The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will return to North America this month with five days of racing in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, a normally quiet ski town outside Québec City.
This year’s cross-country (XCO) race is of particular note. For many participating nations, it will serve as an Olympic qualifying race. Some riders, like current world champions Kate Courtney and Nino Schurter, have their titles to defend, while others, like Olympic gold medalist Jenny Rissveds, will try to reach the podium after years away.
But the entire week is special, with the elite downhill event closing out five days of racing. And to kick things off, the UCI will host its first-ever world championship race for electric mountain biking.
The XCO Course
Mont-Sainte-Anne is one of the most technical World Cup venues, so expect plenty of crashes even in the elite field. The women will race 24Km (six laps) and the men 28Km (seven laps) in the blazing August heat. Among the course’s famous, ultra-technical, and dangerous features is Beatrice, one of the most notorious chutes in cycling thanks to its awkward turns and boulders. Many riders have found themselves crashed, flipped, or concussed on this section.
Jolanda Neff negotiating a tricky rock garden in Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2018.
There’s also an extended climb in direct sunlight, which riders will have to tackle in the early afternoon. The course is spread across a ski hill, so while chunks of singletrack are shaded, plenty of wide-open fields could turn into peanut-butter mud if it rains or feel like entering a blast furnace if the sun stays out.
Kate Courtney shocked the world by becoming the first American woman to win an MTB World Championship since Alison Dunlap in 2001. Her victory came in the final minutes of the last lap of the race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, as she finally built a gap between herself and former world champion Annika Langvad. Emily Batty, who placed third, managed to stay with Courtney until the fourth lap before getting dropped. Courtney then chased down Langvad, passing her rival in one of the most technical spots in the last half-lap.
Kate Courtney will be looking to defend the rainbow stripes in 2019.
Who to Watch
Courtney will hope to defend her title in the women’s race. The 23-year-old skipped the U.S. National Championships in July, staying in Europe to remain fresh for the World Cup rounds in France and Switzerland. Her hopes are likely pinned on this race, as American Olympic hopefuls have only two automatic qualifiers: the World Championship or the first World Cup event of 2020. Courtney had an amazing start to the season with several World Cup victories, and though she fell slightly in the results in the last two events, she’s still the woman to beat.
However, there are a half-dozen women who could present a serious challenge. Jenny Rissveds made a triumphant return to racing this season and just won the last World Cup event by a huge margin over former world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. Overall 2018 World Cup leader Jolanda Neff will seek to add to her résumé. Canadians like Batty, former world champion Catherine Pendrel, and last year’s sixth-place finisher Haley Smith have all historically performed well close to home. Lastly, Americans Chloe Woodruff and Lea Davison are having great seasons and could easily reach the top three. The list of podium potentials could go on, which makes the women’s field so exciting this season.
There are a host of strong contenders for this years women's XCO final, all have a shot if they have the perfect race.
The South African Contingent
We have three very strong riders going to Mont-Sainte-Anne to represent South Africa in the Women's Elite XCO Final.
Candice Lill the current South African XCO champion has been getting stronger with every UCI world cup race this year. Her 13th place at Lenzerheide, Switzerland seems to show a perfect build up the World Championships. She has been consistently climbing the ranks and with a bunch of 2nd row starts at the UCI World Cup XCO Series, Candice seems poised to have a great race in Canada.
Candice Lill during the 2019 XCO World Cup series at Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Mariske Strauss has also been having a fantastic run of results in the XCO World Cup Series. Despite some crashes and mechanical mishaps, Mariske's performance has also been building all season and she too seems poised for a great race on Saturday in the women's Elite showdown.
Mariske Strauss has had an incredibly strong season at the UCI XCO World Cup Series this year.
Cherie Redecker has had a busy season and has been racing consistently throughout the season. She will also be hoping to move through the field and have a strong finish on the world biggest XCO stage. Cherie's experience of racing in Europe for many years may play in her favour.
Cherie Redecker participating in the Cycling SA Cup Series for 2019.
Without a doubt these three women are the strongest Cross Country riders representing South Africa in a long time. The opportunity for all three riders to have raced in the UCI world cup series this year has seen them flourish and they are right up there with the worlds best. We wish them the best for their World Championship performance on Saturday.
When Wednesday, August 28: E-MTB Championships
Thursday, August 29: Junior Women and Men XCO World Championships
Friday, August 30: U23 Men’s XCO World Championships
Saturday, August 31: U23, Elite Women, Elite Men XCO World Championships
Sunday, September 1: Elite Downhill MTB World Championships (women at 12:15 p.m. ET, men at 2:45 p.m.)
How to Watch
Red Bull TV, which livestreams the Mountain Bike World Cup, will also stream part of the Mountain Bike World Championships for free via its website and app. The live broadcasts start on August 31 at 12 p.m. and on September 1 at 12:45 p.m., covering the elite XCO and downhill races. Replays will also be available.
Catch the live stream here: https://www.redbull.com/int-en/events/uci-mountain-bike-world-championships-2019