2019 was an exciting year for mountain bike racing, with enthralling racing throughout the Mercedes-Benz UCI World Cup and a nail-biting UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, where rainbow jerseys were awarded for the first time ever in E-MTB. Let’s digest some highlights...
The imperious Nino Schurter turned on the class at the UCI World Championships – using the technical climb on each lap in Mont-Sainte-Anne (Canada) to pressure his rivals into submission – claiming his eighth Men Elite World title. He beat his Swiss countryman Mathias Flückiger and Frenchman Stephane Tempier, who had each featured strongly in the UCI World Cup. Schurter also won the UCI World Cup overall but had Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel started every race the story may have had a different ending.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot wrote her own script to claim her second Women’s Elite XCO World title. The Frenchwoman paced her effort sublimely over the Mont-Sainte-Anne course to reel in Anne Terpstra (the Netherlands), incumbent champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland), Kate Courtney (USA) and Rebecca McConnell (Australia). The same five had battled throughout the UCI World Cup season, with young American Kate Courtney’s early brilliance enough to squeak the overall from a resurgent Neff.
In the U23 Men, Vlad Dascalu put in a strong solo effort to get the better of Swiss pair Filippo Colombo and Vital Albin and become Romania’s first ever mountain bike UCI World Champion. Dascalu’s four straight UCI World Cup wins may suggest he’d breezed the UCI U23 Men’s World Cup series, but it was a close battle with Colombo – nevertheless ending with a double for the Romanian!
Sina Frei – silver medalist in 2018, and quadruple U23 European Champion – took the UCI U23 Women’s World title from Austrian Laura Stigger (2017 and 2018 UCI Junior World Champion) and 20-year-old Loana Lecomte (France). With Frei having stepped up to Elite ranks for the 2019 UCI World Cup, Stigger and Evie Richards (Great Britain) battled hard, but couldn’t match Germany’s Ronja Eibl, who recorded six podiums including three wins.
Other XC highlights
Canada also hosted the first ever UCI E-MTB World Championships. On bikes with limited power, would youth or experience win? We’re still not entirely sure… In the men’s race, 23-year-old South African Alan Hatherly – 2018 Under 23 XCO UCI World Champion – set an unassailable lead over 25-year-old French E-MTB Champion Jérôme Gilloux and five-time XCO UCI World Champion and double Olympic Champion Julien Absalon – aged 39! The Women’s race was close. Thirty-three-year-old former Swiss XCO Champion Nathalie Schneitter jubilant, claimed the rainbow jersey, passing 26-year-old home favourite Maghalie Rochette on the last lap, with 37-year-old Dutch four-cross specialist Anneke Beerten taking bronze!
In August’s UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Championships in Waregem (Belgium),17-year-old Gaia Tormena – Italian and European Champion – won her first rainbow jersey, beating the French pair of Isaure Medde and Coline Clauzure. It was a French 1-2 in the Men’s Elite with defending UCI World Champion Titouan Perrin-Ganier pipping Hugo Briatta, and Swedish U23 Champion Joel Burman.
The six-round UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup concluded in Graz (Austria) in September. Swede Ella Holmegård won the Women’s race, securing second overall from Germany’s Marion Fromberger. But Gaia Tormena won the series for a superb double. Hugo Briatta took the Men’s final race and revenge with a 53-point overall margin over Perrin-Ganier.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot claimed a rare double with the UCI Cross Country Marathon World title. From her front row start the 27-year-old never looked back in almost four hours of tough racing in Grächen-St Niklaus (Switzerland): she won by two minutes over Slovenia’s Blaža Pintarič. The men’s race was closely contested by Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic), Alexey Medvedev (Russia) the Swiss Flückiger brothers – Mathias and Lukas – and the 37-year-old 2018 bronze medalist Héctor Leonardo Páez León who showed his Marathon mettle to earn his first rainbow stripes as Colombia’s first winner!
In the Downhill Men Elite competitions the French continued their domination. But at the UCI World Championships in Canada, would Loïc Bruni make it three in a row or would one of his countrymen, Loris Vergier or Amaury Pierron, create an upset? In the climax of a brilliant week’s racing, “Super Bruni” delivered his fourth title. Australia’s Troy Brosnan took him close in a thrilling finale, with Pierron taking bronze, pushing out former UCI World Champions Greg Minnaar (RSA) and Danny Hart (GBR).
In the UCI World Cup Bruni and Pierron locked out every top spot save for two British winners: Laurie Greenwood at Val di Sole (Italy) and Hart in the new venue of Snowshoe, USA. Bruni narrowly took his first UCI World Cup overall from 2018 champ Pierron.
With Great Britain’s Rachel Atherton injured, Myriam Nicole had a blistering run to turn 2018’s bronze into gold, becoming Women Elite UCI World Champion for a French double in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Even Tahnée Seagrave (Great Britain), pushed hard by Marine Cabirou, couldn’t get within a second of Nicole.
The young Frenchwoman Cabirou showed her strength all World Cup season, building momentum to win the last three rounds. But it wasn’t enough to catch the superbly consistent Tracey Hannah, the Australian finally taking her first UCI World Cup overall victory!
It was another Australian winner in the Junior Men’s UCI World Championships – Kye A’Hern. In the Junior Men UCI World Cup A’Hern fought off the Canadian trio of Lucas Cruz, Seth Sherlock and Patrick Laffey, but none could get near runaway French winner Thibaut Dapréla.
In the Junior Women’s UCI World Championships the brilliant Valentina Höll (Austria) continued dominating her category, winning by 13 seconds from Norway’s Mille Johnset, and Anna Newkirk (USA). In the Junior Women’s UCI World Cup those three riders hit the podiums all season. Höll claimed the overall victory with six race wins… one down on 2018’s clean sweep!
In this year’s “BMX down a mountainside” head-to-head elimination battle at the purpose-built Val di Sole track the MTB thrills-per-minute ratio was compelling.
At an evening of chainsaws and cowbells the final four women were 2018 UCI World Champion Romana Labounková (Czech Republic), 2018 silver medallist Natasha Bradley (Great Britain), bronze medallist and fastest qualifier Raphaele Richter (Germany), and French youngster Mathilde Bernard. It was the Czech athlete who earned her second consecutive UCI World Championships title in the discipline.
The last four men were Sweden’s Felix Beckeman (2017 UCI World Champion), Elliott Heap (Great Britain), Urban Rotnik (Slovenia) and BMX European Championships medalist Romain Mayet (France). The Frenchman held his nerve to claim his first rainbow stripes.