Forty-four nations will be represented in Mont-Saint-Anne, Canada, this week at the 2019 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. Of the 635 participating athletes, 73 come from the host nation. The superb venue is a regular UCI World Cup fixture and is holding this year’s UCI World Championships for the third time after 1998 and 2010. Once again, the races are set to feature intense competition, outstanding performances and strong emotion.
Official training is underway, and competition opens on Wednesday with the cross-country Team Relay followed by the first ever Men’s and Women’s E-MTB World Championships. The Championships will end on Sunday with the crowning of the Junior and Elite downhill UCI World Champions.
E-MTB: bringing together so many disciplines
As well as tremendously exciting and strategically compelling racing, this new format is a clear endorsement of the electrically-assisted bike’s emerging place in sport and in society. Riders will tackle a 5.6km cross-country course on E-Mountain bikes that have a maximum continuous rate of power of 250 watts with assistance topping out at 25km/h. And, while the usual technical assistance is afforded to all riders, no bike or battery changes are permitted mid-race.
In the Men Elite race there are some huge names among the 46 riders from 17 nations, with ages ranging between 20 and 57. They include major stars from cross-country Olympic (XCO) racing such as 2008 UCI World Champion and Sydney 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Christoph Sauser (SUI), three-time mixed relay UCI World Champion and London 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marco-Aurelio Fontana (ITA), and XCO mega-star Julien Absalon (FRA), the most decorated man in his field. A fascinating aspect of E-MTB is how it marries stars from different formats and sports. Look out for former moto-cross rider Charlie Mullins (USA), one of the best-loved characters in DHI/Enduro, Wyn Masters (NZL), and from France, multiple age-group DHI World Champion Jean-Pierre Bruni… who taught his son Loïc everything he knows.
In the Women’s field, riders include four-cross legend with BMX and DHI skills Anneke Beerten (NED), Canadian all-rounder and cyclo-cross specialist Maghalie Rochette, as well as Nadine Sapin (FRA) who’s an XCO rider with an equine background plus broad experience that touches Enduro.
XCO – purist racing at every category
The first XCO rainbow jerseys will be awarded on Wednesday, in the Team Relay. Can Switzerland make it three in a row, or could France or one of the other challengers take first blood?
Women and Men Junior finals are raced on Thursday 29th, followed by Under-23 Men finals on Friday 30th and Under.23 Women in the morning of Saturday 31st. Last year’s Under-23 Women was a Swiss show with Alessandra Keller and Sina Frei taking the 1-2 ahead of Italy’s Marika Tovo… but the competition looks more varied and just as fierce this year. Frei is favourite, but amongst the many others who could take the title are Evie Richards (GBR), Ronja Eibl (GER) and Laura Stigger (AUT) – last year’s Junior World Champion who has stepped up a category and looks comfortable with regular UCI World Cup podiums.
The Under-23 Men’s race is set to be a fascinating battle between Vlad Dascula (ROU), Filippo Colombo (SUI) and Jofre Cullell (ESP), but a number of other riders could be there including Antoine Philipp (FRA) and Max Brandle (GER). The biggest cheers will be in hope of a home win for Canadian Sean Fincham.
Saturday 31st sees the final for Elite Women. 2017 UCI World Champion Jolanda Neff (SUI) will look to wrestle her title back from reigning Champion Kate Courtney (USA). But as throughout the UCI World Cup campaign some other strong riders will not let them have it their own way: Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) is on scintillating form, Anne Terpstra and Anne Tauber (both NED) will push hard, 2016 UCI World Champion Annika Langvad considers herself still in the mix, and you’ll hear the reaction to any attacks from Canadians Emily Batty and Catharine Pendrel. If you want a fairy-tale in this one, watch Sweden’s only representative in Canada, 2016 Under-23 UCI World Champion and Olympic Champion the same year Jenny Rissveds.
The Men Elite follow. There is no doubt that seven-time XCO UCI World Champion Nino Schurter (SUI) wants to make it eight including a record five consecutive titles (he’s tied on four with Julien Absalon). In the absence of Mathieu Van der Poel, he remains favourite – and that means he’s ready to be shot down by a hard-chasing pack. Schurter’s compatriot Mathias Flückiger is among the most likely, along with Brazil’s Henrique Avancini who is in fine form. Gerhard Kerschbaumer (ITA) is one to watch, along with Ondrej Cink (CZE) and a strong French contingent including Jordan Sarrou, Stephane Tempier, Titouan Caroud and Maxime Marotte.
DHI – thrill-a-minute with split-second timing
Reigning Junior DHI UCI World Champion Valentina Höll looks unstoppable, with five UCI World Cup victories so far this year (finishing second in the other two). But the Austrian sensation knows that one mistake in Sunday morning’s race will leave the door open for the hard-charging pack that includes Fort William winner Anna Newkirk (USA), Val di Sole winner Mille Johnset (NOR) and the tough French duo of Lauryne Chappaz and Nastasia Gimenez.
All eyes will be on French National Champion and UCI World Cup overall leader Thibaut Daprela in the Junior Men’s competition. But with a strong field of 52 racers across 20 nations, competition will be intense, not least from his countryman Matteo Iniguez, the Southern Hemisphere hot-shots Ariki-Tuhoto Pene (NZL), 2018 silver medalist Kye A’Hern (AUS) and the British duo of Jamie Edmondson and Luke Mumford. There is a strong Canadian contingent, including Patrick Laffey, Lucas Cruz and Seth Sherlock – winner of the last UCI World Cup round in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
With the British duo of reigning and multiple UCI World Champion Rachel Atherton out through injury and Tahnée Seagrave racing but not fully recovered from injury, Tracey Hannah knows Sunday afternoon’s Elite Women’s competition is the perfect time to convert her multiple UCI World Championship podiums into the top spot and the rainbow jersey. But a raft of European racers – and Canada’s Miranda Miller, UCI World Champion in 2017 – won’t let the Australian relax. Look out for on-form French rider Marine Cabirou and her compatriot Myriam Nicole (runner-up last year), young German Nina Hoffman and the Swiss Camille Balanche.
The show-stopper will be the Elite Men’s battle. Triple UCI World Champion Loïc Bruni has been head-to-head with fellow Frenchman Amaury Pierron all year in the UCI World Cup, with Loris Vergier not far behind and 2018 Junior UCI World Champion Remi Thiron also in the mix. But it is not all about the French riders.
Australia’s Troy Brosnan is in flying form, as are Britain’s breakthrough rider Laurie Greenland and his fellow GBR rider, former double UCI World Champion Danny Hart. Triple UCI World Champion Greg Minnaar (RSA) is rolling back the years while Brook MacDonald (NZL) and David Trummer (AUT) are both dangerous. Listen to the roar for Canada’s Finn Iles (2016 Junior UCI World Champion) and Mark Wallace.