The opening day of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec, Canada, couldn’t have got off to a more dramatic start with a thrilling cross-country Team Relay. The first rainbow jerseys of the UCI World Championships were presented to the Swiss national team and the first ever UCI E-MTB World Championships saw Alan Hatherly (RSA) and Nathalie Schneitter (SUI), win this innovative new format.
Cross-country Team Relay: Swiss makes it a hat trick
Switzerland made it three Team Relay World Champion titles in a row with a dramatic fight back to take the lead and the win on the final lap. Each national team comprises riders from the different categories, who will also compete in their respective individual races at the championships: one each from Men Elite, Women Elite, Men Under 23, and Men Juniors, and one from either Women Under 23 or Women Juniors. It is therefore a true test of depth throughout the squad.
As each rider took on a lap, the lead changed hands no fewer than five times throughout the race with a strong start by 2017 silver medalists Denmark – Sebastian Fini Carstensen, Markus Kaad Heuer and Annika Langvad - pushing the pace, and going shoulder-to-shoulder with the Czech Republic before, at the end of the third lap the Netherlands and the USA forced their way to the front with Anne Terpstra and Kate Courtney trading blows.
As Denmark faded, Switzerland made their way up the running order, creeping up at each intermediate time check – with France, Belgium and Italy also moving forward. Former XCO Women Elite UCI World Champion Jolanda Neff did the damage, bringing the Swis to within 20 seconds at the final transition, and tagging… Nino Schurter. The remaining deficit seemed to drop metre by metre, until first the Netherlands’ and then the USA’s advantages were overhauled – with the seven-time XCO Men Elite UCI World Champion pulling out a lead of 16 seconds as he solo’d to the line.
2019 cross-country Team Relay UCI World Champions are Switzerland: Joel Roth (Under 23 Men), Janis Baumann (Junior Men), Sina Frei (Women Under 23), Jolanda Neff (Women Elite) and Nino Schurter (Men Elite). Silver medal goes to the USA and, for the third year running, bronze to France, for whom Jordan Sarrou put in a storming final lap.
E-MTB Men: Hatherly sets pace from outset
The start of the next race was a new sight and sound for the UCI World Championships, the faint buzz of electric motors to accompany the cowbells: a new discipline that would produce new champions.
With the machines restricted in power output and top assistance speed, strategy is a vital part of the skill mix: when to use, and when to conserve the electric power that complements leg power! With a field that had a wide age range, would the wisdom of experience or the exuberance of youth win out?
The men’s four-lap race started with Alan Hatherly (RSA) – the 2018 Under 23 XCO UCI World Champion – setting the pace with Kjell van den Boogert (NED) and French E-MTB Champion Jérôme Gilloux (FRA) 5 and 7sec behind, then 2012 XCO Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavý (CZE) and the USA’s Ryan Standish (USA) pacing each other, 17 and 18sec back respectively.
By the halfway point, at 31:35, Hatherly had extended his lead to 34sec from Gilloux, with Van den Boogert in third, the USA’s former motorbike racer Charlie Mullins and France’s five-time XCO UCI World Champion and two-time Olympic Champion Julien Absalon together, less than a minute down.
And as the race progressed, this was a pattern that was to repeat, the young South African beautifully mixing pace and judgement, with the young Frenchman being clawed back by his way more experienced countryman and his American shadow for the day, the pair having overhauled the Dutchman on lap three.
Hatherly won the gold medal and inaugural E-MTB UCI Men World Championship in style with a time of 1:04:53. Gilloux took silver, 1:10 down, with Absalon the bronze, a further 29sec in arrears. An enthralling race from start to finish.
E-MTB Women: Last-lap surge earns Swiss gold
The Women’s E-MTB race followed the same course, and showcased a similar mixture of youth, experience, raw power and skilful judgement. Home favourite Maghalie Rochette (CAN) powered to an early lead - 2sec from former Swiss national XCO champion Nathalie Schneitter at the first checkpoint, with the multi-talented four-cross specialist Anneke Beerten (NED) one second behind, followed by the French duo of Caroline Mani and Nadine Sapin.
The 26-year-old Canadian led from the start, her slender lead over the 33-year-old Swiss rider fluctuating but holding. By the end of the third lap, Sapin held third place, with the gap in front to Schneitter growing and the gap behind to Beerten shrinking.
The thrilling final lap saw a change in the pecking order. In the second half of the last circuit, Schneitter made her move: having shadowed the Canadian throughout the race, she powered through to win the four-lap race in 1:11:38, just 5sec from Rochette who took silver, and Beerten, who had passed Sapin earlier in the final lap, earning the bronze medal.
Thursday will see the Men Junior and Women Junior XCO races. The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz run through to Sunday 1st September.