Entry lists for the 2016 XCM World Championships have been published, and as the race falls just one week ahead of the XCO World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, you might expect the start lists to take a different shape.
And in a way, they have. While some XCO racers are steering clear, others are coming who find that a long, hard race one week out from a target event helps their form. Jaroslav Kulhavy, Jolanda Neff, Annika Langvad… any of those three could take either (or both) XCM and XCO titles. The men’s field is certainly more XCM focused – but the same can be said for any XCO or XCM race. At an international level few riders besides Kulhavy can master both disciplines – now that Christoph Sauser has retired.
Previewing the Men’s field for the XCM World Championships
Looking over the men’s entrants list we start with Australia. Chris Hellman and Morgan Pilley won’t threaten the podium, but it’s interesting to see that Hellman has a higher ranking than Pilley, whose team mustn’t have been targeting UCI events so far in 2016.
The Austrian team has one of the race favourites – Alban Lakata. With a World Championship win in 2010 and 2015, plus numerous podium finishes, he is one of the men to beat and is surely on the podium if not the top step. At the same time, Daniel Gesimayr, Christophe Soukup and Hermann Pernsteiner could all have rides that put them into the top 10. Austria have a really strong team.
Belgium has a large team but really only Roel Paullisen, and Frans Claes stand out. Paullisen has sort of been world champion before, but has also had a two year farming break.
Columbia’s Leonardo Paez is fresh of winning yet another Sellaronda Hero – but although his climbing prowess is well-known, the course in Laissac lacks the long, steep climbs of the Alps or Dolomites.
The Czech team has some fire power, with Kristian Hynek, Jiri Novak and Jaroslav Kulhavy the most threatening. With Lakata, Kulhavy would be equal race favourite. But what if Hynek races with his trade team on his shoulders, not his flag? Who’s to say. But he’s a strong rider who could be on the podium, or shape the race for team or country.
Denmark have a sizeable team, but the race is a bit different to those in the north. Soren Nissen is the best ranked rider and should be in the top 10 by race end.
Spain have another big team, but beyond spotting a few classic TdF dopers none of them are likely to bother the podium.
France have a large contingent, but not so much in the sharp end save for Stephane Tempier who might bring a whole lot of XC speed with him.
Great Britain’s XCM Champion Ben Thomas has been plugging away at UCI XCM events and has moved his way up in the past twelves months. A World Championship event is a big deal, and while he should be close to the front on the grid a top 20 would be a solid result.
Germany are crowding out the race with 23 starters. That said, it’s unlikely a German will take home the rainbow jersey. Kaufmann, Platt and Stiebjahn are all likely to make an impression, but the chances of them winning stripes are low. Even if Platt is one of our emotional favourites!
Greece have a team of one – but Periklis Ilias has done it before and could ride away with another world title – or at least be in the top 5 if he has a good day.
Italy have a large team but it’s hard to see someone who could upset the favourites of Kulhavy and Lakata. Longo, Porro and Ragnoli have all had excellent performances as recently as a fortnight ago, and Nicolas Pettina can also produce amazing rides… but it still seems unlikely to see one of them in the top 5.
Poland have a small but strong team, however only Brzozka might ruffle feathers. There’s a good chance he will finish in the top 10 with a good race.
Portugal have Tiago Ferreira who could chance a great result, but that’s a very big dark horse guess. It doesn’t seem as likely that the shorter, punchier climbs will suit him.
South Africa have just one rider, Erik Kleinhans. There’s every chance he will be a super domestique for team mate Alban Lakata – but we have to wait until race day to see how that plays out.
Russia’s Alexey Medvedev seems to be back on it, but might lament the lack of big climbs. And while Switzerland have a strong looking team – it is probably only Urs huber who could upset the Lakata/Kulhavy favourites. In fact, there’s every chance that Huber is very hungry for a world title. Martin Fanger will bring a lot of XCO form to the course, and could post a high result.
There’s a chance Sweden’s Calle Friberg or the USA’s Todd Wells will play a role in the front of the race, and the USA’s Jeremiah Bishop is another who may well be sporting his trade team jersey close to his chest.
To put it out there – let’s call it as Kulhavy, Lakata, Huber. But unknown order.
The Women’s race in Laissac
This is a very interesting race. Australia have the largest XCM World Championships team ever, and it’s a shame Peta Mullens has opted to race road in the US – as there’s every chance she could have gone top 10. But race wins and primes pay the bills and get you places – top 10 finishes in XCM events don’t! After that, it’s hard to say how Jenni King, Anna Beck, Briony Mattocks and Imogen Smith will go. All have their strengths, and the course may play more into the hands of Beck and King with their higher level XCO experience. That said, Mattocks continues to improve and Smith is in the form of her life, and riding better than ever.
Austria’s Christina Kollman is ‘fresh’ off an Alpentour win and may well go top 5. But Denmark’s reluctant XCM racer Annika Langvad is an outright favourite. Her XCO career has really taken off in the past year, but she has won two XCM World titles and although she identifies as an XCO – she’s handy in a longer format too.
France have a large team, and while Fanny Bourdon may have a good race on the technical and slippery trails, local racer Helene Marcouyre is likely to know the trails and conditions like the back of her hand – she could chance a top 5, but more likely a top 10.
Great Britain’s Sally Bigham won the European Championships, and won on this course in 2015 ad comes into the race as a podium favourite. But with a number of racers also bringing XCO specialities, whether she can match their punchy power or finesse in slippery conditions will remain to be seen on Sunday.
The Netherland’s Hielke Elferink is well-ranked – but doesn’t seem set to crack the top 5 given the class in the field.
Michalina Ziolkowska from Poland had a great finish in the Dolomites on the weekend, and the trails here are reasonably raw like Poland… but finishing inside the top 5 seems unlikely.
The Swiss could take away three medals in the women’s race. It seems unlikely, but with Jolanda Neff, Esther Suess and Ariane Kleinhans – why not? All three may shape the race – but Neff has the star power and is likely to race the most agressively.
Sweden’s Jennie Stenerhag has a low ranking but some serious strength. She’s a dark horse for a top 5 in the race.
There are some notable absences to – especially the likes of Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa and Sabine Spitz. But that’s what happens when championships are so close. You can lose some of the protagonists. And those two have been on XCM Championship podiums about a dozen times between them.
But the podium mix? It’s hard to look past Langvad, Neff and Bigham. Again, the order would be unknown.
We’ll give as many live updates as possible from the course on Sunday – so follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date.