Wednesday Wrap-Up: UCI 2020 Mountain Bike World Championships Off to a Wet Start
Riders raced in two disciplines; Cross-Country Team Relay, which featured both male and female riders racing against each other at the same time and the E-MTB Cross-Country World Championship, with a Men’s and Women’s division. The athletes were welcomed in Leogang with overcast conditions and plenty of rain – meaning the stage was set for some epic racing on Day One of the 2020 Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes Benz.
Cross-Country Team Relay: France fights to strong finish in treacherous conditions
In a true battle against the elements, the Cross-Country Team Relay riders fought rain, wind, mud, slop, treacherous roots and slippery rocks over the 3.6km / 2,2mi long course. Right from the start, riders were faced with a muddy climb, as well as some rocks that might as well have been ice.
Team USA started strong and dominated the first two laps, but couldn’t keep up the pace – allowing Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain and Slovenia to put their bid in for a podium spot. Thanks to an extremely strong lap by Loana Lecomte right in the middle of the race, the French overtook Team USA and set their sights set on the top spot of the podium. Dropping back to second place one lap before the finish, Jordan Sarrou rocketed up the climb, caught Austria’s Cornelia Holland right before the first split and didn’t relinquish the lead – cementing the win for France, which now ties Switzerland for most World Championship titles, with both countries at six titles each. While Austria was in first place heading into the final lap with Holland leading the charge, she struggled with the tricky conditions and fell back to just outside the Top 5, putting in a strong effort to still finish 6th.
While Italy had a strong start with Luca Braidot and was second after the first lap, they fell back to 10th place just one lap later. The Italians managed to start a comeback for the ages, with Filippo Agostinacchio and Nicole Pesse attacking the track as if there was no tomorrow and working their way up from the back of the pack all the way to second place. While defending champion Switzerland had a slow start and saw themselves in 11th place after the first lap, they battled their way to the podium over the course of the race, eventually finishing in 3rd, with strong performances by Thomas Litscher, Sina Frei and Alexandre Balmer.
Host nation Austria found themselves within striking distance of the podium, leading the race going into the last lap as Cornelia Holland took to the track, but was forced to settle for a 6th place finish, with Team USA and Team GBR overtaking them in the final lap.
Jordan Sarrou: “We’re a strong team and we’re so happy to start the week like this, with a rainbow striped jersey. France is extremely strong in these conditions, so we’re super happy and we made the right choices today.”
Loana Lecomte: “I hope I’ll be able to continue this strong performance the rest of the week.”
High-Speed Action during E-MTB Cross-Country World Championships
Wednesday’s action continued with the E-MTB World Championships, for which the starting bell rang only minutes after the Cross-Country action had finished. Lining up in the Men’s race, side by side with racers who specialize in E-MTB Cross Country, was the who-is-who of the Cross-Country and Cyclocross world; Thomas Pidcock (GBR), Simon Andreassen (DEN), Jerome Gilloux (FRA) and Sven Nys (BEL), to name a few.
With France’s Jerome Gilloux leading for much of the race with a sizeable gap to his chasers, it seemed that today would see a battle for 2nd place and France would take their second gold medal of the day. As the race went on, Britain’s Thomas Pidcock, starting deep in the middle of the grid (position 22), chipped away at the gap between Gilloux and himself and there was only eight seconds between the two going into the final lap, setting up a true battle. Pidcock, fueled by his two U-23 Cross-Country wins in Nové Město last week, cranked his way through the mud and caught Gilloux before the first split and then went flat-out, crossing the finish line after 1:01:41, over 35 seconds faster than Gilloux. Following Gilloux was Denkmark’s Simon Andreassen, who backed up his first Cross-Country Elite win in Nové Město with an impressive race here in Leogang, finishing 3rd with a time of 1:02:30 after being one of the last riders to cross the starting line, in 30th place. Italy’s Martino Fruet and Switzerland’s Joris Ryf rounded out the podium in 4th and 5th place.
