The 2019 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup reaches the double-header that could go a long way to determining the winners in each category. The cross-country Olympic (XCO) and Downhill (DHI) competitions are both interestingly poised as we make the regular and welcome visit to Vallnord – Pal Arinsal in Andorra (5-7 July).
XCO Men Elite
After two rounds – Albstadt (Germany) and Nové Mesto Na Morave (Czech Republic) – the standings in the Men Elite (including points from the cross-country short-track XCC races), are: Dutch sensation Mathieu Van der Poel on 700 points (winning both XCC rounds and the Nové Mesto XCO); followed by the Swiss pair of Mathias Flückiger on 500 and Nino Schurter on 485 points.
If these three riders look to dominate, Jordan Sarrou’s podium at Albstadt reminds us of his class, and on top of that, Vallnord has seen him triumph before: it is where the Frenchman won the second of his three Team Relay World Championship rainbow jerseys. Brazilian Henrique Avancini’s fourth in Nové Mesto, matching his 2018 overall ranking, is another rider to look out for.
Last year in Vallnord, Gerhard Kerschbaumer took his only win of the season on his way to fifth in the final classification of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. The Italian ended a three-race winning streak for Schurter, who finished second but took the overall UCI Mountain Bike World Cup victory, ultimately 500 points clear of Van der Poel, who was third in Vallnord. Few think the young Dutchman will be that far behind at the end of the 2019 campaign.
XCO Men U23
Last year’s Vallnord Men U23 race was won by Joshua Dubau, who went on to become French and European Champion in the category. His compatriot Antoine Philipp was second and hit the podium again in Albstadt this year. Third was the Swiss Filippo Colombo who has podiumed at both 2019 races – as has Romanian Vlad Dascălu.
XCO Women Elite
With the points from the accompanying XCC races factored in, in the Women Elite racing, USA’s Kate Courtney has a brilliant 700 points, thanks to wins in both rounds so far. Jolanda Neff (with a second place at Albstadt) is on 490 and Chloe Woodruff is in third with 385 points. But watch out for other strong riders who have claimed the early 2019 podiums: Ukraine’s Yana Belomoina (2017 winner in Vallnord) along with Rebecca McConnell of Australia and Canadian rider Haley Smith.
Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå won in Vallnord in 2018 (her only victory of the season – ahead of Neff and Emily Batty), and podiumed there in both 2017 (along with Annika Langvad) and in 2016, that time behind Neff. Taking in the current form, recent podiums and 2018 standings, the name that figures most consistently is the Swiss Jolanda Neff. But with her countrywoman Sina Frei stepping up to the Elite category, keep an open mind!
XCO Women U23
The form in the Women U23 category is so far with Austrian Laura Stigger (double Junior UCI World Champion – and the only rider to win both the Junior UCI Road World Championships and the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships the same year – 2018), along with Germany’s Ronja Eibl and Haley Batten of the USA – who were 1, 2, 3 in Albstadt. The same three riders then finished in the opposite order at Nové Mesto.
Vallnord 2018 saw Sina Frei win the Women’s U23 – which she did all season on her way to the overall victory, with the exception of the opening round in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Second went to Evie Richards (one of five second places for the Britton in 2018). She has a fond association with Vallnord, having taken silver in the Juniors there at the 2015 UCI World Championships.
Downhill Men Elite
We’ve seen three exciting rounds so far in the DHI: Maribor (Slovenia) Fort William, (Great Britain) and Leogang (Austria). They’ve all been won by French riders: two for Loic Bruni (at the age of 25 he’s triple UCI World Champion – taking his first rainbow jersey in Vallnord) and one for Amaury Pierron, 23-year-old 2018 UCI overall World Cup winner, who had three wins early on last year but who had to settle for second in Vallnord.
It was another young Frenchman who won in Vallnord last year – 22-year-old Loris Vergier who claimed his first Elite UCI World Cup race win, delivering on the promise shown with his two Junior UCI World Cup overall victories.
Troy Brosnan (fourth overall in 2018), the only man to podium in all three races in 2019, is looking dangerous. He won in Andorra in 2017. Behind him in second that year was Greg Minnaar, the most decorated DHI UCI World Cup rider, who took second place in Leogang in June and must never be ruled out.
Downhill Junior Men
The French domination continues with Thibaut Dapréla taking straight wins in all three races so far. He also won in Vallnord last year on his way to overall victory with a points tally almost double that of his nearest rival. Look to Australian rider Kye A’Hern to threaten, building on his fifth overall last year.
Downhill Women Elite
British pair Tahnée Seagrave (2018 Vallnord winner) and Rachel Atherton, along with Australia’s Tracey Hannah were the top three at the season-opener in Maribor, in the exact same order as they finished in the 2018 overall standings. With crashes and injuries playing their part, the trio now have one victory each in 2019, with the campaign wide open.
With France’s Myriam Nicole (2017 Vallnord winner) fighting to fix a foot injury and emerging German talent Nina Hoffman showing no fear, the results of the coming races are unpredictable.
Downhill Junior Women
Austria’s Valentina Höll, USA’s Anna Newkirk and Mille Johnset of Norway have filled the top three spots in this year’s first three races, just as they did at last year’s race in Andorra – with Höll on the top step. The Austrian once again has the advantage: she took the overall victory last year with 420 points compared to second-placed Newkirk’s 115.
We’ve seen some super racing already this year in cross-country and downhill, and we expect more excitement in the heat of Andorra.