Interview: Marco Fontana

May 6, 2013
by Matt Wragg  





















INTERVIEW
Marco Fontana
WORDS MATT WRAGG
ACTION PHOTOS ALE DI LULLO/CANNONDALE

In the mostly very serious world of Olympic XC, Marco Fontana stands out as the flamboyant, funny and opinionated Italian. He earned himself a place as an Italian national hero at the 2012 London Olympics by fighting back from a mechanical to win the bronze medal. On the World Cup circuit he's a regular at the top end of the results sheets in both Olympic XC and cyclocross. More than that, he can hold his own against world class downhillers and enduro racers in the gravity disciplines. We caught up with him on the pump track at Massa Vecchia in Tuscany to talk about why he likes high saddles, doesn't wear lycra and thinks downhill should be in the Olympics.

Portrait.

What is it about cross-country that made you choose that discipline?

It's mountain biking. For sure, it's cool to look at guys who can jump off 20m, but cross-country is cool because... First-off, it's a cool bike to look at, to ride. Then, you can do everything with your bike. I know a lot of guys like freeride bikes or downhill bikes, but you have to go up with something, otherwise you don't enjoy your bike. Bikes are made for pedalling. Cross-country bikes are something that can give you the chance to do everything.


A lot of people tend to see XC as just long fireroad climbs.

It's really different to that, I think it's getting cool to watch. We have really technical courses, really technical descents. Tracks are getting shorter. It's a really cool race to watch. I'm not saying it's not tough, there's nothing easy in this world and, sure, you need to pedal. Don't get me wrong, but you can also enjoy climbing. It's not just "ahhh, I need to go all the way up." If you're a sporty person, then you also like this kind of stuff. I truly believe people that hate cross-country or road riding, just because it's tough, they never tried it. Or they don't try it enough, because you can also enjoy going up the hill. Now, with enduro you can see guys and they train, and they like to train because you get fit, and they like to be fit. Everything gets easier.


What about descending on those bikes? Surely the high seatpost gets in the way?

It's enjoyable. It's still something you can enjoy a lot. If you've never ridden a bike with a high seat for a while, you just say "how the hell you can you ride this bike? How can you go down?" You can, and you can go fast. It's about practicing on that bike. Maybe at some point we will come out with a bike with a dropping seatpost, who knows? It depends on the course. It's not easy to ride a bike with a fixed seatpost, but it's possible and you can do stuff...

Cornering hard.

Yeah, about dropper posts... I know a lot of people outside of XC look at your bikes and ask "why don't they use dropper posts?"

Dropping seatpost are a really good idea, but on a cross-country bike, we need to build bikes around that. A cross-country bike has a really steep head-angle, with a dropping seatpost, if you take out the saddle, it's not balanced. For us, it's not natural, as with the steep head-angle, if you have nothing between your legs, it's not comfortable. Maybe, in the future we will have different bikes, more aggressive, then maybe yes...


While we're talking about style, you're not a fan of lycra, right?

No! Lycra is something that came into cycling sports back in the days, I don't know when... I think, looking at our sports, the whole sport of mountain biking, it's getting big, it's growing a lot in every discipline - downhill, all-mountain, enduro, whatever. I think in races, which are the first thing people see, when people buy a magazine the first thing people want to see is racing, and I think, then, we should look more aggressive, we should look more modern. I think lycra is something a bit... old. For sure it's perfect road racing, for somebody else. But for me, I feel more comfortable with myself when I wear something a bit more, you know... I'm not forcing people, "you have to do this, you have to do that..." But I feel comfortable and I think it's cooler. As long as it works, why not?


It seems XC is changing quite a lot these days?

