The UCI Cross Country Marathon Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships (XCM) is one of the flagship events on the international mountain biking calendar and the team behind La Leyenda del Dorado, Colombia’s premier mountain bike stage race, have recently been awarded the role of organisers of the 2021 edition by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling’s international governing body, to be staged in Manizales, Colombia. This will be the first time a UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will be held in South America in an event that sees several hundred of the world’s top male and female professionals fight for the famous UCI Rainbow Jersey over a one stage course, with thousands of amateurs also able to race the same route on the same day, creating one of the biggest mass participation cycling events in the world.
The race route
The 90km men’s and 70km women’s routes will start and finish in the centre of Manizales, one of Colombia’s most spectacularly located cities at around 2,000 metres above seal level, and in between racers will pass through some of the stunning Caldas countryside with technical descents and steep climbs designed to showcase the best of Colombian mountain biking terrain and provide excellent racing conditions too. Upon receiving the news, Leyenda founder, Brian Murphy, commented,
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet to be honest, it was only two years ago that we staged Colombia’s first ever international mountain bike stage race and now we’ve been chosen by the UCI to host one of the most important events on the global mountain bike calendar. Imagine 200 professional riders, from around the world, coming to Caldas to do battle, it doesn’t get much more spectacular than that. We can’t forget the amateurs either, who can also ride the same route and from previous events we are expecting well over 2,000 of them. This is an amazing opportunity for Colombia and Caldas to show the world what we can do, it’s now down to us all to come together and make it a reality.”
These will be the third UCI World Championships to be held in Colombia, after the BMX and Track cycling events over the past 4 years, and Manizales is also hosting an Enduro World Series stage in 2018. All these events, as well as La Leyenda, are truly converting Colombia into a world class cycling destination for international tourists.
“It’s a true honour to be able to host the 2021 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships here in Manizales. It will encourage the growth of cycling in the city and the whole country and will be an amazing spectacle for all the spectators in the Caldas department who’ll be supporting the thousands of cyclists. From us all at the Sports Department we fully support the event and also La Leyenda which has played an important role putting us on the world mountain bike map,” commented Ronald Bonilla, Secretary of Sport for Caldas.
The attention that an event of this magnitude receives will also show the tourism potential, not just of Caldas, but of the whole country, something that Vice-President of ProColombia, Julian Guerrero, wanted to highlight,
“Colombia is becoming a leading sports destination and a host of great global events. Being chosen as the scenery for the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships confirms this with the biodiverse landscapes providing the perfect background and the exceptional warmth of the Colombian people showing why Colombia is one of the fascinating destinations in the world for tourism.”
Previous UCI Rainbow Jersey winners include three time World Champion, Christoph Sauser and 2010 Ladies Champion Esther Suss, both from Switzerland, as well as Portugal’s Tiago Ferreira in 2016, all of whom have already raced in Colombia or will be doing so in La Leyenda this year. Local hero Leonardo Páez, from Boyacá, has achieved podium finishes in three UCI World Championships over the past 12 years, most recently in 2015 in Italy, and will definitely be amongst the favourites with home advantage and local fans to cheer him on
There is an ongoing argument about the globalisation of cycling, a sport that is strongest in Europe, where the majority of teams and riders are based. South America, and Colombia in-particular, have a huge cycling following – but the XCM World Championships are a little different. Even if there are 200 riders contesting the World Championships, there aren’t 200 professionals. The sport just can’t support that many professionals, without the sponsorship dollars that extensive TV coverage brings.
We saw this in South Africa in 2014, where the men’s field was pretty good, but the women’s field was highly diminished. The men’s field had 88 riders, and 77 finished, while the women’s field has 34 starters and 30 finishers.
Kulhavy on the way to his XCM Champs win in 2014 – clearly full-suspension is no hinderance.
Dahle Flesja – triumphant in victory in 2013
The pattern continues. The larger fields in European held events is in part due to the UCI’s qualification criteria, where a rider ranked in the top 40 of the UCI XCM ranking, or who finishes in the top 20 of a UCI XCM round, can attend – even if their country would not have selected them. This is why there were 13 South African women and about 20 South African men in 2014. And the same happens in European events, especially with Germans and Austrians.
So many Austrians!
So take South Africa as an example again. There was once French woman racing, one Belgian. Three Germans, no Dutch, some Swiss (most of whom tend to race and train in South Africa anyway) and no Italians or Spanish. Italy and Spain have some excellent women’s marathon racers, but getting an airfare and accommodation and support personnel to South Africa? That’s expensive. It looks like this might be the same case for Colombia, and even Turkey in 2020.
It is excellent exposure for the sport, and will give opportunities for South America athletes – but it may also limit the opportunities for others, unless the sport continues to grow and attract more sponsorship dollars before then.