How unlikely was Roland Green’s remarkable rise to the top of world mountain biking? Imagine a French hockey player making the NHL, becoming the game’s highest scorer, and leading his team to the Stanley Cup. Not once, but twice. In winning two International Cycling Union (UCI) mountain bike world championships typically reserved for European riders while developing his skills in a country that virtually ignores the sport, that’s essentially what Green accomplished. For a four-season period from 2000-03 Green was the world’s leading rider and to this day he ranks as Canada’s greatest male cross-country mountain biker ever.

Raised in Kamloops, Burnaby, and Victoria, Green played soccer and skateboarded as a youth, but felt liberated on a bike: “the freedom it gave me, I could go anywhere, cover some pretty amazing distances.” No one realized his talent on two wheels until his first-ever mountain bike race at age 15—the 1989 Malahat Mud Fest—when he finished fifth against 18-year-olds. The many hills of lower Vancouver Island proved a fertile training ground for Green with the Juan de Fuca cycling club. Later, training with an elite group including a young Ryder Hesjedal, Green lost track of the number of rides over the Malahat (500+ he estimates). On one of 700+ sprints up Mount Douglas’ short, yet steep climb, he set the record in 4min 39sec.

Largely self-coached, Green pursued road racing as a junior and produced an impressive victory in 1992’s Tour de l’Abitibi, a prestigious international stage race in Quebec attracting top Europeans. Moving up to senior, he competed in Europe, battled anemia and overtraining, but still provided hints of his talent including a top-25 finish at the 1995 UCI Road World Championships.

Switching to the fat tires of mountain biking full-time in 1996, Green won his first of four Canadian national cross-country championships. A year later, he finished seventh at the world championships. In 1999 he took bronze at the world team relay championship and earned victory in the NORBA NCS series finale in Vermont, defeating a field that included Lance Armstrong.

For the next four years, few could touch Green on the trails. After capturing a world championship silver medal in 2000 and battling through injury to finish 14th at the Sydney Olympics, he became the first and only Canadian male to win a mountain bike world championship gold medal in 2001 in Colorado, while also finishing first overall in the UCI World Cup standings. The following year, with his rainbow world champion jersey caked in mud, he added a second world title in Austria and won gold in mountain biking’s debut at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Along the way, he accumulated over 40 first-place finishes at various national and international races around the world.

A series of crashes and subsequent head injuries forced his early retirement in 2005, but his legacy as Canada’s best was already secure.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.