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an interview with simon burney

cyclocross by simon burney

simon burney was manager of the uk based peugeot mountain bike team in the early 90s, guiding such riders as david baker and tim gould. currently he is british cycling's 'cross and mountain bike coach and his book 'cyclocross training+technique published by velopress, has now reached these shores. so i thought i'd ask him some questions.

i remember reading what would have been the first edition of your cyclo cross book some fifteen years ago. have things changed dramatically since then?
Certainly have! Especially equipment, but also training methods, and courses have evolved so the racing is quite a lot different to how it was in the eighties. It's 17 years since edition one of the book, and like everything, 17 years sees big changes.

since mountain biking would have seemed the trendier option to go for at the time, why opt for cyclo-cross?
At the time of the first book mountain bike racing was growing really fast and there was quite a lot being written about it in magazines and various books. 'Cross had a big history but no books and not much in the mags, it was also "my" discipline, I had raced it and been involved for a while and it was actually Phil Liggett who suggested my name to Springfield, the publishers, who had put the word out that they might be interested in a book about 'Cross. We had a chat at the '88 Worlds in Switzerland and Phil hooked me up with Springfield who asked for a sample chapter to see if I knew enough words and could string them together in some kind of order. After the 'Cross book myself and Tim Gould teamed up to do a very similar book called "Mountain Bike Racing" which went well at the time but I never quite got round to updating that one.

which side of the bike would you prefer to be on - riding or coaching/mechanic?
There is no reason why you cant do all of it; I've always tried to ride, even though I was forced to quit racing after I bust my knee up badly in a crash. I still love riding my bike but equally I have loved mechanicing, managing and coaching. Again, over the period of time I have been involved things change and people come and go, and whilst a few years ago I would be passionate about mechanicing for someone, or coaching a certain rider, as the riders move on or change teams and my own job changed then its only when you look back that you realise how it has evolved.

don't you get a bit fed up with all the mud, particularly in the uk?
Never! I get fed up in the winter when there is a dry spell and there isn't much mud! Mud makes it so much fun, its like being a kid having an excuse to go play in the dirt, get filthy, slide around... mud is the reason I love the sport.

cyclo-cross book

almost all types of cycle racing eventually come under the eye of the uci. was cyclo cross more fun before it became 'institutionalised'?
Its always been a UCI sport so its never been in a situation when it was fun then some bad guys came along with a rule book and ruined it for everyone. The Boss of cyclo cross for the UCI is an ex-Belgian Professional National Champion who also rode for my teams for five years as a mountain bike pro, so he knows the sport inside out and has massive passion and experience for it so I'm confident that the UCI has the best interests of the sport at heart.

given that we have endless amounts of mud and crap weather in the uk, why do you think the belgians are so much better?
Well its nothing to do with mud or the weather, thats for sure. Its the snowball effect that comes when a sport is popular with the people to point that they will go and pay to watch it, then television picks up on its popularity and televises the vast majority of the races, a high percentage on live broadcast. With regular television comes sponsorship for the events and the teams and riders. Riders become "personalities", teams fight to employ the best ones, riders can earn a living racing so they dont need to work and can train full-time, and because there is so much money to be made and such a lot of races available then the level rises.

and the americans?
The Americans have always been pretty crap, down there with the Brits for years and years, but in the last five years or so a few individuals with some vision have realised that its a discipline of the sport that actually Americans could promote very well in their own country and at the same time it has that historic traditional feel to it that Yanks love, so they get really excited about finding out about it and coming to deepest darkest Europe to find a hallowed race they have read about for years, and then they can actually race it. Its not like reading about Paris-Roubaix then finding out you need to be on a Pro Tour road team to compete in it. If you have an Elite American racing license and you want to come and race the Super Prestige in Overijse, which is a real classic, then suddenly you can find yourself on the start line. Americans are great at promotion and Cross fits well with a sport that benefits from a bit of effort and promotion. It doesn't need roads to be closed or Highway Patrol to look after it, its short enough to keep spectators interested, its relatievely cheap to promote and it ties in with a lot of Americans discovering cycling as a way to keep in shape, to follow the sport thanks to Lance Armstrong being a household name, and Cross is the next bit of it to move onto.

since you are the mountain bike and cyclo cross coach for british cycling, isn't it unusual that your book is published by velopress in colorado?
I'm targeting the American audience!

