The UCI Cycle-ball World Cup is entering its 18th season: on Saturday 6 April the world’s elite start the first tournament of 2019 in Ailingen, Germany. The "Champions League"-style format of cycle-ball features eight tournaments through which the world’s best teams compete against each other to qualify for the final round in 2020.
An unusual feature of this year’s competition is that five of the eight qualifying tournaments are to be held in Germany. After Ailingen the series continues to Albungen (27 April) then Mücheln (18 May), while the venue for the Asian round of the World Cup, to be held in Japan during the summer, is still to be finalised. Then, after two more tournaments in Germany – Grosskoschen (29 August), and Niedermehnen (28 September) - the action moves on to St Gallen, Switzerland (12 October), before the last round of the 2019 series on 2 November in Höchst, Austria. The final tournament with the top eight overall ranked teams – as well as an Asian representative and a host team – will be held on 18 January 2020 in Möhlin, Switzerland.
The line-up at Ailingen has it all. With UCI World Champions Höchst, Austria (Patrick Schnetzer/Markus Bröll), the UCI World Championships runners-up Stein, Germany (Bernd Mlady/Gerhard Mlady), and the UCI World Cup third-placed team Altdorf, Switzerland (Roman Schneider/Paul Looser), all the current top teams are at the start. Each of these three teams have already been UCI World Champions, albeit Schneider and Looser were with other partners.
In addition, there are the reigning European Championships runners-up (Pfungen, Switzerland) as well as the current German Bundesliga leaders André Kopp and Raphael Kopp (Obernfeld, Germany). The three-time European U23 champions from Austria, Stefan Feuerstein and Kevin Bachmann (Sulz/Dornbirn) will also be appearing in Ailingen: the youngsters are already contesting their third UCI World Cup season. All these teams certainly play a role in the overall competition – although defending champions Schnetzer/Bröll, with four straight successes since 2016, are the outright favourites.
It’s also an exciting competition for the local heroes, Michael Brugger and Markus Lang, from the host club RV Ailingen, and who have belonged to the German first league since 2016. For the local duo, participating in the UCI World Cup for a second time is another career highlight. In 2016 Brugger/Lang represented their club in the home World Cup tournament: they had to settle for tenth and last place.
Michael Brugger is also a UCI World Cup medallist in artistic cycling: in 2007 he took bronze in the Men Singles at the UCI World Championships in Winterthur, Switzerland. As a child Brugger made it to the German Championship finals in both disciplines before concentrating on artistic cycling. "I can play cycle-ball later," was his reasoning, which proved to be correct!
Ailingen has already hosted the UCI World Cup four times: in 2003, 2006, 2010 and 2016. It remains to be seen whether Brugger/Lang can achieve a similarly good result in their second participation as that of the Sven Braunger/Alessandro Federici team in 2006: they reached the semi-finals and finished fourth in the tournament. In the face of the preliminary group opponents Höchst, Pfungen and Obernfeld, it would appear a difficult task for Ailingen to make the leap into the semi-finals. But Brugger/Lang will rely on their outsider chances and the backing of their own fans.