The long wait is finally over and the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup season is about to start with the Downhill World Cup in Maribor, Slovenia.
After seven months of nothing but rumours and speculation to keep us entertained, it’s now once again time to find out who the fastest man and woman on a mountain bike really are. With new faces, new venues, new teams, team changes, new regulations, new tech and the return to health of some familiar faces, the 2019 World Cup season already looks like it will continue to deliver a heavy dose of tight, action-packed racing. Can the young Frenchmen be beaten or will they continue to dominate? Can Aaron Gwin and Greg Minnaar fend off the young guns and return to the top after missing much of last season with injuries? Can a strong women’s field challenge the two Brits at the top, Rachel Atherton and Tahnée Seagrave?
Aussie hopefuls like Dean Lucas will be looking to make an immediate impact on what will be an incredibly competitive field. With an off-season of warm weather behind them, Southern Hemisphere riders often start the World Cup season with a bang, and Lucas will be aiming to match or improve on his impressive third place at last year's opening round in Losinj in Croatia (below). MBA thinks Lucas could be a dark horse for another podium spot come Sunday.
The 2018 Downhill World Cup will enter mountain bike history books as one of the most entertaining and close-fought seasons in years, but 2019 is already gearing up to challenge that. Next to a rule change which allows for different sized-wheels on a bike for the first time (nicknamed Frankenbikes), the Downhill World Cup will also see the return of two-storied venues and the addition of an all-new stop in Snowshoe, USA. The season kicks off with the hugely popular return of Maribor’s super technical and fast 2.1km-long Black Line following a 9-year World Cup hiatus. Will the wheel-size debate return in 2019? Who will conquer the rider-favourite Black Line in Maribor?
After the two most dominant riders of recent years, Aaron Gwin and Greg Minnaar, sustained injuries early in the 2018 season, a brigade of young Frenchmen stepped up to the plate to fill the void. None more so than Amaury Pierron, who followed up his surprise victory at Round 2 in Fort William with two more wins in Leogang (AUT) and Val di Sole (ITA) to secure himself the Overall World Cup title. Following Pierron’s hat-trick of wins, fellow Frenchman Loris Vergier took his first World Cup victory in Vallnord, followed by the third young French rider, Loic Bruni, who won in Mont-Sainte-Anne and later took his third UCI World Championship title in Lenzerheide.
Arguably the biggest story of the 2018 season was the World Cup win of young Enduro World Series racer Martin Maes (BEL) in La Bresse. Maes showed up to challenge himself but walked away with a well-deserved win and then continued to upset the Downhill world with a second place at the World Championships two weeks later. Several other young riders, like Laurie Greenland (GBR) and Luca Shaw (USA), have also been continuously threatening the top of the podium. Can Minnaar and Gwin keep the young guns at bay for another year or will 2019 see a changing of the guard and a take-over by the next generation of Downhill? Also, can Gwin keep up his pace after switching bikes and teams from YT to Intense?
The women’s side of racing in 2018 was just as entertaining, yet even tighter than the men’s side. The start of the season saw three different winners at the first three World Cups with Myriam Nicole (FRA), Tahnée Seagrave and Rachel Atherton (Both GBR) each winning a race. 2017 overall World Cup Champion Myriam Nicole was, however, forced to sit out two races mid-season due to injury, which meant that the fight for the overall title was between the two Brits. With three victories each, it was a disqualification due to leaving the track in Leogang that cost Seagrave valuable points and Atherton took her sixth overall World Cup title, which she followed up by winning the UCI Rainbow Jersey at the World Championships in Lenzerheide two weeks later.
Going into 2019, everyone starts with a clean slate and the women’s field is as competitive as ever. Nicole will miss the first few World Cups due to injury, but Seagrave will be hell-bent on winning her first overall title, whereas Atherton will start the season on a new and yet-unproven prototype Atherton bike. Can the rest of the women’s field, with strong riders like Tracey Hannah (AUS), Marine Cabirou (FRA) and Nina Hoffmann (GER), close the gap on the Brits? Who will fill the void left by Nicole? Can Monika Hrastnik (SLO) capitalise on her home-turf advantage in Maribor?
Find out by watching the first round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup free of charge, live or on demand, on redbull.tv. The live broadcast starts on Sunday, April 28 at 8:30pm AEST. In addition to the live broadcast of the finals, the World Cup Chatter pre-show will be available on Saturday, April 27 at 11pm.