The UCI World Championships has forever been “The Race.” With pride on the line, World Champs is on everyone’s minds from day one of the season. Representing a nation is no small feat. The 2018 World Cup season has been a roller coaster of unexpected events, with five different winners out of seven races within the Elite Men’s division. Up-and-coming young riders, like Luca Shaw from the Santa Cruz Syndicate, have been biting fiercely at the heels of the old guard. Shaw qualified first at three World Cups, and came as close as to take the second place at Losinj, Croatia. The Elite Womens races proved just as hard to predict; the season started with an epic battle between three riders: Rachel Atherton, Tahnee Seagrave and Myriam Nicole, with each rider taking home a win in the first three races.
Coming into World Championships in Lenzerheide, it was anyone’s guess of who would end up with the rainbow stripes at the end of the day for the Elite Men. Legends Aaron Gwin and Greg Minnaar were back from a season of injury and recovery for both riders. Young guns like Luca Shaw had proved they could put down scorching runs, and the French riders--Vergier, Pierron, and Bruni--were fresh off of one of the nations best racing seasons to date. Plus, the dark horse, EWS star Martin Maes, was lurking in the shadows, having already proved himself a force to be reckoned with at La Bresse. In the Elite Women’s race, all eyes were on Atherton and Seagrave, but plenty other riders weren’t to be discounted, including the reigning World Champ, Miranda Miller.
This year, the World Champs was held in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on the World Cup Downhill track from last year. The 1.3 mile (2.2 kilometer) track remained mostly as it was from the 2017 World Cup race, albeit a new wooded, technical section mid-way down the course. With an average grade of 18 percent, the Lenzerheide track alternated between steep, rock and root-filled nastiness, and fast, bike park style sections with big jumps and drops.
Coming into the Top 10 of the Elite Women’s race, Swiss rider Emilie Siegenthaler powered down to bump 2012 World Champ Morgane Charre out of the hot seat. However, Siegenthaler only warmed the seat briefly as times started falling again, and the top spot changed hands twice more. Almost ten seconds fell before the final two riders dropped in. Tahnee Seagrave shaved an additional 0.6 seconds off the clock, and went into the now-blistering hot seat as the last rider, Rachel Atherton, the World Cup overall winner, began her charge downhill. In true Atherton fashion, the first split showed Rachel over three seconds up, and each split after told a similar story. Atherton crossed the line 9.8 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, laying down a run for the history books.
The Elite Men’s race was decided by a much narrower margin, but that’s not to say it was any less exciting. South African Greg Minnaar put down a quick run early on, and despite only recently recovering from injury, Minnaar’s time held until Martin Maes, the winner of the last World Cup race in La Bresse, upped the ante by 2.4 seconds. Rider after rider failed to meet Maes’ pace, and it was beginning to look like the EWS racer might have outpaced the downhill boys for a second time. Reigning World Champ, Loic Bruni, dropped in swinging, and was the first rider to best Maes’ time, and that by only a mere 0.2 seconds. The remaining four riders tried their best to knock Super Bruni off the top step, but at the end of the day Bruni held on to the rainbow stripes.
The 2018 World Champs, and really the entire UCI-endorsed race season, has proven to be one of the most turbulent and unpredictable seasons to date. With World Cup wins constantly juggled between seasoned riders, up-and-coming young guns and underdog racers, the World Champs in Lenzerheide proved to be just the ticket to wrap things up, and send the season off with a bang. Let’s hope the 2019 season holds more of the same.