Bartosz Wolinski WOLISPHOTO
The 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.
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.
If you have a subscription, NBC Sports Gold will air the elite XCO races on Saturday. You can purchase the network’s Cycling Pass ($55) for access to livestreams, on-demand replays, and more through the mid-2020 cycling season. We’ve found it’s the best way to watch races like the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España, and the UCI Road World Championships. (Subscriptions are still available, but will expire just before next year’s Tour de France.)
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 24K (six laps) and the men 28K (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.
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.
See highlights from the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup race last year:
What Happened Last Year
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.
In the men’s race, Nino Schurter claimed his seventh World Championship on his home course in Switzerland. He and Gerhard Kerschbaumer led from the very beginning, but Schurter attacked with a lap and a half to go and rode away from the Italian. Mathieu van der Poel had a rocky start after being listed as a pre-race favorite, but ultimately finished third.
Riders 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.
On the men’s side, one face will be notably absent: season standout Mathieu van der Poel. One of the only racers to truly give Schurter a run for his money, he’s won the last two World Cup races in Switzerland and Italy and dominated the cyclocross World Cup circuit for the last two years as well. Yet he’ll miss the XCO World Championships this year, as he needs to race in Road Worlds to prep for the Olympics next summer.
However, Schurter shouldn’t feel totally secure with van der Poel out. Mathias Flückiger has beaten him in two World Cups and finished directly behind him in three more. Current marathon world champion Henrique Avancini and 2018 silver medalist Kerschbaumer will also contend for podium positions, if not the overall win. Smart money will remain on Schurter to take an eighth World Championship, but on a course as technical as this, anything could happen.