Day 3 of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec, Canada, and the growing crowds were treated to a feast of downhill qualifying, with the first rain of the championships adding to the fun. Then we witnessed a new UCI World Champion crowned in the Men Under 23 Cross-country Olympic final, with the Romanian Vlad Dascula’s highly impressive ride from start to finish.
UCI DHI Women Juniors Qualification: Höll on pole
In the downhill qualifying, after dry practise the first riders to take to the 2.9km course in the wet were the Junior Women. As riders headed down into the mist, kills and nerve pushed to the limit without the opportunity to watch others tackle the conditions.
And this time it was the young favourites who showed their mettle: last year’s three podium athletes, Valentina Höll (AUT), Newkirk Anna (USA) and Mille Johnset (NOR) were the top three at each of the four splits on the runs. The reigning champion – and UCI World Cup leader – stamping her authority on the qualifying session, taking whole seconds from the rest in each of the first three sectors and lighting up as the number 1 position whenever a timecheck flashed up.
The top five finished, quickest: Höll, in a time of 5:41.920; Johnset, second fastest, +14.7 back; and Newkirk, third quickest, having just lost out to the Norwegian in the final sector, just over 16 seconds behind Höll. The other riders all finished at least a minute back on the Austrian’s impressive time, with the French duo of Lauryne Chappaz and Nastasia Giminez neck-and-neck in fourth and fifth qualifying positions.
All 14 riders head through to Sunday morning’s final.
UCI DHI Men Juniors Qualification: not the Frenchman you were expecting?
The New Zealand pair of Kye A'Hern and Tuhoto-Ariki Pene and French star Thibaut Dapréla were the last three of the 54 competitors to run, and as expectation built throughout the qualifying session, eyes turned to them.
Early pace-setters Included Britain’s Luke Mumford and the USA trio of Dante Silva, Zach Gareis and Austin Dooley, with Dante putting more than 10 seconds into all the riders who preceded him, while Germany’s Hannes Lehmann got quicker as he went. As did Antoine Vidal (FRA) who set another benchmark, cutting nearly 9 seconds off Silva. Canada’s Elliot Jamieson then came in hot to sit in second before his countryman Lucas Cruz unseated him.
Focus turned to the favorites: Pene started slowly, then picked up pace; A'Hern started quickly, wavered then recovered; Dapréla started fastest then dropped some pace. The session was wide open to the end with the Frenchman Vidal looking like he’d hang on to the fastest time… and he did, with his run of 4:37.707.
Canada’s Cruz stayed in second fastest, +3.8sec, his countryman Jamieson third, +8.4sec, with Dante and Dapréla close behind in fourth and fifth. The top ten qualifying Junior men comprise two Frenchmen, four Canadians, one American and three New Zealanders, with Pene and A'Hern just inside the top ten, and Mumford and Lehmann just outside.
Edgar Peyra Delic (ESP) did not start, and Matheus Faratioli de Oliviera (BRA) did not finish.
UCI DHI Women Elite Qualification: Nicole back on top
With the reigning UCI DHI Women Elite World Champion Rachel Atherton and hard-charging German rider Nina Hoffman both out injured, of the 27 riders starting the Women Elite qualifying, the last three riders to go were Veronika Widmann (ITA), Marine Cabirou (FRA) and the favourite, Australia’s Tracey Hannah. 2017 World Champion Miranda Miller (CAN), along with Tahnée Seagrave (GBR) and Myriam Nicole (FRA) – both recovering from injuries – were other big names earlier in the start list.
And it was ‘Pompon’ Nicole, the 13th rider down the hill, who set the pace, lighting up the fastest sectors at each timecheck and putting a staggering 50 seconds into all the other riders who had gone before her! Melanie Chappaz (FRA) came closest, then Seagrave, who started quickest but faded, and Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI), all close but each falling short of Nicole’s time before the top riders ran.
