"Can’t wait for this afternoon - it’s the Mountain Bike World Cup short track!" Who else heard that in conversation today? Well, now you have and you should get yourself a nice weekend tipple and settle down for the most exciting of all mountain bike races: the short track! Then you can look forward to the XCO (Cross-Country) on Sunday.
So what am I talking about? For those of you who don’t follow the mountain biking scene in the UK, the World Cup series began last weekend in Albstadt, Germany and is hotly followed by round 2 this weekend in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. For the UK mountain bikers, these races are particularly significant because our GB Olympic MTB selections are still up for grabs and there is a possibility that if the women do well as a team of 3, they can qualify an extra place so that 2 riders can go to Tokyo. For the men however, we haven’t qualified any places but this still happens to be a particularly exciting category for other reasons.
What is involved in a Mountain Bike World Cup?
A Mountain Bike World Cup consists of 2 races: short track and XCO. The short track on Friday afternoon is a fast and furious race, lasting for approximately 20 minutes, on a shorter version of the main XCO race track. It takes about 3/4 minutes for a lap and the riders whirl round and round, often in a large bunch, fighting for position and sprinting with overtaking manoeuvres. This is a race which favours the powerful riders with plenty of acceleration and often the Cyclocross riders do well, with Matthieu van der Poel (NL) having an unbroken record of short track wins and in the women’s, Evie Richards (GB) has several short track wins too. Watching these races live is electrifying because the speeds are so high, the crowds so dense and noise is absolutely deafening! (well, in pre-Covid races with crowds it was!) The short track race is important because dictates the gridding for the XCO on Sunday, as well as offering half the points that you can get from the XCO, making an important contribution to the overall standings in the World Cup Series.
The XCO is a longer race of approximately 1 and ½ hours around the full mountain bike course, incorporating several large climbs and descents and many technical features. The riders generally end up more spaced although key positions are hotly contested. This is much more about endurance and being able to hold the power, accelerate away on the climbs and traverse the technical uphill and downhill features smoothly and with speed. Typically riders like Jolanda Neff and Nino Shurter (both Swiss) boss the technical descents with fearless grace. With double the points of the short track, the win here is vital for the World Cup Series.
GB Interest in the Elite Men’s MTB
Whilst team GB have not qualified a place for the men’s Olympics race, this season sees the arrival of Tom Pidcock on the Elite MTB race scene. For many, Tom Pidcock is an unknown name, or maybe someone that you have vaguely heard about and have possibly begun to notice as the latest Ineos rider; for others, Tom Pidcock is a phenomenon we have watched excel in all forms of cycle sport and has the potential to be one of the world’s greatest riders. At the age of only 21, he has won World Champion Jerseys as U23 in Cyclocross, MTB and E-MTB and also won the Giro Cicilistico d’Italia on the road. So far this season he won Brabanste Pijl and was a photo finish second in Amstel Gold, 3rd in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – and that’s not mentioning the Superprestige win he had in cyclocross this year. Last week he started the XCO race in position 100 and made his way dramatically to the front of the race, finishing in position 5. What a phenomenal feat! You absolutely have to watch how he gets on this weekend! In the meantime, there are all the other starts of MTB to watch of course.
GB Interest in the Elite Women’s MTB
For the women’s MTB racing, our GB interest is centred around 3 contenders: Annie Last, Evie Richards and Isla Short. Three entirely different characters, all entirely entertaining in their racing. Annie Last has been around for a little while and competed at the last Olympic games, coming 8th; last weekend she came 3rd in the short track but had an off-day in the XCO. Evie Richards is an U23 World Champion in both MTB and cyclocross and is an up and coming rider on the Elite scene. Isla Short is also an up and coming rider and made her mark last year in Elite MTB, she is also one to watch. It will be fascinating to see how they get on: their battle is with both the national rankings (to qualify an second place for the Olympics) as well as between themselves. There’s an insightful British Cycling film about these 3 riders and their Olympic preparations on YouTube.
How can I watch the MTB World Cup on TV?
Full coverage of the Mountain Bike World Cup can be found on Red Bull TV for free. You can watch live or catch up later at your leisure.