It's changed quite a bit because races are shorter. Times are faster, but also courses are shorter, which means the climbs are shorter, so there is more sprinting, more technical riding. It's not just going down big rocks that's technical, it's also shifting well and breathing when you have to. The rhythmn is really high, it's always push and brake, push and brake. I guess, and I hope, that they will keep build more artifical courses, for flowing races. We have cool races, but what is nice in mountain biking, to ride and to watch, is when you keep the flow. In everything, even downhill. When you have such a steep, straight up on a fireroad and you go maybe 8 or 10km/h, it's not nice to watch and, I can tell you , it's not nice to ride. When you have courses like London, or Dalby Forest, you have courses where you can keep going with flow. Down and up, down and up, and you can get your rhythmn and it's nice. It's tough, but it's nice.


Do you think the emergence of enduro is affecting cross-country?

It's tough to say. Enduro is a new discipline, it's growing, it's growing a lot. I could see that every country has different styles of enduro. We have Superenduro in Italy, in France it's different. Enduro is going up the hill, but you take your time, so it's a different sport. Cross-country is an endurance sport, it's getting more technical, but it's still an endurance sport.

What was your favourite race course last year then?

London. I can remember on Thursday, I was practicing the course for an hour and I could keep going for a while, because it was really, really nice. You'd keep the speed down, then up, shifting and shifting, then turn, sprinting. It was nice, really nice. Even if mountain biking is a grassroots sport, it's true that you ride in the mountains and hill and go wherever you want and it's cool. But races are different. Races have to be a bit more manmade, a bit more fluid and nice to ride and watch. I hope they will keep pushing in this direction.

Marco and his bike.

Speaking of London, talk us through that race.

London... I used to say that in bike racing, everything can happen. Ok, I had this problem, I broke the seatpost. At the bottom it was completely broken and it fell down. So I lost some time and I lost the leading group, because I was together with the two top guys. If I had a normal problem like a flat tyre or a broken chain, maybe we wouldn't be sitting here talking about a guy who won a medal. Everything can happen. Aaron Gwin lost Worlds because the brake didn't work... This is bike racing. I felt pretty good, I felt I could I race until the finish line with the other two guys and probably I could come to the finish line with them. But I can't say I would have won, you can't say that...


How much does having an Olympic medal change things for you?

Olympic medals are something big. In your home country and it's really nice because you read La Gazetta del Sport. Another thing, which is even better, is that I could see from that point on... I could see more bikes. I could see people going to ride their bikes and this is super-cool. This is the power of the Olympics, this is the power of a medal because everybody watches the Olympics because it's the biggest sporting event in the world. When you see something like that, maybe you look at this guy, he's a normal guy and he could make it and win the bronze, so I want to try. I feel like more people finally realised what mountain biking is - it's enjoyment , it's freedom. We're in the Maremma and it's nice, but we're in Italy and everywhere is nice, everywhere you can ride your bike. This is something I want to push.


What about Rio 2016 then?

2016? Yeah, I think I'm going to win in 2016, ha ha. I'm only 28.


What do you make of the Eliminator discipline?

I see Eliminator as something cool to put together with the main race, which is Olympic cross-country. Then the UCI tried to put it into the World Cup weekend as something more, adding something for spectators. I'm not 100% where the sport is going. It's a nice discipline, but we need to have proper rules in it. It's not good starting without a gate, for example. Or... Having a race which is 100% tarmac. Having the race on Friday night, then we race on Sunday afternoon, it's tough. If I want to be at least in the top five on Sunday, I don't want to spend the whole Friday afternoon and evening on the Eliminator.


It sounds a lot like what happened with dual/4X races at the downhill World Cups a few years ago...

I'm not saying anything against the downhill guys, but they do only race for three minutes. The level is so high and it's so technically demanding... But for us, with Eliminator you are spending hours losing energy and you need everything on Sunday. Also for the downhill guys, having two different bikes is difficult. I know Gwin can do well at 4X, but the bikes are different and racing four-up isn't easy. The point is, if they want us doing both, they have to put in an overall. They can't just put money or UCI points, they have to put a World Cup overall. Then, we can talk. It's not fair when a guy just does the Eliminator and on Sundays race, he does 200m and quits. The rule is that if you want to do the Eliminator, you have to race on Sunday... But if they just have to start and then quit, easy, I can do the same... We try to work with the UCI and try to give advice to them, so let's see what's going to happen. I heard some rumours that they want to put it in the Olympics or something, but I think it's kind of wrong. First of all we have downhill, for sure. It's a super-new discipline, I don't think it's something we want to use to show people this is mountain biking. This is not mountain biking, this is a discipline added to the World Cup programme. If it's something added to the weekend, I think it's fine, but I don't think it's an Olympic discipline. Olympic is where you bring the best of your sport and you show this to the whole world. Would you do that with Eliminator? No.

