Three weeks after the crowning of the UCI World Champions for cross-country Olympic, attention moves to the longer-distance mountain bike format: the scene is set for the UCI 2019 Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships being held this weekend in Grächen - St. Niklaus, Switzerland.
With a challenging course starting at some 1600m above sea level, it’s looking like an exciting battle for the women and men who will fight it out on Sunday 22 September. In the absence of last year’s winners Henrique Avancini (BRA) and Annika Langvad (DEN) we are guaranteed to see the men’s and women’s rainbow jersey change hands. 2019 is the first time that Switzerland has held the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships since its inaugural edition in 2003, and a lot has happened since then.
The routes take in flowing trails, epic views, technical forest sections and punishing climbs with some steep gradients and stunning descents in the picturesque Swiss Alps. The women’s route totals 69.06km distance, with a challenging 3,508m altitude difference across the course, while the men’s route of 93.65km distance, includes a gruelling 4,397m of climbing.
The courses in Grächen share some characteristics with last year’s superb championships in the Italian Dolomites (Auronzo), which featured very similar amounts of climbing (3,400m and 4,200m respectively), although the 2018 races were over notably longer distances (89km for women and 102km for men). With the climbing coming thick and fast, there will be plenty of opportunities for the riders with the legs and lungs – remembering the additional challenge of the high altitude – to place tactical attacks.
The entries list features 263 riders representing 37 nations and all five continents. Germany, Switzerland and France are the most represented nations, but XCM is an increasingly global sport, as demonstrated by last year’s Men’s winner Avancini, who earned Brazil’s first gold medal in the discipline.
Women: Double for Ferrand-Prévot?
In the absence of last year’s top three - reigning and four-time UCI World Champion Langvad (injured), former UCI World Champion Maja Włoszczowska (POL) and six-time UCI World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå (NOR) – the race is difficult to predict and presents great opportunities for an otherwise strong field.
Keep an eye on France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, the multi-disciplinary champion who switched her UCI Road World Champs ambitions for XCM and is on fine cross-country form after taking the XCO UCI World Championships in Canada last month. Germany’s Sabine Spitz, XCM 2009 UCI World Champion, whose class and experience is central to a strong German team could attack with a number of riders. “Even though the extreme profile here in Valais does not suit me very much, I'm quite optimistic for my ‘last stage’ on Sunday,” said Spitz on social media.
Switzerland’s team is full of potential, with South Africa-based (and 5x Cape Epic winner) Ariane Lüthi and 2010 UCI World Champion Esther Süss among the more experienced in the Swiss ranks, whose riders’ ages range from 20 to 45.
Slovenia’s double podium finisher Blaža Klemenčič (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2005) remains a danger. And can we see the kind of ride from Italy’s Mara Fumagalli that she produced last year? Grächen 2019 is also an opportunity for emerging riders to show their strengths and potentially usher in a changing of the guard.
Men: from silver to gold for Geismayr?
With no Avancini to defend his title, look out for 2018’s silver medalist Daniel Geismayr who returns as part of an experienced seven-strong Austrian squad including three-time UCI World Champion Alban Lakata.
It’s no surprise that Germany fields a strong team of riders. And among the Swiss squad – the nation with the most winners in XCM UCI World Championships history – are the Flückiger brothers Lukas and Mathias, who just missed a podium spot last year in Italy. He is highly motivated for the last big goal of the season on home turf: “I'm really excited for Sunday. The track is awesome - especially the downhills!”
Other riders not to be ruled out include Colombia’s Paez Leon, on-form Frenchman Jordan Sarrou, Italian Sam Porro, and the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Cink who has had a solid XCO season.
Alongside the 2019 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships, the weekend in Grächen is a mini cycling festival for all, featuring E-Mountain bike tours, children’s races and a pump track.
The two Championships races start in the morning of Sunday 22 September: the women’s race at 9am, and the men’s race at 10am.
Follow the race via our dedicated Mountain Bike Facebook page