Mountain bike Eliminator specialists in the starting blocks for UCI World Cup season

The 2020 UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup powered by gets underway on Sunday 20 September with the first round in Waregem, Belgium.

An intense season awaits the riders as the different rounds were rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The second round in Villard-de-Lans (France) will come just five days after the opening Belgian round and will be followed by Valkenswaard (the Netherlands) on 11 October then Winterberg (Germany) on 18 October, one week before the UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Championships in Leuven (Belgium). The UCI World Cup will continue in Barcelona (Spain) on 14 November. The date of the final round in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) is still to be confirmed.

For many of the athletes, this weekend’s opening round will be the occasion to pin on a race number for the first time in a year. Waregem first welcomed the UCI World Cup in 2017, and last year provided the stage for the UCI World Championships for the dynamic and fast four-up racing format.

“I can’t wait to get back to the XCE season and experience the excitement that is inherent in the discipline,” said last year’s overall UCI World Cup winner Hugo Briatta (FRA), who finished the 2019 season with three victories.

Briatta used the period of lockdown due to the pandemic to take a 10-day break from the sport before getting back into training with running, short specific interval work then, when he was able to venture further afield, building up his volume on the bike.

Although clear winner of last year’s UCI World Cup, the Frenchman acknowledges that the upcoming season is full of uncertainties: “This season is very different and we could very well see certain riders disturb the hierarchy. Obviously, this year when I start the first round, I won’t have the same status as last year when I was still an outsider. But as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s all the more relevant this year, from one season to another the slate is wiped clean and we start from zero. Nobody should be underestimated.”

If there is one rider who could throw a spanner in the works, it is his teammate on Velcan MTB Pro Team Titouan Perrin-Ganier.

The triple UCI World Champion (2017, 2018, 2019) was crowned 2020 French Champion at the beginning of August after using the period without competition to concentrate on his weak points,  increase his training load and spend time with his family, which saw the addition of his new baby, Laïla, last autumn.

Unlike his teammate, Perrin-Ganier will not be at the opening UCI World Cup round where he won his latest rainbow jersey (by six hundredths of a second from Briatta), preferring to stay healthy and in shape for the European Championships (Monte Tamaro, Switzerland, 15-18 October) and the UCI World Championships.

“I prefer to target my competitions to be in shape for the rounds that count the most,” explains the UCI World Champion, who will line up in Villard de Lans, Barcelona and Dubai.

Perrin-Ganier missed out on a UCI World Cup victory in 2019 – not helped by mechanicals, illness and mishaps – but says it has given him more motivation to improve even more this year.

“You always have to question yourself to progress, I have identified my weak points and have invested a lot in training to progress. I changed a lot of things in my preparation last year, and I feel that this season that work has paid off.”

He has also learned from his errors: “Last season I was too relaxed and confident before the last two World Cup rounds – which came after my main goal of the season, the UCI World Championships. I got beaten. I was disappointed but it really taught me a lesson. You should never rest on your victories. You should always question yourself and try to be better.”

The two Frenchmen will have plenty of competition from elsewhere, not least 2017 UCI World Cup winner Simon Gegenheimer (GER) and the overall winner form 2018 Jeroen van Eck (NED). Also look out for Sweden’s 23-year-old Joel Burman – double national champion and third in the  2019 UCI XCE World Championships podium - and his 21-year-old compatriot Anton Olstam, 2018 Swedish champion and a strong finisher in the 2019 XCE World Cup

Aged just 17, young Italian star Gaia Tormena wrapped up all the major women’s titles in 2019: Italian Champion, European Champion, UCI World Champion and winner of the UCI World Cup in front of Swedish Champion Ella Holmegård, who will be absent this season due to a back injury.

This year she is still juggling school with training, and has not yet decided whether or not she will compete in all rounds of the UCI World Cup. But one thing is sure. She can’t wait:

“I’m really happy to be back racing. I miss XCE a lot – the fast tracks, the cheering crowd, the good company. We will plan my races week by week as it is important to recover well and be ready for the next race.”

During lockdown, Tormena trained primarily indoors on rollers before joining the Italian track team on the velodrome in Montichiari. In July she focused more on cross-country Olympic (XCO) racing, competing in the Junior category. But for the moment, her competition in XCE is an unknown.

“I really don’t know what shape my opponents are in, but everyone has trained as well as they can. Waregem will be a great test.

“I don’t feel I have too much pressure this year. It will be a different season from the previous one. The only important thing is to enjoy every race.”

Other women to watch include 2018 UCI World Champion Coline Clauzure (FRA), former UCI World Cup winner Lizzy Witlox (NED) and last year’s round 1 winner Marion Fromberger (GER).

Photo: © Nacho Grez Photography