Leading out Manuel Fumic.

You mention downhill in the Olympics...

You should ask the downhill guys... But I think they are split, some of them would love to, but some of them, they don't want to hear about it. I think it's a proper discipline, it's a proper one...


As someone who has had that Olympic experience, what is your take on including it?

That's why I'm saying they should have downhill in the Olympics. Because, first of all, for the downhill guys, it's a life opportunity. The Olympics are so big... You see the top guys of every sport and, I can tell you, it's a super-nice feeling, being there... Then, when you do your race, you show the whole world what you do for your life. What your sport is. It's nice, because a lot of people still don't know what downhill is: "Oh, those guys are crazy, they jump down the houses." But it's not. It's a proper sport. I like it, I like a lot, otherwise I wouldn't be here talking about downhill in the Olympics...


I don't know if a lot of people will know that you race downhill and enduro too.

I would like to do more... I like to do gravity races, but my biggest focus is cross-country. I love it, I love the fact that it's a bar-to-bar race, it's endurance, it's technical, it's everything. I will keep going for a while with this. Gravity racing is a different approach to racing. Cross-country is really racing, you can't just come and say "I'll come and race with you guys" because after one and a half laps you'll be lapped. But with enduro, it's something more for everybody. They can say "I'll come and race against Vouilloz, Jerome... or Fontana" and why not? For sure, the level is going to be higher and higher, and these guys are really fit and fast, but I think the point is a participants sports. You can go and share you passion, your experience with all these guys. That's why I like to do it. I also like speed and tough trails too, I love... But the point is, our sport is really demanding , really tough, now we just spent half an hour on the pump track. This morning I was training and this afternoon I spent half an hour on the pump track and I am happy. I would like to take the car, go up and maybe do two or three descents a day. But you have to spend your energy in a good way. In cross-country, it's so tough that in your free time you have to rest.


What does your training plan look like then?

The training plan... if we start from January. Normally from January I race cyclocross and I do quite well, in [the previous World Cup round in] Rome I did third. I won the national championship, haha. Until the end of January when I have worlds, I do cyclocross. In February and March I do the long distance training, the base for the season. never more than five hours, it's a base where you do 20-25 hours a week. It's the maximum I do, normally at the end of the February, then I go lower because it's about power training, interval training. Cross-country isn't like road or marathon, you don't have to do a lot, but you have to do really specific training. That's really important. It's behind the car, getting your speed. Because it's so complete as a sport, endurance, technical and sprinting, so it's not about how much you do, but what you do. When you start racing, you use your mountain bike more to do technical stuff. In February and March it's more on the road bike, because you can't spend twenty hours a week on the mountain bike, because it's going to be tough.


50 Comments

  • + 140
 This guy know what mountain biking is about, respect
  • + 62
 Yup, I agree.. I like how he portrays XC as NOT a road bike race on dirt.
  • + 34
 When you see him styling it up over a drop off on the last lap in a world cup XC, how can you not respect this guy.