Thomas Pidcock: “The downhill sections were super tricky. It was all about just getting down them and not crashing. For me, it was a matter of making it through those sections and then making up some time on the uphills and it paid off. It’s a big win for me and it gives me a lot of confidence heading into Friday.”
Jerome Gilloux: “I did my best to be as fast as I could, but due to some technical issues and the wet conditions I fought hard to stay in second place, so I’m very happy with my silver medal.”
Simon Andreassen: “I actually just wanted to race for fun. It’s my first time riding the E-MTB and the conditions were super difficult, so to walk away with a medal is a bonus and I think this race was good preparation for the weekend. I haven’t been in Leogang and it’s a beautiful place and it seems to be very good for mountain biking as well.”
As if the weather gods were welcoming the final race of the day, the clouds parted shortly before the women took to the track. Nathalie Schneitter (SUI), Switzerland’s hope for a gold medal and 2019 World Champion, had a rocky road to the start line, being unable to train in the last two weeks due to quarantine regulations and it was unclear whether she would be able to start to try and defend her World Champion title.
Two of the race’s medal riders started at the front of the grid – Schneitter and Melanie Pugin (FRA), with Alba Wunderlin (SUI) sandwiched in between the two. What unfolded as a battle for the Top 3 in the first two laps of the race between Pugin, Schneitter and Stirnemann (SUI) subsequently turned into a battle for second place for the two Swiss racers, as Pugin opened the gap to a whopping 30 second, no doubt due to her experience racing in the Enduro World Series, where she’s frequently seen on the podium, winning in Zermatt and Pietra Ligure earlier this year. Throughout the race, gaps between riders were as small as less than two seconds apart, but Pugin took the lead in the third lap and made sure that she wasn’t caught anymore, finishing the race in 56:33. Kathrin Stirnemann would finish at the 57:00 minute mark, and Schneitter came in another 48 seconds later. Germany’s Sofia Wiedenroth and Canadian Maghalie Rochette would claim 4th and 5th place.
Meanwhile, Alba Wunderlin battled not only the track, but also her bike, as mechanicals forced her to drop back further and further as the race went on. In a true showing of sportsmanship, she did not give up, but was eventually forced off of her bike and running, rather than riding, across the finish line in 8th place, with the other riders in the race being forced out of the race due to mechanical issues.
“The start was very fast, racing against Nathalie. Once we got to the technical sections, I was able to rely more on my skills, so I was faster in those sections. Winning the rainbow jersey here is really great and really a good bonus for my sponsors as well,” said Melanie Pugin following her win. Today’s silver medalist, Kathrin Stirnemann, was elated with her silver medal. “I think it was a great battle. It was my first race in the E-MTB category, and I am super happy to walk away with a medal.”
Following the race, Nathalie Schneitter was visibly pleased with her result and her race. “It was an amazing race. I feel I was really dominating the uphill, but there were two girls faster than me on the downhill. Races are won during the downhill and that’s how it should be. Melanie (Pugin) is one of the fastest girls on the planet right now and the fact that Kathrin won a medal here isn’t surprising to me at all. I’m very pleased with my bronze medal today, especially coming out of a 10-day quarantine.”
Tomorrow’s highlight will definitely be the Women Juniors and Men Juniors Cross-Country Olympic race, with another 150 riders battling it out for the coveted rainbow jerseys. Lucky for them, weather conditions are supposed to change- from wet and windy to overcast, but sunny. What this will mean for the track remains to be seen, as there is still rain in the forecast tonight.
It will also be the first chance to see the world’s best Downhill riders, as the first training sessions will take place following today’s track walk, which included a detailed look at the new part of the Speedster, which riders say is very steep and will be very challenging to ride in the wet.
At the end of the first day of UCI 2020 Mountainbike World Championships, the medal standings look like this:
France: 2 Gold, 1 Silver
Great Britain: 1 Gold
Switzerland: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze
Italy: 1 Silver
Denmark: 1 Bronze