Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) and Hector Leonardo Paez Leon (COL) are the 2019 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Champions. The French rider made a sensational double only three weeks after becoming UCI World Champion in the Olympic distance. Héctor Leonardo Páez León won the incredibly tight men’s race where the lead changed hands many times and the competition was fierce until the final kilometre.
Here’s how the two races unfolded.
The women’s race saw 73 starters take to the course in Grächen, Switzerland, where they faced 70km and more than 3500m of climbing. Newly-crowned XCO UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (27) started on the front line alongside the XCM riders ranked no 2, 3, 4 and 5: Slovenia’s Blaža Pintarič, Florence Darbellay of Switzerland, Lithuanian Katazina Sosna and the second of 21 Swiss riders, Esther Süss.
After the initial short loop, the riders passed the start/finish area with Ferrand-Prévot in the lead group which had been joined by Germany’s Elisabeth Brandau and Sabine Spitz. As the women put in the early work thousands of viewers worldwide did the easier job - watching the live footage through the UCI’s social media channels.
At 14km (Chrizägerte), Ferrand-Prévot had pulled away from the field, steadily increasing her lead and by the 25km mark (Riti) the French rider led by 38 seconds from Pintarič (eighth position in 2018, and UCI MTB Marathon World Championships medalist in 2004 and 2005 under her maiden name, Blaža Klemenčič), with Nicole Koller (SUI) 2 minutes down.
Approaching Kalpetran, after 47km, Ferrand-Prévot was 1:33 ahead of Pintarič. In third and fourth places were Germans Adelheid Morath, who had been slowly working up through the top ten, and Brandau, four minutes down. Robyn de Groot (RSA) was in fifth. After almost 3 hours of racing, at St Niklaus (53km), the advantage was over 2 minutes with the Slovenian starting to slip back into what had become a chasing group of three.
At Waldheim, with just 7km left to race, the time gaps were tightening up: Ferrand-Prévot was 1:06 ahead of Pintarič, with Morath, Brandau and de Groot a little over 3 minutes down. And while the French rider maintained her gap to the Slovenian it was the chasing duo of Morath and De Groot who were closing in over the final kilometres as Brandau dropped back.
The final result was winner Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) in 3:57:09, with Blaža Pintarič (SLO) taking the silver medal, 1:53 later and Robyn de Groot (RSA) the bronze, 2:40 down, having outsprinted Morath.
One hour after the start of the women’s race, 181 men representing 34 nations set off to tackle a 94km course featuring almost 4,200m of climbing. The top-five ranked UCI Marathon riders were in the front row: former Swiss champion Urs Huber led out Belgium’s champion Sebastien Carabin, Hans Becking of the Netherlands, Italy’s Juri Ragnoli and the second Belgian, Frans Claes.
At the first split (4km, Grächen Heights) the two Czech Republic riders Ondrej Cink and Martin Stosek led the pack with the Swiss pair of Mathias Flückiger and Huber ominously close behind, while last year’s second-placed finisher Daniel Geismayr (AUT) was an early DNF.
By 23km (Roore) Flückiger – who just missed out on the podium in the 2018 UCI MTB Marathon World Championships in Italy – had put the pace on in an early downhill section. The Swiss pulled out a lead of around 50 seconds ahead of Simon Tiebjahn (GER), Cink who had dropped back then recovered to third position, 37-year-old 2018 bronze medalist Héctor Leonardo Páez León of Colombia and Huber who were all nestled together in the singletrack.
By Visperterminen (35km), Cink had caught and passed Flückiger, with European Champion Tiago Ferreira of Portugal in third, nose-to-tail with Páez León and Stosek – it seemed like a high-quality top five might power away from the pack. But it was all change again by Staldbach (45km): Flückiger led from Cink and Porro, and then just 5km later (Riti), the Italian was ahead of Lukas Flückiger, the younger brother who had overtaken his older sibling. With Cink right behind, the top four were separated by just 2 seconds!
By Törbel – after 64km and 2’45” of racing – Cink once again held a slender advantage, 1sec from Mathias Flückiger, and Kristian Hynek (CZE) third. But now the whole top 10, also including Lukas Flückiger, Stosek, Páez León , the Russian Alexey Medvedev (a former road pro, like Cink), Ferreira, Diego Alfonso Arias Cuervo (COL) and Tony Longo (ITA) were separated by less than 10 seconds.
At Kalpetran (18km to go) the Flückiger brothers had put 30 seconds into Cink, and the top 12 were all bunched within 30 seconds behind the Czech. But their gamble didn’t pay off, as the energy expended caught up on the brothers who ultimately tumbled back to 8th (Lukas) and 15th (Mathias) positions.
And into the last 10km Cink faded, leaving the trio of Hynek, Medvedev and Páez León to fight. The Russian was dropped with less than 6km to go and the Colombian eventually broke free of the Czech on a steep climb. But even into the last kilometre there were just a few seconds between first and second with both riders taking risks, while Italy’s Samuele Porro also came back into the fight in the finale.
And by the finish line in Grächen, it was Colombia’s Héctor Leonardo Páez León who crossed the line in first position to take the title in 4:17:58. In the silver medal position was Kristian Hynek (CZE), 26 seconds behind, with Samuele Porro (ITA) coming through to take the bronze, at 1:13.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot: “It was very fast at the start. So I knew I had to make a gap on the downhill so I went full gas. I’m really, really happy!”
Héctor Leonardo Páez León “It was really technical so I started to prepare for this at the beginning of the season. It’s very hard to describe how I feel because it’s a long time I’ve been trying to win this jersey. Now I am the World Champion. Thank you everybody!”