The 2019 UCI XCM World Championships started on a clear and crisp day in Graechen, Switzerland. Sitting in the canton of Valais, the area is known for wine, the Matterhorn, being the driest canton – and it should certainly be known for mountain biking.
With men taking on a 91km race with about 3800m, the women raced 70km with 2750m of climbing. The courses were near identical but the men went further up a climb to access another long singletrack descent. You can find out more about the courses from our track preview.
On the start loop of the women’s race, it was Blaza Pintaric and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot who edged away. But by the first feed zone in Kalpetran, PFP was solo, and nose breathing up the climb.
Pintaric was in pursuit, as was Ariane Luethi, although the Swiss had punctured her rear wheel on the descent.
Despite being just 14km in, the field were already quite spread out due to the nature of the start loop and first long descent. Samara Sheppard came through inside the top 10, and Imogen Smith was about 45th, having moved up from her start position of 77.
The men’s race had more than double the size of the women’s field, and by all accounts the start loop was pretty hectic. With ex-pro riders on eMTBs helping make a full live stream possible, it was easy to see some of the carnage inside the race – like Lukas Flueckiger straight lining over a German rider who crashed!
At the base of the descent it was Lukas’ brother Mathias who was leading out of the first feed zone. Samuele Porro was in pursuit.
At the front of the women’s race Ferrand-Prevot remained alone, as Pintaric chased behind. There was a different mix of riders behind with Adelheid Morath gaining ground, as well as Elisabeth Brandau, and Robyn de Groot. Samara Sheppard was riding in about 7th or 8th through the middle of the race, trading places with some riders around her.
The men’s front group swelled to about 13 on the way to Toerbel, as they approached the fast and loose descent back to Kalpetran. All the women’s riders came into this virtually solo, but it was the Flueckiger brothers who left together and many said you wouldn’t bet against one of them winning with just one long, major climb to go.
In the women’s race, Ferrand-Prevot won her second world title within a month, as Pintaric was 2nd and de Groot 3rd. Samara Sheppard finished 5th – a huge ride for the New Zealander.
On the final climb, Paez was with Kristian Hynek and Alexey Medvedev. One of the Flueckigers had crashed and this trio were being towed up the climb by Hynek. It was all there to watch on the live stream, and the big screen in the square at Graechen showed it all unfolding on the slopes below.
Paez tried an attack, but it wasn’t until The Wall that he distanced Medvedev, as they were both off and running. Paez got away solo and came into Graechen alone, but now with Hynek closest in pursuit.
Medvedev was cooked and now it was Porro fighting for a medal.
The whole crowd was lining the finish chute, waiting to see if Paez would win the gold for Colombia. The music was thumping, the crowd was ecstatic. Paez came up the road saluting, finishing the race in about 4:18.
Paez fell into the arms of his team manager and supporters, and his wife.
Hynek confirmed his silver, and Porro was 3rd.
The rest of the men’s field came in in dribs and drabs, some with crushed dreams, others happy to finish, others over the moon with the result. Ben Thomas finished in 27th for men, a career best!
Sebastian Jayne finished in 68th – a little down for his goals of top 50 – but considering an illness the past week it was a solid result!
As for other Australians, Imogen Smith finished 38th, leaving it all out there in the Swiss Alps again, just like at the Swiss Epic.
Tyla Windham had a great ride to finish 133rd, moving up a long way from the back row.
Ben May came across the line in 155th, straight to his wife and young baby – and the majority of the Australian team.
Justin Morris was across the line next, finishing a huge day out on the bike in Switzerland.
The whole town was still buzzing – plenty of racers were already bumping out, ready to hang the bike up for the season. Full results are online.
The World Championships in Graechen were a stand alone event, not attached to another event such as the 3Epic like in 2018, or any of the races in the past few years. In 2014 the XCM Worlds in South Africa was setup for the championships, and in general it’s a different vibe. But in Graechen the route and organisation and crowds were amazing. Well done Graechen!
Best of all, the trails for any supporters were a blast to ride – put it on your bucket list.