2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships: Switzerland win cross-country team relay to claim the event’s first rainbow jerseys

The first rainbow jerseys of the 2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Les Gets, France, have been won and the first medals awarded, with the exciting opening event, the cross-country team relay (XCR). Switzerland won, with Italy second and the USA third.

In the sunny French Alps, 18 national teams of six riders contested the race with one lap each for riders representing Women Elite, Women U23, Women Junior, Men Elite, Men U23, and Men Junior categories (typically, the teams comprise one woman and one man from each category, but various substitutions are allowed from squads of riders who are already entered for the other races).

The mixed format and the different strategies employed by the nations meant that the race was open, the lead changed hands, and the positions and gaps went up and down each lap and at every intermediate timing split.

It showed the form of many of the riders preparing for their individual events and pitted even the youngest of the riders at the championships against the most experienced UCI World Champions and UCI World Cup winners.

It’s an indication of strength in depth throughout a national team, with the usual elements of fortune that can accompany any mountain bike race, and it was Switzerland who demonstrated that most, claiming their fourth title in six years – their eight overall – and stopping host nation France from winning their third successive title.

The Swiss team of Dario Lillo (Men U23), Khalid Sidahmed (Men Junior), Ramona Forchini (Women Elite), Ronja Blöchlinger (Women U23), Anina Hutter (Women Junior) and Nino Schurter (Men Elite) combined their talents and tactics best over the 6-lap race to win in 1:17:14.

It was a strong showing from the French team who led for more than half the race, but were undone by a mechanical issue on the penultimate lap, losing their lead and around two minutes, dropping to seventh before fighting back for fifth.

Silver medalists were the Italians, Luca Braidot (Men Elite), Marco Betteo (Men Junior), Martina Berta (Women Elite), Valentina Corvi (Women Junior), Giada Specia (Women U23) and Simone Avondetto (Men U23), while the bronze medal went to team USA: UCI Cross-country Short Track World Champion Christopher Blevins (Men Elite), Cayden Parker (Men Junior), Madigan Munro (Women U23), Bailey Cioppa (Women Junior), Haley Batten (Women Elite) and Riley Amos (Men U23).

How the race unfolded

Italy led after the first frenetic lap, with Luca Braidot stretching a 20-sec gap over the USA (Chris Blevins), and with a bunch of three riders also in close attention: Adrien Boichis of France, aligned with riders from Belgium and Switzerland. When the leaders approached the 2nd handover it was the host nation France in front with Denmark +19sec, New Zealand and USA right behind, and Italy a further 10-sec back. The field was already stretching with GBR in 10th position, more than 1-min down.

At half distance France, with Junior rider Alexandre Martins handing over to Loana Lecomte, had built an advantage of 43-sec over the Italians, with gaps to the Dutch, Swiss and USA riders, and Australia also making a showing. After lap 4 of 6, the Team France lead had extended with the Swiss (Ronja Blöchlinger, U23) taking over 2nd spot. It was on lap 5 that the Swiss team first took to the front, with Junior Anina Hutter. As the gaps closed between the favourites heading into the finale, 9-time XCO UCI World Champion Nino Schurter was awaiting his turn!

The Swiss led Italy by 7-sec, with USA’s Hayley Batten close behind, and a 1-min gap to Denmark and the Netherlands, with France having fallen out of the top-5 for the first time in the race following an unfortunate mechanical for Junior Tatiana Tournut, despite her strong ride.

The drama continued right through the last lap. Even after suffering a puncture, it was the familiar figure of Nino Schurter who crossed the line first, 6-sec ahead of Italy’s hard-charging Simone Avondetto and the USA a further 8-sec down the track. Denmark and France rounded out the top 5 finishers, 1-min behind the USA, with the Netherlands, Canada and Britain following.