By Luke Webber
Former Under 23 mountain bike World Champion Jakob Fuglsang collected solid results in his first year as an elite racer and earned two big contract offers for 2009. Fuglsang, one of cross country racing's biggest talents, is swapping mud pack for a bumpy life on the road.
Miguel Martinez, Michael Rasmussen, Cadel Evans are all mountain bikers who have made a successful transition from dirt to the road, and their ranks will be strengthened by Jakob Fuglsang in 2009. The news that the Dane would be joining Bjarne Riis and the new Saxo Bank Team, formerly known as Team CSC, came as an end-of-season surprise among the usual plethora of sponsorship swaps, but his leap is an exciting move for one of cycling's most promising prospects.
After several years of success on the mountain bike World Cup Circuit while riding for Cannondale-Vredestein, Fuglsang was seen as a star for the future. His first year as an elite rider included two World Cup podium appearances, Olympic team selection and victory alongside teammate Roel Paulissen in the Cape Epic. His biggest win to date though came in late 2007 with the title of Under 23 World Champion in Fort William.
Upsetting race favourite Nino Schurter of Switzerland may have been a shock for fans and pundits, but it was not such a surprise for Jakob. Two weeks previous, both were preparing at the same race and the young Dane saw the tide turning.
"We were doing a road race in Switzerland just before the worlds, and I could see that I was stronger than Nino, so I knew I would have the mental edge. Winning the worlds in 2007 was the goal for the whole season. Becoming World Champion was my overall goal for mountain biking. I came to the race with the mental image that I could do it."
His win did not come easily. At first, Schurter gained the advantage. "In the beginning he rode away from me," said Fuglsang. "I rode far too safely on the descent. I was not doing a good job there. So I said to myself, 'Either I go 100% and take the risks or you will have to be satisfied with second place.' So from then on, I was riding with everything."
The win set Fuglsang up as the latest hot property in cross country racing in stark contrast to where he was two years before when he was ready to quit mountain biking following a string of bad results. The young Dane was looking for a way out. Fortunately no road teams were interested in him, so he renewed his commitment to mountain biking rather than mixing road and off-road disciplines.
This focus, along with a move from Denmark to Italy, helped Fuglsang become a fixture in the World Cup top ten. However, though his success was off-road, he has been training more as a road rider. "I have been living like a road rider when it comes to training for the last few years. Almost all my training is on the road and then I mountain bike when I get to the race."
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