The 2023 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup returns to Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic this weekend where the world’s top cross-country mountain bikers will toe the line in short track, cross-country Olympic, and marathon races.
The weekend is the first cross-country event in this year’s World Series with enduro events taking place earlier in the spring and downhill yet to come in June. While racers have been testing their early season legs at big marathon races like the Cape Epic and smaller- scale UCI cross-country events, the season will kick off in earnest in the Czech countryside, a dynamic similar to road racing’s Opening Weekend in Belgium.
Read on for our briefing on which riders and storylines to watch at Nové Město and across the World Cup season more broadly. And given that Escape Collective has primarily stuck to the pavement thus far, if you want a more general primer on World Cup mountain bike racing, we’ve got you covered there too.
Nové Město venue and course
Nové Město has hosted World Cup events since 2011 and will be familiar to fans of biathlon racing, of all things. The XCO race starts and ends in a stadium that hosts biathlon events come wintertime, and the venue has held both the biathlon and mountain bike World Championships.
Nové Město translates to “new town” in both Czech and Slovakian, leading to dozens of place names across the two countries. There is even a Nové Město neighborhood in Prague, so check your destination carefully before booking travel tickets. If you get your destination correct, Nové Město na Morave is a two-hour drive from the Czech capital in the historical region of Moravia.
The course in Nové Město (see video below) is a perfect example of a modern XCO course. Sharp yet short climbs are followed by technical descents, where riders must try to recover while navigating rocks, roots, jumps, and corners.
The circuit, which is composed of a trio of climbs and descents, starts on pavement in the biathlon stadium and quickly turns uphill past the first tech/feed zone. One of the first singletrack climbs is littered with rocks which will inevitably lead to mistakes from riders as the race drags on. The first big downhill features a rock garden with numerous lines through it, which is made even more intimidating by the fans staring down at you from the adjacent bleachers.
After that, riders hit another climb before tackling a near vertical drop straight into more rocks, followed by another climb. The last big downhill features a series of three drops that send riders airborne through the Czech woods. Finally, after a lap of a pumptrack and a few jumps and berms, racers find themselves back on the pavement heading to the start/finish line.
Riders to watch
The start of the World Cup season presents infinite possibilities. Will last year’s champions rise to the task again? What will be the most compelling and dramatic storylines? And who will be the new names that catapult themselves into the limelight?
One rider who will be hoping for a solid result this weekend is last year’s Nové Město winner Tom Pidcock. Pidcock is the current Olympic MTB Champion and European MTB Champion and is coming off a spring campaign on the road that featured a win at Strade Bianche and a pair of podiums at Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Having recently announced his participation at Nové Město, Pidcock’s attendance could be a boon for tech-savvy viewers. The Briton has recently been spotted riding what is assumed to be a prototype full-suspension mountain bike from Pinarello. The past two seasons he was racing an unbranded BMC Fourstroke since Pinarello did not make a mountain bike, but the Italian brand certainly must be wishing for Pidcock to ride one of its own bikes.
Pidcock is a proven performer, but he has limited race time on his mountain bike this year. He is lauded as a multi-discipline rider, but will racing Nové Město right in between a spring campaign and preparation for the Tour de France help or hinder the Ineos Grenadiers rider?
The most-winning athlete at Nové Město is Nino Schurter (six wins), who is no doubt a threat for the win once again this year. Though one of the oldest racers in the pack at this point – he turns 37 this weekend – the Swiss is the current world champion and won the World Cup overall last year. That’s on top of nine previous rainbow jerseys and seven previous World Cup titles, plus a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. It’s an understatement to say that Schurter knows how to win races, and he will be a marked man at Nové Město.
Last season wasn’t without controversy for Schurter though. At his home-country World Cup round in Lenzerheide, Schurter was leading the race on the last lap when he, along with then-second-place rider Mathias Flückiger, crashed in the woods. The crash wasn’t caught on camera, but it denied both Swiss riders the win. Immediately after crossing the line, the riders exchanged harsh words, with Schurter blaming his fellow countryman and Flückiger denying any wrongdoing.
A month later, Flückiger’s name was in the headlines again when he was provisionally suspended after testing positive for Zeranol. However, Swiss authorities lifted the ban and exonerated Flückiger in December. It is yet to be seen how the less-than-savory second half of 2022 may impact Flückiger (2021 World Cup overall winner) this season.
