For her first-ever participation in the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships, Switzerland’s Ramona Forchini went straight to the top on Sunday, claiming the rainbow jersey in Sakarya, Turkey. In the men’s race, 2019 winner Colombian Hector Leonardo Páez León successfully defended his world title with a powerful demonstration that saw him solo to victory.
Elite Women: down to a two-way battle
In the absence of 2019 UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) one thing was clear: the rainbow jersey was going to change hands in Turkey. And there were more than a few serious contenders among the 33 athletes at the start of the 80.9km women’s race, not least last year’s silver and bronze medalists, respectively Slovenian Blaža Pintarič and South African Robyn de Groot. Both were still in contention at the turning point of the first of two laps, riding in the leading group that also featured Forchini and eventual silver medalist Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska.
By the time the women started the second lap, de Groot has been distanced slightly by the leading five women: Forchini, fellow Swiss Ariane Lüthi, Wloszczowska, Pintarič and the Ukraine’s Yana Belomoina. De Groot found herself 11 seconds back with Great Britain’s Isla Short.
Half-way through the final lap Forchini, Wloszczowska and Belomoina had gained ground on their fellow riders, but Belomoina soon fell off the pace and it became clear that it was going to be a two-way battle for the rainbow jersey.
Forchini and Wloszczowska worked together to gain time on the chasers, changing lead several times until Forchini took matters into her own hands to move slightly ahead of her Polish rival with several hundred metres to go. She kept her slight advantage to cross the line in 3:42.18, one second ahead of 2003 UCI World Champion Wloszczowska. Ariane Lüthi made it a double medal celebration for Switzerland after her strong ride back into contention to claim bronze, 1.22 behind her compatriot.
The new UCI World Champion, who was Under-23 cross-country Olympic UCI World Champion in 2015, could hardly believe her victory immediately after the finish: “It was my first mountain bike marathon worlds and I didn’t know what was coming. It was really hard. I am so happy…. and tired!”
Elite Men: Páez León’s demonstration
Colombian Héctor Leonardo Páez León was one of the clear favourites at the start of the 110km three-lap men’s race in Turkey. He did not disappoint. The defending UCI World Champion – who has also won one silver medal and three bronze medals since 2006 – soloed to victory in 4:19.50 with a 2.20 advantage over 2016 UCI World Champion Tiago Ferreira, of Portugal. The Czech Republic’s Martin Stosek claimed the bronze medal another 15 seconds back.
A large group of some 18 riders was still together after the first lap, but this had been whittled down to five by the end of the following lap, with the three eventual medalists accompanied by Italian Juri Ragnoli and Stosek’s fellow Czech Kristian Hynek, last year’s silver medalist.
It was in the third and final lap that Páez León decided to show who was boss. He pulled away and was only followed by Stosek and Ferreira as the rest of the field exploded behind. But the Colombian had not had his last say: he applied more pressure and was able to continually extend his lead to the finish. Stosek was in second for the rest of the final lap but Ferreira never lost touch, and in the final dash to the line the Portuguese overtook the Czech to take silver.