Chris Pedder is on location in Ornans, France, for the UCI Marathon Mountain Bike World Championships. Thomas Dietsch is a long time wearer of the French Marathon Mountain Biking National Champions Jersey, and races for Team Bulls. Previously, Pedder also spoke to Karl Platt about the World Championships, bike racing, and getting time to race cars
MMTB: To me, you are inextricably linked with the French Tricolore jersey – you’ve been racing a long time, what developments have you seen in marathon racing in that time?
TD: A lot of things have changed in the last ten years. For one thing, the level in marathon is much higher – the top level hasn’t changed too much because already ten years ago we had Frischknect as World Champion and other great riders like Bart Brentjens at the top of the sport. But the level in general, like the top-10 riders, they are much closer together. And that makes things much harder, because you can’t arrive in middle-shape and think about top-ten. To be in the top-ten a decade ago was easy, whereas now you must be in really good shape, and to go beyond that and stand on the podium, you have to be really super.
MMTB: And this is why we’re seeing more of the marathon races settled in a sprint?
TD: Yes, exactly. And it’s more team-based, in Germany in particular there are a lot of good marathon teams like Merida, Black Tusk who are focussed just on marathon and stage races. In France, we have less racing, so it’s better for me to race in Germany because the level is higher, and for me to keep my fitness I need constant, hard racing.
MMTB: I have noticed of the few European marathons I have done, the French ones tend to be on courses that are more challenging, more technical, whereas German races are more tactical and faster.
TD: In France we have fewer races overall, but more races like this race here in Ornans. For example two weeks ago, about an hour from here was La Forestiere, which is more or less the same type of race. I think now this race is in its 22nd year.
MMTB: So it’s almost as old and fabled as the Grand Raid Cristalp!
TD: I think Grand Raid is 25 years old, so yeah.
MMTB: You grew up in France, you’ve been racing the French style of races for many years, do you think that that style of racing suits you more, do you prefer it?
TD: It’s difficult to say. Here it’s not my favourite race, because I would really like a dry course, it’s too slippery for me at the moment, but I prefer a race like this with dry conditions. It’s more mountain biking and more technical, and it’s a good representation of what mountain bike racing is about. Some races are really too fast, like a few years ago the Norway world championships. Lillehammer was not a mountain bike race to me. Similarly, two years ago, the European championships in Estonia was way too fast also. Here, it’s really a good race for the world champs, but unfortunately we can’t really enjoy it because it’s too wet!
But it’s really mountain biking.
MMTB: If only it had been like last year! I saw pictures of the finish last year with people finishing with lovely clean bikes and clean jerseys!
TD: Yeah, exactly. I think last year we raced for less than 4 hours, and this year, if it’s slippery, we are looking at four and a half hours minimum. We’ll see on Sunday!
MMTB: You’ve done quite a few marathon World Championships now, which one has been your favourite?
TD: I enjoyed it the best when I finished on the podium! . No, I think it was a nice world champs in Belgium, with not really big climbs, but nice singletrack. Bad Goisern a few years ago was also a nice race, more or less all of them have been good. Italy last year was really well organised, and to me the Dolomiti are one of the really most beautiful places in the world. It’s always a great experience. I spoke before about the Lillehammer race, and although the course was not perfect, the experience was fantastic because there were so many people out supporting the riders. This is one of the best things about the world marathon.
MMTB: Support makes such a difference to your race experience, the thought that people have come out to support you makes your race that much more special whether you’re in first place or one hundredth. You’ve seen things change within the sport, what have been the biggest technological developments that have had an impact on marathon racing?
TD: I think now the 29ers make a big difference for marathon racing, they are much more rideable and comfortable bikes. To me, it’s not a question of weight but of the feeling of the bike. I don’t want to come back to a 26” wheeled bike. And a big change is also the brakes, they are so much better. When I think a bit, everything has improved, forks are really more comfortable now, it’s easy to find a softer fork, and all is better. But the big change for me is the 29er, because I am tall, so for me it is the perfect bike.
MMTB: You see I’ve been riding a 29er scaled to my height for years!
TD: We have seen so much change in the last ten years, it’s crazy, and it’s still not finished. Now we are seeing 29er fully, and so much technological change, and it’s a good development for the market, but also for us too – we get to test new stuff. We have some prototype Schwalbe tyres (badged as “First Ride”). It’s great to be involved with the development of the bikes too. Last week was the first time we tried the new tyres, and it was really exciting to try them out and see what pressures we could use in them. It’s always exciting to get new things!
MMTB: I guess the obvious question is what’s next, what will be the next big improvement. I don’t have a good answer to this question unfortunately.
TD: Me neither. If you think of anything, let me know and we can sell it!