When Pidcock won at Nové Město last year, it was in a sprint finish against a 25-year-old from Romania, Vlad Dascalu. Dascalu hit the front of the race during the final lap and nearly held off Pidcock in the sprint. A string of consistent podium results in 2022 prove that Dascalu can hang with the big boys, and he’ll certainly be looking for that World Cup win this year.
Another rider that has shown promise at the front of races is South African national champion Alan Hatherly. While he hasn’t won a World Cup XCO race, the Cannondale Factory Racing rider won the first XCC round last year in Brazil.
Titouan Carod is another rider who showed his potential last year, particularly in the second half of the season. The French national champion clinched his first World Cup win on a rainy, slick, and technical course in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada before clinching both the XCC and XCO wins in Val di Sole, Italy.
Carod’s teammate, Filippo Colombo, also factored in the racing, winning a pair of XCC races. This year though, Colombo joined the Scott-SRAM team to race alongside Schurter and Kate Courtney. The team is run by MTB legend Thomas Frischknecht, who must have seen something special in the 25-year-old Swiss rider. (Update 12/05: Filippo Colombo will miss the first round due to him still recovering from a fractured elbow at Paris-Roubaix while racing for the Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team.)
If you’re looking for an explosive rider, then look no further than Luca Schwarzbauer. He won the XCC in Nové Město last year and took some flyers at other races, but has yet to turn that success into more wins. With the backing of the Canyon CLLCTV team, the German is certain to be near the front again.
While we’re on the topic of explosivity, Samuel Gaze had a bit of a renaissance year in 2022. Gaze won his first XCO World Cup in 2018 with the Specialized Racing team, also proving himself as an XCC specialist. Though he went quiet in the following years, struggling as a mid-packer, he then joined what was Alpecin-Deceunick in 2020 and recently found his winning formula again.
After smashing the early-season XCC in Albstadt, the Kiwi clinched the Commonwealth Games XCO victory in 2022 before earning the second-ever XCC World Championship title. His run came to an end after crashing out of the World Champs XCO race, but a pair of wins at the UCI HC-level French Cup late last month show that he’s on good form.
One last man to point out is Christopher Blevins. For years, American men struggled on the World Cup circuit. That is until Blevins came along in 2021, becoming the first American man to win a World Cup since Tinker Juarez in 1994. To top it off, he won in front of a home country crowd in Snowshoe. Just a few weeks prior to that he became the first-ever XCC World Champion alongside Sina Frei.
Blevins almost followed up his 2021 year with another XCC Worlds victory, but suffered a spectacular crash after making a last-ditch attempt to overtake Gaze. There must be something about those West Virginia mountains though, as he went back stateside to claim the XCC victory there.
So far in 2023, Blevins has won the Cape Epic with teammate Matt Beers, and took the C1 XCC and HC XCO victories at the US Pro Cup in Arkansas before departing for Europe.
Last year, Rebecca Henderson (previously McConnell) took the win in Nové Město, the second in a three-race winning streak that defined the early portion of the season. The 10x Australian champion is now back in Europe and won both the Shimano Supercup and Gran Premio Sabiñanigo C1 races in past weeks.
Henderson had a fantastic season, finally adding a collection of wins to her already impressive track record of podium rides. Like all Aussies, she faces the challenge of having to race far away from home for the entire season. Many will be watching to see if she can find that winning formula again.
The most-winning woman in Nové Město is Annika Langvad (three wins). Langvad is now retired from World Cup racing, but the most-winning current women racers are Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Loana Lecomte, both tied at two wins each along with also-retired Catharine Pendrel.
Ferrand-Prévot had a slower start to the 2022 season, but that didn’t stop the Frenchwoman from securing four rainbow jerseys in 2022 (yes, you read that right, four: XCO, XCC, XCM, and gravel). In addition to the rainbow success, she took two XCC World Cup wins and one XCO World Cup win.
Ferrand-Prévot is often left out of the conversation about the current crop of multi-discipline stars such as Pidcock and Mathieu van der Poel, but with previous success on the road and in cyclocross, she absolutely deserves to be in the same category.
Viewers can expect to see Ferrand-Prévot in an Ineos Grenadiers kit this season, as she joined up with the British squad ahead of the 2022/23 cyclocross season. That now gives Ineos two mountain bikers on the team, with rumors that even more women could be joining Ferrand-Prévot in flying the Ineos colors in the future.
One doesn’t have to leave France to find another talented mountain biker. Lecomte stormed onto the scene in recent years, known for hitting the front of the race early on and staying there until she crosses the line first. The 23-year-old has seven World Cup XCO victories to her name, four of which were consecutive victories during the 2021 season.
