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The Question: Who is the most talented bike rider ever?

15:54 27th November 2012 by Billy Thackray

We feature “The Question” in the magazine each month and thought it’d be good to hear some of your thoughts and comments on the matter. Have a read of what photographers Mr Behr, Mr Waugh and Mr Lorence think then add your tuppence.

Words by Mike Rose


Some riders have it, and some riders don’t. What we are talking about here is natural skill, an ability to ride a mountain bike with real style and finesse. A rider who can make the hardest things look easy and the simplest things look amazing.

As photographers the three people here have all worked with some of the greatest bike riders on the planet, but who do they think is the most talented mountain bike rider ever?


That’s a really tricky question. As a photographer I’ve worked with most of the most talented riders on the planet; it’s difficult to choose because each has their own thing that they’re best at. But some do stand out as all–rounders and superb bike–men, for want of a better expression. In the early days people like Dave Hemming and Jason McRoy were probably the guys who impressed me the most, always looking perfectly in control, even when they weren’t. Warner and Peaty pushed it a bit further, with Will Longden and Tim Ponting in that same ‘all–round amazing’ bracket at the same time. Fabien Barel definitely has that certain something too. Gee Atherton has raised the bar even higher. He’s probably about as close as I can think of to being perfect on a bike in a lot of ways. But I’ve also worked with some incredible dirt jumpers, freeriders and slopestylers. It’s hard not to be in awe of those guys. And trials riders: Martyn Ashton and especially Chris Akrigg have always pushed the envelope. If you’ve ever seen Chris doing his brakeless stuff you’ll know what I mean. Incredible. So hard to pick one, but if pushed, I’d have to say that the most talented mountain biker ever is…the next one who makes me think ‘yes!’ when I see that special shot on the back of the camera.


Asking me to name the most talented mountain bike rider is really taking the piss. I mean you might as well ask me what my favourite Bowie album is…it changes by the month, by the day, the hour. My vintage might suggest I would plump for John Tomac or his Euro nemesis Thomas Frischknecht. They were in my thoughts, and let’s not forget Frischi has won downhill races the same as Tomes won XC contests. Or perhaps John Stamsted, the endurance riding nutcase who was putting it all on the line before it became fashionable to induce hallucinations from merely riding a bicycle.
Nope, I’m fast forwarding the years a tad and going for Cedric Gracia. France has produced so many amazing mountain bikers and this man is perhaps the most talented of them all. Only an XC test between him and Julien Absalon would settle that one. Gracia has won World Cups, slalom, 4X and has featured in some of the best sections in MTB films. His background from BMX and skiing has given him an innate balance and control that is a pleasure to watch. Of course, he also brings his personality to the table, which along with his flamboyance has always brought sponsors to the table. And that his a talent too… But please, don’t ask me a question as tough as this again!


I’m inspired by mountain bikers that mountain bike. Riders that want to hammer, and take the sport for all it has to offer. I have been fortunate in my photographic career to work with the world’s best in all genres of our sport. Jonny Tomac still stands out for me as the most talented. It wasn’t just his downhill prowess or his incredible XC endurance, but his talent as a technical climber. Strength, endurance and insane physical coordination combine to make him capable of crazy uphill manoeuvres that leave the whole pack in awe.

  1. Joe Bloggs

    Steve Peat, he’s still going!

  2. Matt

    Palmer sprung to mind, followed by Hill, Semenuk and Zink. Ask me in a few years and I may say Mitch Ropelato.

  3. Matt

    Interesting no one said Gwin

  4. Johnnyboy

    Hands down John Tomac: Was a top Pro in BMX, XC, DH, Slalom & Road. Who else can say that?

    For Women: Anne Caroline Chausson. Killed it back in the day and still killing it out there.

    1. Hancock

      Gah you beat me to it.

      It’s really Tomac, Tomac or Tomac, the other names people come up with were/are exemplary in one or two fields of cycling, Tomac mastered them all.

      But having said that, Fabien Barel has been my favourite rider to watch for a long time.

  5. Scott L

    First off, I disagree with the word “talent”. Talent suggests that the ability of the individual is something they are born with, programmed to be exceptional at and was able to achieve because they are naturally better than the rest. Sure some people are born with different traits that may be slightly beneficial or not for an activity but that is not enough. Period. You are not born, then suddenly jump on a bike and find yourself world champ material. It takes effort.

