The 2018 UCI Cross-Country Marathon Mountain Bike Championship is upon us. And if you haven’t heard already – the start lists are intense. While we’ve already given our thoughts on the course, the question of who can win on it isn’t so simple.
Firstly, you should go and read the entry lists on the UCI website. You will quickly see that not only are the men’s and women’s fields very strong – they’re also pretty big. The 2018 race has 184 entries for men, and 76 for women. Last year in Singen was big with 176 and 71 entrants respectively, and that dwarfs Laissac with 120 and 48 men and women, and towers over the 2014 race in South Africa where 87 men started, and only 34 women started. In fact, it is more than double the size of the 2014 race.
We could go into the why, like the very low percentage of marathon racers who have the support to travel far, or the growth of the sport, or the fact that Italians prefer to race in Italy, Germans will race anywhere and even Australia got behind the race with 7 riders… but what not only makes the field big, but strong, is the fact that the XCM World Championship falls just one week after the XCO World Championship. Many riders mix both disciplines, but only a couple do it with success – like Annika Langvad and Gunn Rita Dahle Flesja, or Jolanda Neff, Sabine Spitz, Jaroslav Kulhavy.
And while Neff isn’t here, new XCO World Champion Kate Courtney is. U23 men’s XCO World Champion Alan Hatherly is. Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini are here, plus Florian Vogel. So many XCO stars are here they can’t all be listed. So the question might not be who can win the XCM World Championship, but instead will it be an XCO racer or a marathon specialist who wins?
Ben Thomas, a multiple British XCM Champion and our European correspondent believes it will be a marathon specialist.
“I’d like to see Jochen Kass or Daniel Geismayr from the Centurion Vaude Team win, both are known to be marathon specialists suited to the mountains, and will be riding superlight weight Centurion bikes. I do still think it will be a marathon specialist who wins, because the course is so tough for the first 80km.”
“I’d like to see Frans Claes do well – he hasn’t had the best year but it would be great to see him pull together a good result for the end of the year,” finished Thomas.
Picking a winner is akin to pulling a name out of a hat. Alban Lakata will be out for another title, and both he and team mate Kristian Hynek will be forces to be reckoned with. While the guys can climb, it’s more than likely they will hunt down riders who leapt away on the main climb on the long finish – rolling over big gears with strength and experience.
The same could be said for German Karl Platt or Swiss Urs Huber – and it might be someone like Italian Samuelle Porro who they are hunting.
But what if the pace at the start is so high with the likes of Avancini, Vogel, Marotte et al lighting it up on the start line? The course will feel very narrow at the likely start speeds, and these guys really can make an impact. Although some of them can fade as well – although Vogel has some staying power.
We expect it to be a marathon specialist though, and Alban could well have it in the bag. But Paez, Hynek, Geismayr, Kass and Porro would also be safe bets.
MarathonMTB.com Team rider Imogen Smith has looked at the women’s start list in awe – the best of the best are here.
“It would be hard to go past Gunn Rita or Annika for the win,” says Smith. “The field is stacked with cross-country riders and marathon specialists. Fast is fast, and these two ladies know how to race any distance, and are probably the fastest over this kind of course. It’s a super tough course but it really needs someone with the strength in the legs to bring it home in the final 20kms.”
But that’s not to say there aren’t others who can win. It’s a long race for the women, with 89km and 3400m of climbing. That’s lots of time for a mistake. Christina Kollman would also be a favourite, and if Kate Courtney’s form is the same as last week maybe she can edge away from Langvad on the descent – but could she hold her off on the gravel motorway down the valley?
Ariane Lüthi has put a big target on this race, and has had a great season. Things might align for her, or even her compatriot Esther Suess. There are a few more outside chances like Elisabeth Brandau, who has a phenomenal engine. The finish really looks to suit someone who can finish with some punch, not a wiry pure climber. Which is why it is hard to look past Gunn Rita and Annika.
This is all conjecture until Saturday. This race befits the status and will only deliver a deserving champion. Follow us on Instagram for updated where coverage allows – and check back for a race report from what we’ve seen!