The first ever UCI E-Mountain Bike Cross-country World Cup gets underway across Friday 6th and Saturday 7th March. The cross-country (XC) race is the focal point of a weekend’s mountain bike competition in Monaco, that also features the first of the year’s World E-Bike Series (WES) Enduro races. It will include some intense rivalry from some big names in cross-country mountain biking.
The Monaco course is designed to put riders and their machines to the test – physically and strategically. With E-MTBs propelled by two energy sources – the riders’ legs and an electric motor that can assist only while the rider is pedaling – there’s an ongoing race-long judgement to be made about when to deploy the assistance, and how much. In the pressure of the fight and with the adrenaline pumping, those judgments can become more difficult to get right. There are no battery swaps or recharging allowed, so in terms of ‘electric tailwind’ assistance it’s a level playing field for all the teams and individual riders.
But it’s certainly not level terrain, with the action hosted on the steep and beautiful hills around the medieval village of Peille in the Alpes Maritimes in the south of France, a little more than 10km north of Monte Carlo.
The XC course
After the 0.7km uphill approach from the start line to the circuit proper, the riders face six full laps of the 2.34km circuit. There’s no ‘easing yourself in’ as the athletes compete for the holeshot into the first corner, and the action flows from there.
Each lap includes a single long ascent of the Crete des Assalins, peaking at 844m above sea level, which is 122m higher than the finish line and circuit start at State St Bernard (722m) and 140m above the lowest point of the circuit, La Goretta at 704m.
The area is well loved for singletrack and gravity mountain biking, making it perfect for the combination of XC and Enduro events this coming weekend. The same area hosted the opening round of the World E-Bike Series in April 2019, and the XC race was thrilling.
Over the same six laps, the race was won by Frenchman Jérôme Gilloux in a time of 51:39. He was pushed hard by Italian XCO legend Marco Fontana who was hampered by a puncture and a crash, but came back later in the year to eventually win the series overall.
Four nations were represented by the top five riders in the men’s event (Italy, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands) and three different nations represented by the top five in the women’s event (Germany, Italy and Switzerland).
Twenty-five-year-old Gilloux went on to finish runner-up – behind South African Alan Hatherly - in the first ever UCI E-MTB Cross-country World Championships in Mont-Saint-Anne, Canada, in August 2019, just ahead of multiple XCO UCI World Champion Julien Absalon (FRA), who he had narrowly beaten on his way to the French national E-MTB title last year.
This unpredictable head-to-head of cross-country legends against riders who, like Gilloux, are emerging talents and less well known by spectators and racing adversaries – is what gives cross-country E-MTB its unique, and very special, character: a rich melting pot of talent and experience.
UCI World Champions in the mix
Heading for the start line this year in Monaco we’ll see another UCI XCO World Champion who has embraced the E-MTB format. The universally admired Spanish athlete José Antonio Hermida is set to race the first ever UCI E-Mountain Bike Cross-country World Cup.
The 2010 Elite XCO UCI World Champion – a title he won in Mont-Sainte-Anne ahead of a field that included Nino Schurter (SUI), Absalon, Christoph Sauser (SUI) and many more besides – Hermida is also former UCI World Champion at both U23 and Junior level. He’s a multiple Olympian who won the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games. .
Last year’s third placed woman in the Monaco XC race, also third placed overall in the 2019 World E-Bike Series, Alba Wunderlin, returns aiming to step further up the podium. The Swiss former downhill UCI World Cup racer, who also hit rich form in the second half of the 2019 Enduro World Series 35+ category, will be riding along with her younger team-mate Joris Ryf who’s looking to make a name for himself in the men’s competition.
Of course Monaco is famous for hosting sporting events – the historic Rallye Monte-Carlo and prestigious F1 Grand Prix amongst them – but could we be witnessing the emergence of a new favourite format that pits the best of athlete and machine working harmoniously together to take on the challenges of the terrain around the principality?