Cabirou went closer… Hannah, recovering from a slightly hesitant start to go closer still, but it was the 29-year-old Frenchwoman – bronze medalist at the 2018 UCI World Championships at Lenzerheide – who was fastest down the Mont-Sainte-Anne track where she broke a collarbone in her first season on the World Cup circuit!
The top five Women Elte qualifiers: Nicole, with a time of 5:22.297, second fastest Hannah, +2.1sec; then Cabirou +3.3, Siegenthaler, +10.2 and Seagrave +16.6.
Rachel Pageau (CAN) and Luana-Maria Chereches (ROU), Eleonora Farina (ITA) did not finish.
UCI DHI Men Elite Qualification: Hart’s attack
In the last of the downhill qualifiers, the quality of the 79 riders representing 23 countries ensured that the Men Elite downhill qualifying was ridden, and watched, like it was a final itself.
In the last five Elite Men to run in qualifying, the three Frenchmen – triple World Champion Loïc Bruni, World Cup overall winner Amaury Perron and the mercurial Loris Vergier – were flanked by former double World Champion Danny Hart (GBR) and five-times World Championships podium finisher Troy Brosnan (AUS). The high quality field also included triple World Champion Greg Minnaar (RSA), Finn Iles (CAN), Laurie Greenland (GBR) and Brook MacDonald (NZL).
There was a huge cheer for Hugo Langevin (CAN), putting in a scorching early pace on his home track with a time of 4:38.389. As the last 20 riders started, Langevin was pushed close by the ever-stylish Sam Blenkinsop (NZL) and then narrowly bettered by Britain’s Reece Wilson and Australia’s Jack Moir.
Then came the big guns: Minnaar, MacDonald, Vergier, each topping the board in quick succession before Hart set every sector alight, hitting the fastest time by some margin. Only Bruni left to finish and… this time he fell short.
The top five qualifiers: Hart in 4:27.353, second fastest was Vergier, +3.4sec, from MacDonald +4.5, fourth quickest was Bruni, +4.6 then Pierron, +4.8, ahead of Brosnan, Minnaar and Moir.
Laurie Greenland (GBR), Antonin Kral (CZE), Nikolas Nestoroff (USA) and Alisson Mattje (BRA) did not finish.
UCI Men Under 23 XCO World Championships: Vlad crushes the opposition
Of the 70 starters in the UCI Men Under 23 XCO World Championships, the early pace was set by the favourites Vlad Dascula (ROU) – winner of four of the six World Cup rounds so far in 2019 – and Max Brandle (GER), who crossed the line at the end of the first of six 4km laps together with a nose-to-tail group including Jofre Cullell (ESP), Chris Blevins (USA), Simon Andreassen (DEN) and Filippo Colombo (SUI). Sean Fincham (CAN) and Vital Albin (SUI) were in close contention, with Antoine Philipp (FRA) showing potential to progress through the field.
As early as midway through lap 2, Dascula put in his first move, pulling 15sec clear of Blevins and Colombo, with Albin and Andreassen closing in on the second and third placed riders. At the halfway point the Romanian has established what looked like an unassailable 46sec lead, with the next four places more closely contested.
And when that gap stretched out well beyond a minute the rider who was to be presented with the rainbow jersey for UCI Men Under 23 XCO World Champion was beyond doubt: the gold medal went to Dascula with the winning time of 1:19:50. As Andreassen and Albin both faded on the final lap it was Filippo Colombo who stormed through to take the silver, 1:57 behind the Romanian. Albin held on to take the bronze, 19sec behind his compatriot.
Congratulations to today’s rainbow jersey winner, Vlad Dascula, the 2019 UCI World Champions for Men Under 23 XCO, earned in a comprehensively dominating display. And thank you to all the downhillers who produced such great excitement in the qualifiers and set up what is likely to be thrilling finals on Sunday. Tomorrow’s events will see three more UCI World Champions presented with their rainbow jerseys in these events: UCI Women Under 23 XCO, UCI Women Elite XCO and UCI Men Elite XCO.