Americans Ridenour and Zula are the 2019 Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Champions!

Payton Ridenour and Tommy Zula – both from the USA – have won the first ever UCI Pump Track World Championships, earning their first rainbow jerseys. Both competitions at the Swiss Bike Park in Köniz-Oberried, close to Bern, Switzerland, were intense, close and entertaining throughout. Here’s how the event went:

Around 100 riders had qualified for the finals via 25 rounds right around the globe throughout the year.

And the very last riders booked their ticket to the finals at the Last Chance Qualifiers at the Köniz track on Friday. Four more riders who went through in each of the Men’s and Women’s categories, the best of them being quadruple and reigning Swiss BMX champion Christelle Boivin who pipped her compatriot Eloise Donzallaz in the Women’s LCQ final and Levin Gruenig (SUI) who beat Axel Tondeau (FRA).

Saturday morning sessions saw close to 100 riders go solo against the clock in the qualifying runs. After the practice sessions where they familiarised themselves with the superb new 300m track at the Swiss Bike Park, this was the riders’ first real opportunity to show which lines and what techniques they’d worked out to “unlock the track”. Every inch of it got a workout, the red lines pushed to the limit, with the 16-inch wheeled riders seemingly getting the better of the 20-inch and few 26-inchers amongst them.

Even with the riders taking a break before the knockout rounds, the action never stopped, with the crowds entertained by a brilliant MTB trials show from Petr Kraus.

The Women’s competition: a triumph of youth

The Women’s Round of 32 followed to kick off a non-stop two hours of pumping! The home crowd naturally delighted to see the action started by reigning champion Christa Von Niederhäusern, with strong performances by riders from around the world.

Niederhäusern was one of five Swiss women to go through to the 16, with Nadine Aeberhard, Lack, Eloise and Caloz. Along with them were the American pair Ridenour and Reno, and the French duo Charlotte Morot and Mathilde Bernard, plus Hajkova (CZE), Petersone (LAT), Madarasova (SVK), Kager (AUT), Urrutia (CHL) and Vermeulen (NED).

And that meant another short blast to work out who the fastest eight, into the Quarter Finals were… the Swiss pair of Niederhäusern and Aeberhard, the two French girls Bernhard and Morot, plus Hajkova, Madarasova, Petersone, and the dangerously energetic “P-Nut” Ridenour.

The four fast women: amazingly, at 21, Niederhäusern was the oldest by some way in the company of teenage sensation Aeberhard, 17-year-old Czech Michaela Hajkova and the even younger Payton Ridenour. It was in the Semis that we realised we’d have a new Women’s Champion, as Niederhäusern and Hajkova’s times meant they’d contest the Small Final for bronze, with Ridenour and Aeberhard going for gold.

Hajkova went off first for her Small Final run, followed by Niederhäusern who pushed to claim the bronze. In the final, Aeberhard went smooth, and looked fast. But Ridenour was about power – manuals, doubles, adrenaline flowing – and it was that effort that won it for the American with a blistering circuit.

The Men’s story: experience wins out

Another deafening roar, wolf-whistles and cowbells from the Swiss home crowd delighted to see reigning champion David Graf starting the action in the Men’s Round of 32 with a strong run. Graf and his countrymen Grunig and Borel were amongst the top 16, but it was the French contingent who showed the real strength in depth with Eddy Clerté – last year’s beaten finalist – leading the way for his compatriots: Colsene, Du Pont, Tondeau, Chavarin and both Chauvins. Along with them Nelson and Zula of the USA, Schaub (GER), Hombsch (AUS), Bensink (NED), Ponomarev (RUS), plus a smooth and fast-looking Giacomo Fantoni of Italy.

The first shock was that Graf wasn’t one of the eight men who made the Quarter Finals. But it was no surprise that Clerté did, with the fastest time: 29.23sec. The French powerhouse of Colsenet, T Chauvin, A Chauvin and Chavarin meant that only three non-French riders were in the Quarters: Bensink, Borel, and Tommy Zula rolling on 26s!

Then four of the five Frenchmen were eliminated in the Quarter-final; only Eddy Clerté went through to the Semis. With him the teenage home favourite Tristan Borel, an airborne Zula and Niels Bensink – who was pushing into the top of the berms like a man who felt this could be his day.

And the next surprise, perhaps, was that Clerté featured in the Small Final, facing off with Bensink, and it was the Frenchman who took the bronze medal. So to the Final, with homeboy Borel against the seemingly irrepressible Zula… and this time it was experience that won out over youth.

“It’s awesome to be here and I couldn’t be more stoked!” said Ridenour.

“I’m absolutely Speechless. I’m 27, I’m feeling old and my legs are on fire!” said Zula.