After writing about Missy Giove, I got to thinking about how bicycle racers come to be.
When "The Missile" was flying down mountainsides, downhill racing was a new genre of mountain biking. Before that time--the early-to-mid '90's-- nearly all of the prominent mounatain bikers started off as road racers. However, she was one of the first mountain bikers who didn't have a significant background on the road. Later in the decade, there would be a "critical mass" of mountain bike racers who spent all or most of their amateur and professional careers as mountain bikers without spending significant time on the road or track.
Interestingly, by the end of that decade, American dominance of mountain biking would end. While riders from the US still won more than their share of victories, the best young talent in the sport was coming from Europe--first from France, then from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria and a few other countries.
One would have thought that the riders from the other side of the Atlantic--where racing culture was, and still is, deeper than it is in the New World-- would have been, if anything, road or track racers before becoming mountain bikers. And indeed some were. But those new riders from the Alps, Pyrenees and other mountain areas of Europe also had roots in another sport that is more prominent over there than it is here: downhill ski racing.
It makes sense, at least to me: My own (admittedly limited) experience with both has shown me that downhillers, whether they're on skis or wheels, have to have similar reflexes and moves. Plus, if you're living in a mountainous area, you simply have more opportunities to do either sport, let alone both.
Now, to a completely different area of cycling: the triathlon. Of course, it's not strictly a cycling event: it also involves running and swimming. Still, one might expect that a large percentage of triathloners to come from the world of bicycle racing.
I am sure that many do, although I have seen no research to corroborate that. However, from my own admittedly-informal observations, and from knowing several triathloners, I get the impression that most triathloners start off--and identify themselves primarily--as runners. And not many seem to be mainly swimmers
|Promo for mini-triathlon in Marysville, MO, 2012|
If what I've seen is indicative of the wider world, I can think of one reason why triathloners might be runners first and foremost . Of the three triathlon events, running is hardest on the knees and other body parts. If someone's joints and limbs can stand up to the pounding or jarring that results from hitting the pavement, they can certainly handle cycling and swimming. Conversely, while swimming is a very intensive physical activity, it places very little stress on the knees.
So...If some of the best downhill racers were skiers before taking up mountain biking, and the majority of triathloners start off as runners, what were the first bike racers doing before they started spinning their pedals?