UCI Mountain Bike World Championships 2021 - Preview

Elisabeth Brandau (Radon EBE- Racing Team) and Kate Courtney (Scott- SRAM MTB Racing)
Elisabeth Brandau (Radon EBE- Racing Team) and Kate Courtney (Scott- SRAM MTB Racing) (Image credit: Rob Jones)

For the first time since 2019, a full UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will take place this week in Val di Sole, in the northeast of Italy. 

Last year, the UCI managed to squeeze in a World Championship for the elite categories in October. This year, the full complement of categories – junior, under-23 and elite – will race in every event.

Val di Sole, in the Trentino region, is no newcomer to the top level of the sport, having hosted both the World Championships and multiple World Cups over the past two decades. Usually it is hot and dusty but weather forecasts call for temperatures in the high-teens and rain for the entire week. 

Nevertheless, riders will face long and steep climbs and steep, root-filled descents that will be more treacherous than usual if the expected rain does materialise. Each lap of the four-kilometre cross-county circuit includes 190 metres of elevation gain. 

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships Val di Sole 2021 map

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships Val di Sole 2021 map (Image credit: UCI Mountain Bike World Championships Val di Sole)

This year, the World Championships come only a few weeks after the Tokyo Olympic Games. Normally in an Olympic year the Worlds take place in June, as they were scheduled to do last year before everything was cancelled. The position post-Tokyo may have an impact on the top riders who attended the Olympics, with many still recovering from the stress of the 'COVID Games'.

The cross-country events begin with the Team Relay on Wednesday, an event that takes place only once a year at the Worlds. Switzerland and Italy are the usual favourites, although France have also been in the medals for the past few years and are the defending champions.

The Short Track will take place Thursday, followed by the eMTB on Friday - the third time this event will be held. The eMTB has become the manufacturers' showcase, with Trek, Specialized and other companies usually managing to persuade one or more of their top cross-country U23 riders to participate. This year will have the added attraction of having two retired stars of the sport take part in the men's event - Julien Absalon (France) and Marco Fontana (Italy).

On Saturday, the elite cross-country titles will be awarded. In the women's field, Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) will be attending as the new Olympic champion after her remarkable win in Japan. 

However, there will be a large number of disappointed riders looking to make up for a poor showing at the Olympics, such as Rebecca McConnell (Australia), Kate Courtney (USA), Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France). Switzerland left the riders from all the other nations empty handed at the Games with a clean sweep of the podium as Sina Frei took silver and Linda Indergand won the bronze medal. Could they do the same thing at Val di Sole?

In the men's race, the medal contenders include Olympic silver medallist and World Cup leader Mathias Flückiger (Switzerland), the upset Olympic bronze medallist David Valero Serrano (Spain), Victor Koretzky (France), Anton Cooper (New Zealand) and the most dominant rider of the last decade, Nino Schurter (Switzerland), although the eight-time world champion has struggled this season. 

Tom Pidcock, the Olympic champion misses the event as he races the Vuelta a España on the road, and Mathieu van der Poel's back problems will keep him out, too.

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