This year’s Mountain Bike Marathon UCI World Champions will be crowned on Sunday 25 October in Sakarya, Turkey, with several former winners and medalists aiming to claim the rainbow jersey.
Hosting the UCI World Championships for the first time, the Organising Committee in Sakarya has nevertheless already organised several events on the UCI International Calendar and has put in a strong bid for a round of the 2021 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup.
Sunday’s racing will start and finish at the headquarters of a permanent cross-country Olympic course and BMX venue, with participants riding from the remote start onto a circuit which will be completed twice by the women (for a total of 80.9km) and three times by the men (110km).
More than 100 athletes representing 29 nations will take to the start, many of whom are in with a chance to claim a medal.
In the men’s race, reigning UCI World Champion Héctor Leonardo Páez León will be back to defend his rainbow jersey. The hugely-experienced Colombian gained his first world title last year in Grächen (Switzerland) 13 years after climbing onto the Worlds podium for the first time, with silver at the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Oisans (France). He also won bronze in 2013 (Kirchberg, Switzerland), 2015 (Selva di Val Gardena, Italy) and 2018 (Auronzo di Cadore, Italy).
Like many of the participants, Páez has been acclimatizing in Turkey, and participated in the UCI MTB Marathon Series in Sakarya on Sunday 18 October. He finished 7th in a race where the conditions got the better of him: he was forced to stop on several occasions to remove mud from his bike in order to continue riding.
“I got to a point where I just wanted to finish the race, the ‘how’ didn't matter to me, I just wanted to get to the finish line safely and I did it,” said the UCI World Champion on Facebook after his seventh-place behind winner Estonian Peeter Pruus.
The Czech Republic will be in with a big chance of success in Turkey with six riders taking the start including last year’s silver medalist Kristián Hynek and 2014 UCI World Champion Jaroslav Kulhavý. As well as his title in Pietermaritzburg (South Africa), Kulhavý claimed the World title in cross-country Olympic (XCO) in 2011 (Champery, Switzerland) and Olympic gold in the specialty at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016.
Triple UCI World Champion (2010, 2015, 2017) Austrian Alban Lakata will be looking to claim his fourth title in Turkey, while strong competition will also come from other riders such as Portugal’s Tiago Ferreira, UCI World Champion in 2016 and runner-up the following year.
In the absence of defending UCI World Champion and recently-crowned XCO UCI World Champion and European Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France) the women’s race would appear to be more open than the men’s competition.
Ferrand-Prévot’s absence could enable 2019 silver medalist Blaža Pintarič (SLO) and bronze medalist Robyn de Groot (RSA) to move up the hierarchy. But not to be overlooked are Great Britain’s Isla Short (5th in this month’s XCO UCI World Championships) and Ukranian Yana Belomoina, recent bronze medalist at the XCO European Championships.
Another force who is always to be reckoned with is Poland’s incredibly experienced Maja Wloszczowska: UCI World Champion in 2003, she proved she was still in the mix 15 years later by claiming bronze at the 2018 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships in Auronzo di Cadore.
Racing gets underway on Sunday for the women at midday (11h00 CET) and for men at 12h30 (11h30 CET).