The Mountain Bike World Championships are heading to Austria! But who can go?
In a year where nothing is certain, and plans are far from concrete, the UCI have announced that there will be no less than 15 opportunities for gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Saalfelden Leogang, Austria. The racing will cover 5 days from 7-11 October, creating an action packed super event if all can proceed.
The organisers Marco Pointner and Kornel Grundner have had plenty of challenges to get this far, modifying the original plan to hold the Downhill World Championships, to now host so much more.
"We have seen ourselves increasingly responsible for making the World Championships possible for the riders, teams and sponsors, but also for the fans.” The World Championships, gives the heavily adjusted mountain bike calendar a bit of security, for those who still hold hope that travel and large events in October will be possible.
“The UCI contacted us and asked if we saw an opportunity to integrate the Cross-Country and E-MTB competitions of the World Championships from Albstadt into our Downhill and Pumptrack World Championships. After we checked everything internally, it was clear to us that we could tackle a quadruple World Championships and that we wanted to take on the challenge," Pointner added.
But, there's plenty of work to do as Grundner adds, "The short-term is not optimal and rather unusual. The tracks for the Cross-Country competitions have yet to be completed. But the biggest challenge is that we are prepared for all eventualities. We don’t know how the pandemic will develop."
The events will start in the usual manner with the Cross-Country Team Relay race on Wednesday, October 7. On the same day, two more medals for both women and men in the eMTB race. The eMTB World Championships in Mt St Anne were quite a spectacle, and we expect another wide range of riders to line up - travel bans permitting.
Come Thursday, the Juniors will compete for gold, silver and bronze in Cross-Country. This is the best time to see talented riders that will be headline names in years to come. Or riders that will burn bright and fade away...
On Friday, the men's U23s will compete in Cross-Country. Afterwards men and women will take to the Pump Track for the coveted rainbow jerseys. The Pump Track competition will signal the end of the third day of competition.
The World Championship weekend starts with the U23 Cross-Country women. IThe Elite men's and women's races will follow, rounding out an action-packed day on the hill.
The final day of competition on Sunday offers four more titles to be decided - all of them Downhill. First, the Junior women and then the Junior men will take on the Speedster, before the Women's and Men's Elite finish the quadruple World Championships.
Spectacting at the World Championships
This is still uncertain, but despite the complete changes caused by the Corona pandemic and the resulting difficulty in planning, the organisers are trying to make the title races accessible to spectators. But no decision has yet been made.
"We are currently working on four different "corona-ready" concepts," explains Grundner. "First of all for all athletes and teams, then for the entire media sector from journalists to TV teams, for all our own employees and helpers, as well as for spectators along the track and in designated corridors. Of course, we want spectators on the track, that's just part of it and what makes Leogang and mountain bike sport so special. But the top priority is that we can host the World Champs and not endanger anyone.”
You can find the current details at the event website.
So, who can race?
While we can make predictions about which athletes can travel and who won't be able to, the fact is no one knows what October will bring. Australian professional cyclists are already travelling back to Europe to meet requirements of their teams, so it's not impossible. But, getting home will be harder with 2 weeks mandatory quarantine unlikely to change by October. And it will carry a significant cost, as will the travel.
As it is, advantage: Europeans. Australian pro cyclists could be living, training (and racing) in Australia at the moment, but it's a huge gamble that many are unwilling to take. Is the risk of not having your normal home base worth it? And the risk of being in countries with far higher case counts? And what about the 24 hours or more of travel each way, through global travel hubs? There is a lot to weigh up, and with World Cups being continually cancelled, the reward for the risk is diminishing.
With a very compact World Cup coming closer, and World Championships in October, lets see what the future brings to the top tiers of mountain biking.