    Now for those of you who will undoubtedly list Brendan Fairclough as the most talented rider ever. I say this to you, sure he achieved some great results without conventional hard training, but who are his riding partners? 2 world class dirt jump riders. So if you grow up with 2 other guys who love the sport as much as you do, and all you do is ride, push eachother then ride some more you are going to be good. Throw in the right opportunities and dedication and your going to be brilliant.

    For the best book in my opinion which goes over these points:

    Bounce : The Myth of Talent and the Theory of Practise.

    If you want to believe in talent so as to justify to yourself why you never made it then that is your choice.

    1. Max R

      good book that! changed my opinion of ‘talent’. nurture not nature

    2. Oz

      Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll put that on my xmas present list. I do agree that nurture is very important, however some people are born with natural ability. For example Ronnie O’Sullivan picking up a snooker cue at 8 years old and making an 80 break. Some people practice for years and struggle to make 80.

    3. Zero Cool

      Totally agree with the view point of this book. It was great in how it exlianed what we sometimes take as granted

  6. Ian Rowsby

    Brian Lopes has won over 19 titles in his mountain biking career: 9 National Championship titles, 6 UCI World Cup Championship and 4 World Championships. He has more UCI World Cup career wins than any other male mountain biker in the history of the sport and he’s still killing it at 41 years old.

  7. sonja

    brandon semenuk def. the most talented guy nowadays

  8. adam

    Chris Akrigg all day long.

  9. Marc

    Sam Hill

  10. jack

    Chris Akrigg, got to be one of the best all round riders there are.

  11. Eoin

    All-around skill: Akrigg.
    Competitively: Dan Atherton, Graves or Vouilloz… Too hard to choose…

  12. Sid Savage

    In my book Semenuk and Ropelato.
    Gwin is the most talented RACER. It don’t always look pretty.
    Best style: Brendog and Blenkinsop.

  13. Adam

    As much as i hate to say it, Gwinny has gotta be up there, to come into mountain biking so recently and within 2-3 yrs have won an entire World Cup Series says a lot! But Peaty, Akrigg etc all deserve the title as all have achieved unthinkable things!

  14. the butcher

    steve jones…..

  15. Stikman

    John Tomac, end of discussion.

  16. stuart

    Thomas Vanderham, Matt Hunter, Steve Peat, Bearclaw. Pioneers in Mountainbiking history and best of the best to go with it.

    1. Matt

      I forgot Matt Hunter! Mike Hopkins would get a mention too if it wasn’t for the first part of his Loam Factory edit

  17. Jase

    For me its got to be Jason McRoy all day long. Miles of style. He made me want to ride every time MBUK released a video, every time I saw a photo of him. Totally inspired a generation..

    1. Churchie

      JMC was amazing. But he was only in one MBUK video- Dirt.

      1. Jase

        God was it really just Dirt? How time ravages the memory! :-) Even so JMC all the way for me…

  18. WilP

    best style ever : blenkinsop on a yeti

    and i think john tomac or wade simmons are the most talented rider ever. Follow by hill when he ride for iron horse.

  19. Paco Loco

    This is not something which can be measured by how many titles or medals someone has won.
    For me it’s about being amazing in any situation on any bike. And by that criteria it has to be Chris Akrigg.

  20. Rob Paul

    Another vote for Chris Akrigg as the most versatile ‘put me on any bike on any terrain and I’ll ride it better than you’ rider around right now.

  21. Stubacca

    Anne Carro is the ultimate i’d say.

  22. Scott

    What about Graves? Gwin – no way. Does he ride anything other than DH and moto? Cedric, Simmons, Tomac, Gee, Semenuk are pushing it right now I think.

  23. JRV

    Can’t look past Tomac, can you? Last great ‘mountain biker’. DH, XC, BMX, even road.

    I’d throw Tinker Juarez in there as well – look him up kids. BMX and XC, then marathons.

    Gracia, both Atherton brothers, Lopes all good inter-discipline riders as well, but more gravity focussed.

    Chausson for the women. NO QUESTION.

  24. James

    Chris Akrigg is the most talented bike rider ever. Yes he is still around killing it today, in every style of bicycle riding he can do, but look back to his competitive days doing trials… True legend… and I’m not a massive fan of trials!

  25. Pumptracktim


  26. ????

    brian lopes is defo up there..gee atherton can ride anything at a very high level..dh,4x,rampage,bmx,slalom,ETC..

  27. Churchie

    From back in the day- Steve Geall. Style for miles on dirt, DH bike, BMX. And a sound guy too.

