became the first man ever to hold road and cyclocross World Champions jerseys in one season. It marked a significant milestone for the multi-disciplinarian, who will take on his third event this weekend as he starts the cross country mountain bike Olympic event at Glentress tomorrow, in with a chance of making yet more history. It also marked another first – the first rider to win rainbow jerseys at this Championships in more than one discipline.

It’s not a new phenomenon to see riders from one cycling discipline try their hand at a different one; many riders grow up combining events, and there’s received wisdom that suggests participating in more than one cycle sport improves your overall performance, with a broader range of experience in race craft, bike handling and endurance just some of the benefits that can be gained from combining.

The inaugural Cycling World Championships is the first time that many cross-disciplinary riders have been able to battle for rainbow jerseys in more than one of their sports at a time. Like the Olympics, it offers a chance for riders to time their form to perfection – to peak for not just one, but multiple opportunities to raise their arms in victory and become a World Champion.

For some, it will be the making of their own legend.

USA's Chloe Dygert competes in the Women's Individual Time Trial in Stirlingshire
Chloe Dygert

Some of the best so far

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to cast your eye down a start list or two, and discover such legends, still riding among the bunch. Marianne Vos is arguably the greatest multi-disciplinarian of them all, having won World Championships on the road, track, and in cyclocross, and France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot became the first cyclist – male or female – to simultaneously hold world titles in three disciplines (road, cyclocross and mountain bike cross country) in 2014-15.

This Championships has offered yet more examples of the enduring advantage of riding more than one cycling discipline, as riders have had the chance to display their skills and win multiple jerseys, proving their dominance across surfaces.

Day nine alone produced three such examples: the USA’s Chloe Dygert won the women’s elite individual time trial on the road, having already taken a win in the individual pursuit event on the track.

And the future of multi-discipline riding was assured with the win of two dazzling junior riders: Denmark’s Albert Philipsen added mountain biking cross country rainbows to the road race Championship he won on Friday; while Canada’s Isabella Holmgren added mountain bike honours to the cyclocross World Championship title she claimed in Hoogerheide back in February.

It’s far from a flash in the pan, as with more opportunities for riders to double up over the weekend, the enduring success of riders who choose to combine disciplines is testament to the consistent performances that such a varied programme fosters.

Denmark's Albert Philipsen wins the Junior Men's Mountain Bike Cross-country Olympic
Albert Philipsen

Multi-discipline riders to watch out for this weekend

It goes without saying that Mathieu van der Poel’s participation is headline news in the world of doubling up – tripling up, in van der Poel’s case, as he joins an elite group of just a few riders who compete across three disciplines. He would be the first male rider – and only the second cyclist ever – to hold three titles simultaneously, should he succeed in Glentress on Saturday.

Young Dutch off-roader Puck Pieterse fell just short of winning cyclocross Worlds in February, taking silver behind her fellow multi-disciplinarian Fem van Empel. Puck has won World Cups in mountain biking this year, and if she can take victory in tomorrow’s cross country Olympic race, she could target 2024’s CX Worlds with a view to holding both at once.

Arguably the multi-discipline rider with the greatest chance of doubling up at these championships this weekend is Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky. Already twice World Champion on the track, in the Elimination and Points races, Kopecky is one of the favourites to take the win on the road on Sunday. It’s a course that suits her capabilities and she has proven she is in the form of her life, wearing the yellow jersey for 7 days and winning a stage at the recent Tour de France Femmes, and proving with her performances on the track that it pays to straddle multiple disciplines, especially when they’re all in one place.

Tom Pidcock may not have won rainbows at this Championships, but he’s won Worlds before and is the reigning Olympic champion, and having won cyclocross Worlds in 2022, holding three titles in the same year is an ambition the rider from Yorkshire has expressed an interest in, in the past.

Belgium's Lotte Kopecky of Belgium receiving the gold medal for the Women’s Elite Points Race
Lotte Kopecky