With the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup has boiled down to a double-header at the classic Nové Město na Moravě (NMNM) course. Along with the cross-country short track (XCC) races, the Czech venue will host UCI World Cup cross-country Olympic (XCO) races for Women Elite and Men Elite on Thurs 1 Oct and Sun 4 Oct. We will also see the best of the world’s young XCO talent, with two U23 UCI World Cup races as well as XCO Juniors Series races as part of the six-day event.
Why Nové Město?
The resort in the Czech Republic has been a regular UCI World Cup venue since 2011, one of the favourites for riders and spectators alike, attracting tens of thousands of fans. The fixture also boasts a fine pedigree of exciting racing with true champions.
The 2011 NMNM Men Elite UCI World Cup was won by home rider Jaroslav Kulhavý from his rival Nino Schurter (SUI). The Czech took one of his five UCI World Cup wins that year, along with the UCI World Championships, then gold at the 2012 Olympic Games (where Schurter was again second, an order that was reversed four years later in Rio). Third place went to seven-time UCI World Cup overall winner and five-time UCI World Champion Julien Absalon, with the NMNM podium – replicated in 2015 – exactly matching the 2011 World Cup overall top three.
The 2011 XCO Women Elite UCI World Cup race was won by Canadian Catharine Pendrel: the 2010 UCI World Cup overall winner beat Julie Bresset (FRA) and Irina Kalentieva (RUS). They became the year’s overall top three, but with Bresset taking the top spot on her way to 2012 Olympic Games gold. Both Elite winners at NMNM in 2012 and 2013 went on to win overall.
Since then NMNM has been an ever-present UCI World Cup venue, with the exception of 2016 when it hosted the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships which attracted 57,000 spectators. Annika Langvad (DEN) took her only XCO UCI World title to join her five XCM rainbow jerseys, while Schurter collected his fifth of eight individual XCO rainbow jerseys (so far), Kulhavý collecting silver.
2020 is no exception: the Czech resort is back on the calendar despite a season severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic: “It was clear since early spring that this time it will not be possible to organise our event in the format we have been accustomed to in recent years,” said Petr Vaněk, Chairman of the Organising Committee in Nové Město.
The course is a beautiful blend of natural and man-made features, rewarding both speed and technical ability. Long before the buzz of the fans’ chainsaws, the race organisers were busy preparing the spectator sections and track, including its familiar ramped jump.
2019 Elite races
At the second round of the 2019 season, then UCI World Champion Kate Courtney (USA) took the Women Elite win, storming to an unassailable series lead: she won three of the first four rounds. The American beat Australian Bec McConnell and Canadian Haley Smith – a rare podium featuring no European riders.
The Men Elite podium had a European, if not entirely familiar, feel. After victories in 2012, ‘13, ‘14, ‘17 and ‘18, Schurter was on the second, rather than the top, step – that belonged to the sensational Mathieu van der Poel (NED), winning the first of his three 2019 UCI World Cup races. Jordan Sarrou joined them – the new French XCO Champion can’t wait to race at the top level in his tricolour jersey!
With 2020’s unique format, the UCI World Cup takes on a World Champs-style pressure. So along with peaking physical fitness, handling skills and race-craft, the competitors face an additional psychological edge – which could either work for or against the more experienced riders.
Courtney and Schurter again?
Schurter (34) and Courtney (24) – may be separated by a decade and an ocean, but share the same drive and team bond. Both start amongst the favourites.
“Never change a winning team” posted Schurter. “Really looking forward to laugh, race and celebrate with @kateplusfate, @larsrace and @jrf94 for at least another 2 years.”
Courtney’s training gains confirmed her place in the USA squad for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, 5-11 October. Van der Poel won’t return this year, prioritising UCI WorldTour road racing and targeting October’s Tour des Flandres and Paris-Roubaix. Sarrou is on form, and also worth considering are his compatriots Stéphane Tempier and Maxime Marotte who flanked Schurter on the 2018 NMNM podium. Brazil’s UCI Number 2-ranked Henrique Avancini is an exciting prospect, as are Mathias Flückiger (SUI) and Gerhard Kerschbaumer (ITA) who recently lost narrowly to New Zealand’s Anton Cooper.
Besides Courtney, watch out for UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA); Jolanda Neff (SUI), 2017 UCI World Champion and 2015 NMNM World Cup winner; Sweden’s Jenny Rissveds (2016 U23 UCI World Champion at NMNM); the Dutch duo Anne Tauber and Anne Terpstra, and Terpstra’s team-mate Sina Frei (SUI), 2018 U23 NMNM World Cup winner.