  28. lard

    Akrigg for versatility,Voulliouz for wins and Peaty for longevity.
    I know that’s 3 :0)

  29. tony Cooper

    John Tomac

  30. Samuel Morris

    david cullenan

  31. dukester

    Steve Smith.

  32. adam

    Chris Akrigg has to be the one in terms of mountain biking, Tomac may have been the most versatile if you put him in a race. But Akrigg has always just done what he wanted, 8 time national trials champion and now just rides whatever he wants, and with more style and finesse than most of the top 10 in dh, enduro or 4x

  33. savdog

    gota be CG !!

  34. Steve podraza

    Hans Rey, schley, Macaskill

  35. FjOL

    Hans Rey… or maybe the King of the Cobbles, mini-drome winner and video star, Chris Askrigg

  36. Chris K-S

    its fair to say that having beaten chris akrigg in a race down a feild in somerset that i am the greatest of all time.

    1. Zero Cool


  37. Finkill

    Akrigg or Nico, both amazing bike riders in their own way.

  38. ElJay

    Brian Lopes gets my vote. He is a threat to win in any bike forum he chooses to race. And he may be getting older but not slower. Amazing! Cedric Gracia is also an amazing rider/racer. Always fun to watch him on a bicycle. Whether he’s on a 29er or a DHer, he’s hot amazing style, speed and grace.

  39. Jack

    Has to be Kyle Strait. Won a Redbull rampage, competed for years at WC level in DH and top tier DS racer. Looks comfortable and incredibly stylish over the whole spectrum of freeride. I’d pick Cedric Gracia in second for the similar reasons.

    1. Dan Emery

      Erm,hasn’t Gee Atherton done precisely this?

  40. CRFRDH

    For me…in order, Brian Lopes, Chriss Akrigg, Gee….all three can do pretty much anything on any bike…that to me is a complete rider package…DJ, BMX, DH, Freeride, Slalom, 4X…ect…

  41. Ed

    Remember that when people like Tomac were killing it in lots of disciplines, there was no where near the depth in the field there is now. I’d say we’re got much more talented riders now than we’ve ever had (semenuk, gwin, gee, akrigg etc.), but just the focus needed to win is so high that they have to specialize more.

  42. Zelvy_Carbon

    I would say Tomac and Graves. Both can get on a BMX, a DH, Road, XC whatever they want, and compete on a world cup / olympic level

  43. Aitor Losada Olmo


  44. Henners

    Anne-Caroline Chausson

    BMX Olympic Champion: 2008
    Mountain biking

    Junior downhill World Champion: 1993, 1994, 1995
    Senior downhill World Champion: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005
    Senior dual slalom World Champion: 2000, 2001
    Senior four-cross World Champion: 2002, 2003
    World Cup downhill series winner: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
    World Cup dual slalom series winner: 2000
    World Cup four-cross series winner: 2002

    I know she is a woman and all that but the just look above.

    1. Will Evans

      Graves and Anne-Caroline Chausson: Always been on the pace in every discipline they do! Not just race results but style. Olympic bmx… who else can do that.

  45. Mark

    Minnaar…most world cup podiums of all time, 14 world cup wins, 2 elite world championships. Surely worth a mention.

    1. Se7en

      Thank you! Greg is best rider at making something look easy and effortless. So quick.

  46. ronin

    as a true all-arounder it would be johnnyT. even his offspring translates his dedication and work ethic to dirt well.

  47. Bryan

    Greg minnaar or gee atherton. Both have had amazing success in dh, bur also in 4cross a few years back. I dont think anyone can match there skill and fitness. Whether its dh, 4x, slalom, dirt jump, rampage or xc. These guys are the most talented riders ever.

  48. Israel

    Johnny T hands down. Sterl refers as Johnny T at the Tomac camp at South Mountain, Phoenix 2 years ago when no-one could match Johnny T uphill skills… none of us could even follow him on the super technical rocky climbs there. :)) And going down only Muldoon could keep up with him !!

  49. Tom

    Dan Atherton of Brendan Fairclough. Both are so natural on a bike

  50. Ben Ramsbottom


  51. WAKi

    Talent is overrated, when are you making a poll: who is the smartest and hardest working athlete? :D

    1. Hancock

      Alex Zanardi, Niki Lauda and Michael Johnson, but they’re all from the wrong sports…

  52. ronin

    @Waki – still johnnyT – multiple discipline champ, tomac bikes, trains wcdh champ and eli to supercross and motocross wins..that should qualify, right?

