© Bartek Woliński/Red Bull Content Pool
Meet the rookies who came in and shook up the UCI World Cup
After a rip-roaring short track and World Cup race in Nové Město, the next generation of elite riders claimed their place on the podium. Here are the names you need to know.
Spectacularly, the women’s elite races saw upsets in both the short track and World Cup, with young up-and-coming riders displacing seasoned professionals to take podium positions.
With 23-year-old Brit Evie Richards winning the short track, 20 year-old Laura Stigger securing a podium and 21-year-old French rider Loana Lecomte displacing World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot to win her first-ever elite Cross-Country (XCO) World Cup. To top it off, this was the very first World Cup elite race any of these riders had competed in, a changing of the guard is underway.
The change has been rapid, too. At Snowshoe 2019 each of the top 10 riders had competed in an average of 40.7 elite races in their career. At Nové Město, the top 10 had competed in an average of just 18.6 elite races, with it being the very first elite XCO race for Stigger, Richards and Lecomte.
With change in the air, we put together a primer on the young guns to watch ahead of this weekend’s MTB World Championships in Leogang.
- DOB: March 11, 1997
- Nationality: British
“I feel like the young guns are bossing it. These girls are riding incredibly and it’s so good that they’re doing well in the elite field as well,” said 23-year-old Richards shortly after beating favourite Pauline Ferrand-Prévot to take the UCI MTB World Cup 2020 XCC short track title (twice).
Nové Město women's XCC 2 sprint finish
Pauline has been my role model since I got into cycling… to be in a sprint finish with her… was bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment
One of Britain’s most promising young talents, Trek Factory Rider Richards began riding bikes with her dad. “He had a ride to work scheme,” she remembers. “I would run a bit then jump on his bike and we would just take it in turns.”
Her start in competitive cycling was relatively late; it wasn’t until 2013 that she switched from hockey to racing bikes, competing in cyclo-cross (CX) and cross-country mountain biking events across the country. Two years later, aged 18, she won the UCI CX World Junior Championships in Belgium, a win she says confirmed in her own mind that this was the sport for her.
The wins kept coming. In 2017 she won her first elite category World Cup race in Namur for CX and in 2018 she claimed her second World Champs U23 jersey in CX, and silver in the 2018 Commonwealth Games XC race.
The Nové Město win comes despite a corner crash on the second-to-last lap, which saw Richards tumble before jumping back into the saddle within seconds. As for beating Ferrand-Prévot on the final stretch, Evie herself is struggling to believe it. “Pauline has been my role model since I got into cycling… to be in a sprint finish with her… was bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment,” she says.
XCC race 2 Nové Město 2020 recap
After the UCI World Cup, Evie has her sights on the Olympics, but for now, she says, “I’m just happy to be at these races. We’ll take the Olympics as it comes.” Watch this space.
- DOB: September 25, 2000
- Nationality: Austrian
The 20-year-old Austrian also made history last week, with her fifth-place finish in the elite UCI Cross Country World Cup race making her the first Austrian to podium in a decade.
“Top five; I can’t believe it. I worked so hard and it paid off,” Stigger said among tears of joy at the finish line. Not a bad result for her first year in the elites.
"I decided to ride in the elite in order to develop myself further," she explained ahead of the start of the UCI World Cup. “I'll be racing against the best women mountain bikers in the world and try to gain as much experience as possible in every race."
So far, she’s certainly held her own. Not only did Stigger claim a record for her country, she was, at 20, the youngest rider in the entire women’s starting field. Not that she let her age hold her back; just one day after her fifth place in cross-country, she took third place in the short track competition, bagging the fastest lap in the process.
"I am super happy and would never have thought it would go so well!” she said.
Although she's currently training under Rupert Scheiber, Stigger’s first coach, back in 2007, was a neighbour. “My neighbour was a kid’s coach,” she remembers, explaining how she trained with his children and “learned a lot from them”.
With two cross-country Junior World Championship titles, four junior European Championship titles and gold at the Road Cycling World Championships in Innsbruck and now an impressive beginning at the UCI World Cup 2020, she's undoubtedly making her mark on the sport.
- DOB: August 8, 1999
- Nationality: French
The biggest upset (or brilliant surprise) of the Nové Město 2020 World Cup came in the form of 21-year-old French rider Loana Lecomte, who brilliantly outmanoeuvred the competition to win her first-ever World Cup with an astonishing time of 1h 22m 06s. That’s an incredible 30-second lead over her closest competitor, Anne Terpstra.
Born in Annecy in 1999, this was the cross-country specialist’s first elite race. “I’m surprised and very very happy,” she said, exuding joy at the finish line.
The win makes her the second-youngest winner of a World Cup race in history. “I wasn't expecting victory… I just went full speed and I’m very happy,” Lecomte said.
Starting out riding mountain bikes aged seven, she's surely come a long, long way since she trained with her grandfather as a child. The win is all the more special as Lecomte beat her friend and fellow French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who finished third in rainy and slick conditions.
Naturally, Ferrand-Prévot was full of praise for Lecomte after the race. “It’s cool to see young riders win, especially Loana as she’s a friend of mine so it’s super cool,” she said.
With the MTB World Championships due to take place in Leogang this weekend, all eyes will surely be on these three spectacular women, who've proven they can stand beside older and more established riders. Whatever happens in Leogang, we’re sure to be watching them for many years to come.