2021 UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup powered by Kuwait sparks to life in Belgium

The excitement of the 2021 UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup season is upon us, with the first of three explosive events to be held over three consecutive weekends starting 8 August with the opening round in Leuven, Belgium.

The riders are excited about the prospect of a return to UCI World Cup racing in the first of a Belgian double-header: Leuven will be followed by a round in Oudenaarde on 15 August. The racing then moves north-east to Valkenswaard, the Netherlands, for round 3, a ‘home event’ for Jeroen van Eck, winner of both UCI World Cup rounds last year, who has recently been training in Italy near Lake Garda.

The racing schedule takes a short break ahead of 2021’s UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Championships in Graz, Austria, on 5 September, before the continuation of the UCI World Cup across September and October. The competition moves on with further European dates in Germany, France and Spain to its planned conclusion in Bahrain, subject to any restrictions that may be imposed locally, related to Covid-19.

The increasing popularity and globalisation of this fast, explosive mountain bike format is reflected in the fact that five nations have registered a rider in the UCI World Cup for the first time in 2021: Ecuador, Iran, Mexico, Singapore and South Africa.

The course at the opening round in Leuven is expected to reflect that of the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Championships where two French athletes claimed victory: Isaure Medde for the first time, and Titouan Perrin-Ganier for the fourth time in a row.

The angled steps, steep wooden ramps and smooth boarded berms made for a fast course and the wet pavers demanded testing handling and nerves of steel.

The women’s runner-up in October was Italy’s Gaia Tormena; the 2019 UCI World Champion and World Cup overall winner missed out on retaining her rainbow stripes by the narrowest of margins in a photo-finish, having led into the last straight – and it’s still on her mind. Third and fourth places went to the Dutch duo of Fem van Empel and Didi de Vries.

In the men’s race second place went to Simon Gegenheimer, his third silver medal at the UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Championships, following 2016 in Nové Město na Moravě (CZE) and 2017 in Chengdu (CHN). The 32-year-old German pushed the race’s early pace but couldn't shake off the Frenchman who forced his way through on a tight corner on the final lap. The 22-year-old Swede Anton Olstam was third, and fourth was Lorenzo Serres of France.

Of the two 2020 UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup rounds that survived the schedule changes imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the one that was held in Belgium was at Waregem in September.

There the women’s final winner was also the event’s fastest qualifier, and the youngest in the event, the sensational Gaia Tormena. In close attendance were three other young racers: France’s Coline Clauzure (22), who has been recovering from a knee injury, De Vries (23) and Chimène Boer (19), both from the Netherlands.

And it was their compatriot Jeroen van Eck who was the fastest qualifier in the men’s race and followed Tormena’s example of turning that pace into victory. For him it was by just 0.07sec from his great French rival Hugo Briatta (FRA). Third was Gegenheimer with Serres, then aged 22, the youngest man in the big final.

Tormena and Van Eck were victorious again in the final UCI World Cup outing of 2020 in Barcelona.

The women’s podium also included Marion Fromberger (GER) and Sara Gay Moreno (ESP) while the men’s final saw Serres and Gegenheimer continuing to apply the pressure… and four-time UCI World Champion for downhill, Loïc Bruni, putting in an appearance!

For a more recent guide to form in the discipline, June’s National Championships saw wins in Spain for 21-year-old David Domingo Campos Motos and 24-year-old Sara Gay Moreno, maintaining her great condition from late last year. In France it was UCI World Champion Perrin-Ganier who claimed the national jersey from on-form Serres and 2019 National Champion Briatta, while 20-year-old Noémie Garnier narrowly beat the reigning UCI World Champion and 2019 French Champion Isaure Medde to take the blue jersey.

Whatever the jerseys and whatever the nationalities, the racers in the UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup will all be itching for the action to begin in Belgium. And you can bet it will be fast and furious.