  53. Raddad72

    If we are talking about Steez on a bike Chris Akrigg does everything all the above can do but better if he added the unique fitness levels required for each discipline he would win everything n’all. Just check out his back catalogue, you will agree. O and coming back from that horrific injury, heart of a warrior.
    I have been a life long Peaty fan though but for Steez Akrigg beats them all.
    Yorkshire Tea.

  54. Jan Koprnický

    There are so many great riders but if I had to choose one, it would be Jared Graves.

  55. Myler

    Minnaar and Brendog

  56. WGAF

    Lance Armstrong!
    He won the Tour De France like 7 times and apparently he did it while on drugs! Mental!

  57. Joe

    Fools, its Semenuk, he can trick a BMX and big downhill bikes! He can also ride really fast as well. Maybe Berrecloth comes close cos he pretty good at BMX but not as good on a mountain bike as semenuk. Danny Mac highly noted as well. Akrigg also is pretty good.

  58. Steve K

    Kirt Voreis!! ;-)

  59. Damian

    For me being in it for a while my pick of the bunch would be
    1. John Tomac – this guy was mountainbiking, did it all and won a lot of it as well.
    2. Jason McRoy – used to be my idol one of the reasons i love biking so much, this guy was a wake up call for the yanks back in the day RIP JMC
    3. Thomas Frischneckht – total domination of early cross country, not many could touch him
    4. Steve Peat, used to race the same venues when he raced for the BATS back in the beginning, a tru pioneer of UK biking.
    Modern day riders who stand out from the rest are Gee for his amazing smoothness and skill, Brendan as he looks like hes always having fun, Hill for his speed and Cam McCaul as he can do anything.

    anyway……….John Tomac

  60. nehuen93

    Cedric Gracia, brendan fairclough and chris akrigg

  61. Ben Irons

    Chris Akrigg, always a joy to watch. Only the greatest get sponsored by Yorkshire Tea after all!

  62. AeroTommi

    John Cowan and Andreu Lacondeguy

  63. Daniel Ascenso

    Cedric Gracia, Brandon Semenuk and Sam Hill they are the best, mark a revolution on MTB history :)

  64. Conrado

    Darren Berrecloth, Semenuk technique and A.Lacondeguy, Cedric Gracia agressive style! kkkkkkk

  65. Thibaud

    semenuk and Nico Vouilloz.

  66. haffe

    Semenuk for sure!

  67. Trevor

    Aaron Gwin for the win. Who else besides Palmer steps up from nowhere instantly is winning and setting records. If he even keeps a fraction of the pace hes going now no doubt will he have some of the biggest records ever in DH.

  68. greggie

    Gotta be Tomac and Anne Caro. Multi discipline winners.

  69. toddonbike

    Tomac for sure! I’ve never seen anyone ride a bike with such style and grace.

  70. Skootur

    Women: Anne Caro

    Men: Dave Cullinan

  71. Fritschki

    Chris Akrigg

  72. Spookybikes

    Tomac TOMAC Tomac
    (Dude won every kind of bike competition except on the track)

    Anne-Caro (bmx/mtb/bmx/enduro)

    Juli Furtado(because she was an absolute fucking monster).

  73. Artur

    In my opinion the most talented was Tomac, the most spectular Palmer but the nicest styl i’ve ever seen have Blenkinsop!

  74. Oso Negro

    Eric Carter (USA)
    BMX, DS, 4X, DH
    I was also impressed by his ability to teach his craft when I took a DH clinic with him. No attitude- just positive and effective coaching.

  75. ricky allen

    Raced against John Tomac 3 world cups and 1 Canada cup ( Harwood hills) 1992 ! When he took his place at the start line EVERYBODY moved to the side and let the KING take his place at the front ! Nuff said !!

  76. Fred

    If we talk about style, Brandon Semenuk. That’s my vote.

  77. Mat

    Gee and Dan Atherton, Darren Berrecloth and Brandon Semenuk. Bosh.

  78. ED

    Not because I’m French … but if we’re talking raw talent.

    Women = ACC for her total dominance in everything she does.
    Men = CG, no world title here, but excells at anything.

  79. Daniel Hall

    Jason Mcroy was the best, In my opinion.

  80. Angle-'O'-Saxon

    Hmmmm, seriously, it’s got to be Tracey Hannah. She is pure talent. And pretty good on a bike too, so I gather.

  81. Joe

    Anybody know if Dave Hemming is still involved with mtb? He was a big name at the time.

  82. Tim Horton

    Gee Atherton. Always looks amazing at whatever he does. DH racing, 4x, rampage. The guys a machine.

  83. Greg

    Graves! or Sam Hill


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