Really liking the recent interviews PB/Matt, more of these please Smile
  • + 27
 I feel at the moment there is so much tension between the xc riders and downhillers- wish everyone was like this. Its the sameish sport isn't it? Why cant we all just get along as mountain bikers?
  • + 16
 XC is fun, and it is cool. If more people had XC bikes they might realize they ride them a lot more than they think they would, and they wwould be fitter and better on their big bike as a result. It's all bikes, all shapes and sizes are cool in my book.
  • + 12
 @benestrain123: Exactly right. Seriously, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and we're all just mountain bikers. Doesn't matter whether you wear lycra or TLD, ride a 29er or a 24". We love to ride, that's all that matters.
  • + 3
 I think there is less tension between the disciplines than ever. Enduro is bridging them.
  • - 2
 Why can't all xc guys be so chilled out and understand gravity racing etc. They always seem so serious when you see them out
  • + 3
 having spent a good amount of time in both worlds, XC pps will say similar things about the gravity crowd: "why they always hatin on people"
  • + 80
 Give this man a medal, for services against lycra.
  • + 19
 gonna go out on a limb here and say Fontana gives zero fucks about what you wear
  • + 17
 Italian people love to talk XD
I have the same passion, but not the same leg :-(
  • + 12
 This guy makes xc look very cool
  • + 6
 I love reading and hearing stuff from people who actualy do know what they are talking about... great interview, I enjoyed every word. Super interesting bit on droppers, but a thing is, most people run them too low anyways, I was always an advocate for shit like this proto LEV XC, only 70mm drop, you don't need more. 150mm for tall people is plain BS, it's like 100-125mm for shorter guys and girls, and that's too much as well. I barely need 50mm, for the same raeson - you loose balance! Look at DH bikes of better riders, they run their seats high up. Long travel seat posts are promoting bad habits like hanging too much on the back. After 12 years of riding I can say that I kind of get the idea how to use the seat for descending and cornering, and I'm not thaaat baad, so no bullshit for me please. If it wasn't the case Enduro-pros wouldn't run travel limiters. To top that they are less reliable due to smaller bushing offset, promoting play and bushing wear. Same load on shorter arm of the force nr1, and nr2 larger offset means more bushing life and smoother operation. Thumbs up for this one Matt! More of that please If you ever have the time and chance!
  • + 3
 yea i've often wondered why droppers have so much travel. two to three inches is the most i seem to drop my standard post from pedaling height
  • + 11
 come and ride in British Columbia, you'll use the entire 125mm drop regularly.
  • + 2
 I think that the problem is much more the seat angle, than the drop height. 80mm would be enough for me if the seat was tilted backwards at a 20 degree angle. But if the seat stays straight you need at least +40mm, so that if you are far back and you are comming forward your groin doesent get stuck inder the back of your seat. I ride a fizik tundra. And i use 125 regularly on very steep sections, otherwise i run like half way on descents.

Great interview!
  • - 2
 That is an issue solvable by sliding the seat and setting it in a satisfactory position. In fact Xc racing bikes have very similar geos to AM bikes from few years back. It's the latest trend in geo of AM bikes to have steep 73deg + seat angles for seated climbing with huge forks - that screws up a lot, incl. standing pedaling. I'm not fighting it, u want it, have it - I'd rather stand and pedal when it gets steep, and don't want a seat nose in my back. XC race standard since years is 72-73. it's just good to have the seat between thighs, and at guard on loose cornes - and you need really steep stuff to need to get behind the seat. People tend to ride in a sloppy way, not aggressive enough over the front wheel. Anyways, I'm stoked to see KS doing short travel LEv, hopefully I'll see more of such products from other companies. Long Travel seat posts won't disappear, there will be somethign for everyone.
  • + 3
 I agree with flipfantasia, if you ride the super-steeps, the more drop the better. There is a reason DH bikes have super low saddles, and it's not for fashion nor does it teach you bad habits; it's simply necessary.
  • + 1
 If I could swap my 125mm travel reverb for a 150 I would. But 135 would be enough for me as when I race DH I drop the sort an extra 10mm and find it helps when things get silly. I also believe that a DH bike doesn't need the seat as low as a trail bike because of the geometry.
  • - 1
 DH bikes have super low saddles?! WUT?! DH bikes of who... brake burners? Take a look at the steeds of people even at top20 national level and you will find it at handlebar height or max an inch lower. And also, exactly as the man says in the interview, you get used to the high XC saddle and handle steep shit. I truly believe (and apply it myself) that people with dropper posts should jump on a bike with normal post from time to time to cultivate skills. Nothing learns leaning the bike more than yourself in the corners better than high seat in rough terrain - it forces you to do that. Look at those XC PRos on World Cup, they are riding steeps, jumping 3ft drop offs, even manualing shit.