Any preview would be incomplete without mentioning the Olympic champion Jolanda Neff. After success as an U23, Neff announced herself to the elite MTB world in earnest in 2014. She came back from a career-threatening injury in 2019 to dominate the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Last season she took the XCC victory in Nové Město and doubled up on XCC and XCO wins at Mont-Sainte-Anne, showing that she is still very much a threat.
Switzerland is a place that seems to ooze with MTB talent. In addition to Neff, another top Swisswoman is Alessandra Keller, who won the World Cup overall title last season. With just one XCO win and one XCC win, what she lacks in wins she has in consistency, with 16 career trips to the World Cup podium.
Head on over to Austria and you’ll find one of the best rookie riders, Mona Mitterwallner. In her first elite season last year, the 21-year-old found consistency at the front of the race and earned five trips to the podium. Laura Stigger is another young Austrian to watch. The 22-year-old will certainly be hunting down her first big win this year.
Jenny Rissveds is a rider who took time away from the sport and successfully made a comeback. Fans will remember that the Swede raced to gold at the 2016 Olympics before taking time off because of mental health struggles in subsequent years. She made a comeback in 2019 to take the Swedish national champion’s jersey and two World Cup wins that year and has been a solid bet ever since.
Finally, we have to talk about the Americans. I mentioned above that American men have struggled on the international circuit. It’s been a different story for American women. The most prominent example was Kate Courtney, the 2018 world champion and 2019 World Cup overall winner. Courtney was the USA’s best bet for a while and recently re-entered the top-10 on the UCI rankings for the first time since 2020 after winning the Pan American Championships, but the crop of riders a few years younger than her could further define the sport for years to come.
Haley Batten stormed onto the elite scene in 2021 where a string of early season results, including winning the XCC in Nové Město, helped stamp her passport to the Tokyo Olympics. Her ninth place finish was the best MTB result for Team USA at that edition of the Games. In 2022, she was also the top-placed American on the World Cup standings.
Gwendalyn Gibson had a breakout year in 2022. She won the XCC in Snowshoe (what did I say about West Virginia?) and placed third at XCC Worlds. At the end of season, her Norco Factory program folded, but Gibson leveled-up to Trek Factory Racing, counting experienced riders like Neff as teammates.
Lastly, Savilia Blunk has put in a handful of top-10 performances, including a career-best sixth-place finish at Snowshoe. This year, Blunk has joined up with the French Rockrider Racing Team, and the US national champion will be eyeing her first World Cup podium performance.
Other things to know
The Olympic qualification process for Paris 2024, which opened last year, will hit a peak this year. The process closes May 26, 2024 before the heart of the World Cup season meaning this year’s races are key for riders and nations to get qualifying start spots and show their various national federations they’re worthy of a start spot.
You may also notice a new reference to the UCI Mountain Bike World Series. The individual disciplines are still referred to as the World Cup (e.g. UCI Cross-Country World Cup), but World Series is used when referring to all of the disciplines (XC, DH, and Enduro) collectively. That’s because the World Series got new ownership and organization for this year.
The UCI Mountain Bike World Series is now owned by ESO Sports (Enduro Sports Organisation), a Scottish event management company that ran the Enduro World Series (now called the Enduro World Cup) from 2012-2022. Since 2021, Warner Brothers Discovery has been an investor in ESO. That means that the massive media and entertainment conglomerate now both runs and holds the broadcast rights to the MTB World Series.
How to watch
The elite XCC and XCO races will be streamed on Warner Brothers Discovery platform GCN+ as well as Eurosport and discovery+. New for this year, the U23 XCO races will be streamed for free on the UCI Mountain Bike World Series YouTube channel, as well as the paid services mentioned above.
Experienced sports broadcaster Kate Mason will be the lead anchor for each race, with Ric McLaughlin serving as lead commentator joined by 1996 Olympic Champion Bart Brentjnes. Enduro racer Josh Carlson and Eurosport presenter Hayley Edmonds will complete the team as field reporters.
Nové Město race schedule
Friday, May 12
- XCC Elite Women: 6pm CEST / 10am MDT / 2am AEST
- XCC Elite Men: 6:45pm CEST / 10:45am MDT / 2:45am AEST
Sunday, May 14
- XCO Elite Women: 11:30 CEST / 3:30am MDT / 7:30pm AEST
- XCO Elite Men: 15:00 CEST / 7am MDT / 11:00pm AEST
What did you think of this story?