The 30th edition of the Mountain Bike World Championships added a new event: E-MTB, or electric pedal-assist mountain bike. While E-MTBs are still relatively rare in North America, in parts of Europe they have overtaken traditional mountain bikes in sales, and there are numerous race series.
For the first World Championship, the UCI set technical specifications of pedal-assist (ie, no throttle), a maximum power-assist speed of 25 kph and no battery replacement during the race.
The course also underwent revisions right up until the day before the race, as organizers received rider feedback. While incorporating sections of the XCO circuit, it was designed to demand E-MTB specific skills, with very long and steep climbs - steeper than possible for an XCO race - and long descents.
The fields were diverse, with everything from Olympic champions (Julien Absalon, Jaroslav Kulhavy, Miguel Martinez) to local level riders in their first major race.
Absalon was considered the favourite for the men's race, after racing much of the season in Europe in E-MTB events but, in the end, it was two younge riders that finished ahead of him, with current U23 world champion Alan Hatherly (South Africa) riding away from the field to take the title and give Specialized bragging rights. Jerome Gilloux of France took the silver medal, with Absalon moving up through the field to take bronze.
"My team, Specialized Racing, ask me to race this race," said Hatherly. "I had been overtraining, which forced me onto the E-MTB for recovery, and that really worked in my favour as I got used to the bike.
"You really have to be an all-round competitor to do well, as it is a real combination of a cross-country course and a downhill course. It's definitely not as easy as getting on the bike and going. I wouldn't be surprised if it makes it to the world circuit, eventually."
In the women's small field it quickly became a two rider race: Nathalie Schneitter (Switzerland) versus Maghalie Rochette (Canada). Rochette was in her first E-MTB race, while Schneitter has been racing regularly.
Rochette was the stronger climber, but Schneitter was a better technical rider and descender, and that proved to make the difference. After Rochette bobbled on a technical section of the climb, Schneitter caught up to her, and then went into the final rock garden descent in the lead, which she held to the finish, giving Trek a win. Anneke Beerten (Netherlands) took third.
"I put a lot of work into this race," said Schneitter, a former Junior XCO world champion. "I raced in three E-MTB races in Europe before doing a stage race, so I think I am probably the person with the most experience on an E-MTB.
"I'm so pumped. E-MTB is something I believe in, deep in my heart; I see them every day at home, my parents ride them. So I'm very happy to support this great new sport."