i mentioned in my review of your book that your level of observation is quite meticulous. do you have a photographic memory, or do you just keep very detailed notes?
Well I've never kept a note in my life and I certainly dont have a photographic memory! Working with the top end of Elite athletes you learn very quickly that attention is in the detail and the difference between the medals at Olympics and Commonwealth Games comes down to the detail, which the staff at British Cycling's Performance Department are very, very good at, particularly on the track. I guess that work enviroment leaves a lasting impression and I thought about Cross as I was writing the book in that way, breaking it down to its parts that you can work on and writing about them.

how tough are you on the riders under your jurisdiction?
I'm a softie. Thats the other thing I learned at BC, that the riders are in charge and they have the responsibility. Its them that get up and train hard every day and them that have the motivation and pressure from within to want to win. They simply need to surround themselves with their own "team" of people who can help them reach their goals, so I work for the riders they dont work for me, and its simply a case of offering them suggestions of things to try from the knowledge or experience I have had, its never under any circumstances a case of they have to do this or that.

who's at the forefront of british cyclocross at the moment, and who should we look out for in the future?
Well Roger Hammond is still the man to beat come the National Championships, and Liam Killeen is a highly talented bike rider who focuses on mountain bike racing but who again always rides a 'cross race to win it. The best of the rest all work for a living and do it as a hobby, people like Rob Jebb, Paul Oldham, Jody Crawforth and Dave Collins. In the future look out for Ian Field.

is there room for introducing cyclocross in schools, either in the uk or the usa?
British Cycling's Talent Team and Go-Ride schemes all include 'Cross and the coaching staff who go into schools certainly include 'Cross in their sessions. I dont think it will be a part of the National Curriculum though.... cyclo-cross

with the introduction of bmx in beijing next year, do you ever see cyclocross becoming an olympic discipline, even for the winter olympics?
No, its not going to happen. Two reasons; the main one being that there are not enough countries competing at the World Championships. There are most of the European countries plus America, a couple from Zimbabwe, a Kiwi and the occasional Aussie or Japanese. I think this year there were 24 Nations represented... compare that to mountain bike where there were 47 this year. Its not a global sport. Secondly cycling has reached its ceiling as far as numbers go at the Games so to introduce a new discipline, something would have to go. When BMX came in the Kilo and scratch races on the track went, which didn't go down well! If Cross came in there is not much to chuck out. Then there is the dilemma of which Games would you target, summer or winter? It would have to be winter to avoid a 'Cross race in 38degC, 85% humidity Beijing, but then its not a snow sport.

what's the future for cyclocross - business as usual or are there major developments still to come?
I thinks it business as usual, but again, slight changes will happen every year until ten years down the line we will look back and see it's changed quite a lot.

and considering the development seen in road bikes recently, can you see the same level of being applied to cross bikes? would there be any point?
Absolutely, 'Cross bike development has moved in line with road bikes and there are now frames as technically advanced and as light as the best road frames.

there's a singlespeed cyclo cross world championship being held in portland this coming november. do you see this as a sideshow, or something that might be incorporated into the mainstream?
Sideshow. Why would you do that...?!

whatever happened to tim gould and david baker?
David is a landscape gardener near Shefffield, Tim is a Postman in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. David had to stop riding his bike due to a heart condition, Tim still ventures out to the cafe on his every now and again.

shimano or campag?
Campag, everytime, absolutely no choice!

money no object, which bike/frame do you buy?
Not sure... I was looking at the Cross bikes and frames at the Vegas show and the new BMC for next year looked nice as did the new Time frame. For me personally it has to fit, as I'm too tall for most off-the-peg frames so anyone who has a size to fit me that has been thought about as far as geometry and shape goes, well they get my vote. What pisses me off are the companies that spend thousands developing cutting edge 'Cross frames and then put bottle cage bosses on them!

will we see a simon burney cyclocross dvd in the foreseeable future showing us how it should be done?
Well if you did, it wouldn't feature me showing you what to do. My friend Martin Eadon did one a few years ago that I think went down pretty well, and I've seen a few examples from the States, but it might be cool to do one with a "name" showing how to do it and use clips from races to use as examples. You've got me thinking....

copies of simon's book can be ordered in the uk through cordee books for £13.99, while those in americashire can order through velopress (the book's publishers) for $18.95. simon also has a blog at


as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.