In the starting gate for the UCI Four-Cross World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz

It’s just a few days to go before the 2019 UCI Four-cross World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, the explosive, all-action races for the rainbow jersey.

As part of the festival of mountain biking that is happening at Val di Sole, Italia, this weekend, including the next round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup (DHI and XCO), the annual UCI 4X World Championships finds itself with the timed qualifying rounds in the evening of Thursday 1st August ahead of the eliminator-style finals the following evening, Friday 2nd August.

It’s a brilliant and hugely entertaining format. Heat by heat, four riders burst out of a starting gate and go head to head on a purpose built gravity-driven course. The fastest two go through to the next round, the slowest two go out. In the World Championships we go straight into Men Elite and Women Elite categories – there’s no second chances for the riders who luck out or crash out.

The UCI Four-Cross World Championships has been held at Val di Sole for the past five years: four alongside the World Cup, with the exception being 2016 when it was combined with the UCI Mountain Bike Downhill  World Championships. The Italian resort also hosted the 2008 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships (XCO/DHI/4X),

The 4X permanent track is situated right next to the famous Black Snake downhill track. It’s around 600 meters long, and features multiple jumps, including doubles, with the longest at around 10 meters. From start to finish there’s a drop of around 60 meters so it’s always fast and frenetic, and the best run times are around 45 seconds: you can’t take your eyes off it and the competitors don’t have time to blink. So who is competing?

Women Elite

In the Women Elite category, the riders on the start list represent eight countries. Obviously part of the sheer thrill of the 4X format is its unpredictability – one slip, badly timed jump or accidental coming together with a rival, and it’s game over – but there are some very strong riders to watch out for.

2018 UCI 4X World Champion (Romana Labounková (who also represented Czech Republic in BMX Racing at the Olympics) returns, as does silver medalist and British Champion Natasha Bradley, and German Enduro star Raphaela Richter who took bronze last year in Val di Sole. Fourth and fifth placed Harriet Burbidge-Smith of Australia and Steffi Marth of Germany (the 33-year-old will compete against women as young as 18 this year!) will also be back pushing for top spot.

Men Elite

Just like the women’s race, of course the men wear their national colours and there’s a maximum number of seven from any country, with Germany and Great Britain maxing their numbers on the start list.

Reigning UCI Four-CrossWorld Champion Quentin Derbier of France returns to defend his title and is sure to be pushed hard by 2018 runner-up and double former UCI World Champion Tomáš Slavík (CZE) – although his third-placed compatriot Mikuláš Nevrkla does not compete this year.

But the other 2018 top 10 finishers who are back in the mix look strong, and include the British trio of Elliot Heap, Grant Hill and seven-time British Champion Scotty Beaumont (‘Boom Boom’ is the grandfather of the course this year at 41, facing a couple of riders aged just 17), while Sweden’s Felix Beckeman would love to repeat his 2017 result of becoming UCI World Champion.

Among the 48 riders who will be whittled down to the final four racing for the rainbow jerseys keep an ear open for the big cheers the local crowd will give three three Italian riders Roberto Cristofoli, Giovanni Pozzoni and Stefano Dolfin.

We know all the competitors want it, and head to Italy thinking it’s their time, but in each category, all but one will fall by the wayside. And by bedtime on Friday we’ll know who are the last Men and Women standing, with the reward of wearing the famous rainbow jersey for a year.