The UCI World Championships are always the focal point of the season for riders and fans alike, and this year the five-day UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz event in Leogang (Austria) finds its place at the very heart of the rescheduled 2020 mountain bike season, hosting cross-country, downhill and E-mountain bike, 7-11 October.
It’s a source of pride to host this year’s event, not just for Leogang, but for the whole nation, and one of its most exciting prospects, Valentina Höll – who has stepped up to the Elite competitions after her unprecedented domination of the Junior Women class – is the embodiment of looking forward.
At the beginning of 2020, the plan was for a cross-country UCI World Championships (cross-country Olympic, cross-country relay and E-MTB) in Albstadt (Germany) in late June, but that was one of many competitions affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Leogang was, for the first time since 2012, already due to host the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships for downhill, as well as the 2020 Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Championships, which has subsequently been cancelled. Next week it hosts a combined event (cross-country and downhill) where 12 rainbow jerseys will be won.
A mirror to history?
Last time the UCI World Championships were held at Leogang, it was a full suite of disciplines: XCO, DHI, 4X, Trials, and the inaugural Eliminator rainbow jerseys were awarded.
The Elite Men’s XCO podium was all-Swiss: Nino Schurter from brothers Lukas and Mathias Flückiger, and the Junior Men’s podium is familiar: New Zealand’s Anton Cooper from the Frenchmen Victor Koretzky and Titouan Carod. Women’s Elite went to Julie Bresset (FRA) from Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, while the Women U23 winner was the young Swiss Jolanda Neff – who also podiumed in the Eliminator.
In downhill, Greg Minnaar (RSA) won the Elite Men’s from Gee Atherton (GBR), and in the Juniors a young Loïc Bruni beat USA’s Richie Rude. The Elite Women saw a French 1-2 for Morgane Charre and Emmeline Ragot, while Canada’s Holly Feniak won the Juniors from Great Britain’s Tahnée Seagrave. Both Rude and Seagrave grabbed the top steps the following year.
Course of champions
In recent years, the DHI UCI World Cup rounds at Leogang has confirmed its reputation as a course of champions.
2019 saw Elite victories for Bruni on his way to UCI World Cup overall victory and his fourth Elite UCI World title, and Tracey Hannah (AUS) on her way to a UCI World Cup overall title. In the Juniors Thibaut Dapréla (FRA), claimed his third victory in three races on his way to a dominating overall title, and Valentina Höll took her second of the season in which she would claim six of eight UCI World Cup victories and the World Championships.
In 2018, Amaury Pierron (FRA) won on his way to the UCI World Cup overall title, while Rachel Atheron and Valentina Höll both won on their way to UCI World Cup overall and UCI World Championships doubles – the young Austrian recording a ‘perfect season’ winning all seven UCI World Cup rounds.
Höll’s margin of victory in the 2018 Junior UCI Worlds was 11 seconds, and in 2019 almost 13 seconds. The most recent UCIWorld Cup race at Snowshoe, she won by 12 seconds, and the last UCI World Cup at Leogang it was around 18.
Her Juniors times translate to regular Elites top-10s and occasional podiums. And on her home track? It’s surely where she has the best chance to upset the experienced senior riders. With no spectators allowed, that would put a smile on the faces of the many locals who are volunteering.
Even away from the start gate and the speed traps, Valentina can’t help ripping it up on the Austrian trails!
Tracks old and new
Leogang has become a regular venue for top flight DHI competition – holding nine UCI World Cups. This year the famous 2.5km ‘Speedster’ track, where the top riders can hit 65kph, receives a new technical section. It’s predominantly natural, with root passages, an extremely steep area, a bridge and a gap.
The all-new cross-country course is 3.4km long, with an altitude difference of just over 200 metres, with technical elements such as gaps and rooty sections that can alter character as the weather changes. The E-mountain bike is to be raced on a modified version of the XCO route, 4.3km long with 310 metres altitude difference per lap.
Who will succeed in 2020?
One of the most exciting aspects of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz is that we don’t know the winners till the last minute, and sometimes the last split-second.
Will Kate Courtney keep the title she won in Mont-Sainte-Anne? Can Schurter make it nine? Last week’s XCO World Cup double-header at Nové Město na Moravě may be a good form guide. Or then again it may not!
Who will follow the inaugural E-mountain bike UCI World Champions Nathalie Schneitter (SUI) and Alan Hatherly (RSA)?
In DHI, it feels like a long time away from true top-level competition since the last UCI World Cup round at Snowshoe. Could the French duo Myriam Nicole and Loïc Bruni retain their rainbows?