Droppers are one of the best things I have ever bought to my bike, I dare to say that I will have more fun on a rigid bike with dropper than on a hardtail with suspension fork and normal post. But f*ckers make us sloppy, at least amateurs who never reached higher levels of XC or DH racing - and we have to watch that!
  • + 1
 But the angle of the saddle makes getting back over it easy/difficult. On my trail bike, the seat is flat so i can sit and pedal. It is tilted back on my DH bike, but higher than when i drop my trail bike's saddle.
  • + 7
 "Oh those guys are crazy they jump down the houses"

Is that a reference to the South American urban DH races? Hilarious.
  • + 4
 The olympics is incredibly dull and needs interesting sports, but DH will never be accepted. Some host countries just don't have the terrain. It would have to be miles away from the host city and would end up as a flat dull track won on a 29er. Best to keep our dignity.
  • + 2
 way to be optimistic
  • + 1
 The IOC has already stated this several times. You can't change the terrain of countries by being optimistic. Deal with it.
  • + 0
 he's right - Brazil is SUPER flat
  • + 1
 "six cities have been put forward by their respective National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to apply to host the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in 2020. The cities, in alphabetical order, are: Baku (Azerbaijan), Doha (Qatar), Istanbul (Turkey), Madrid (Spain), Rome (Italy) and Tokyo (Japan)."

unless it's in Baku or Doha those other countries have their fair share of mtns.
  • + 4
 After they decided to take WRESTLING away to add f.cking GOLF... I have nothing to say...
  • + 1
 @cuban-b Brazil is super flat? Please go back to your geography classes, if you ever went to one. First of all the Olympics will be held in Rio. Just google pictures of Rio before making this kind of statement... Central Brazil is really flat, but it is also really far from Rio.
  • + 4
 sarcasm is a bitch isnt it
  • + 4
 He's a very humble and nice guy, a genuine champion and man. I can still remember as one of his best blog posts when he lost the CX in February. And another nice one was "La linea sottile... tra vincere o perdere" ("The thin line... between victory and defeat"). His full name is Marco Aurelio, an ancient Roman Emperor, but also a writer and a philosopher... then such name fits him perfectly.
  • + 1
 I usually lose interest pretty quick with interviews, doubly so with "rider interviews", but I read this top to bottom and enjoyed it all. Great interview Matt, keep'm coming. Most of all though: Keep doing interviews with INTELLIGENT riders with interesting things to say like this fella...
  • + 3
 OMG! he answered exactly why i didn't feel comfortable on my XC bike with a dropper seat post. i thought it was just me. thank god, i thought was just being stupid or dumb.
  • + 4
 Cannondale lefty!!!
  • + 2
 I can completely relate to the loving smile on his face in the pic where he's looking at his bike.
  • + 3
 This guy knows what's up. Really enjoyed reading that.
  • + 1
 Didn't knew Marco, but it's definetely a Special One. Hat's off to him and his way of thinking
  • + 3
 No, he's a Cannondale guy!
  • + 1
 yeah those lefties still weird me out
  • + 1
 Fontana and Absalom are my favourite riders! Both are awesome bikers!
  • + 1
 This guy won a +supporter!
  • + 1
 thumbs up!
  • + 0
 DH in the Olympics... no question! Cull all that subjective BS!!
  • + 8
 Why not, although the track would probably be like Sea Otter most years.
  • + 6
 I think we'll see DH in the Summer Olympics when we see CX in the Winter Olympics... Not very soon.
  • + 0
 with IOC downhill would probably be just down a fireroad with 3% grade knowing them
  • + 4
 They managed the London xc course amazingly well, I think it would work great.
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