The 28th edition of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will begin on Wednesday, September 5th, returning to Cairns, Australia, after a 21 year absence. This lush rain forest region on the north east coast of Australia is world-renowned for the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mountain biking's most prestigious event brings together athletes from around the globe, with 527 riders representing 46 nations participating in the Downhill (DHI) and Cross-country (XCO) over the course of five days.
The Rainbow Jersey of world champion will be awarded in Junior and Elite categories for DHI, and Junior, Under-23 and Elite categories for XCO. Unique among international sports, the reigning world champion in each discipline and category is instantly recognizable as they compete in the the distinctive jersey over the next 12 months.
The Worlds open with the Team Relay on Wednesday, when teams of four riders compete in this four lap race on the XCO circuit. Each rider hands off to the next one on the team, and the lead can change every lap. Traditional powerhouses nations to watch for are France (winner of the last three years), Italy, Switzerland and Canada.
On Thursday, the first of three consecutive days of XCO racing begins, starting with the Junior women and men. The Under-23 men race on Friday and the XCO portion concludes on Saturday with the Under-23 women and the Elite categories for women and men.
The Elite women's category has a sizable list on contenders, led by the recently crowned World Cup champion Yana Belomoina of the Ukraine. Other strong podium chances include defending champion Annika Langvad (Denmark), Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland).
In the Elite men, the big question is whether defending world champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland can extend his record-breaking winning streak. Schurter, the reigning Olympic champion, set a perfect record in the World Cup this season, winning all six events. Winning the world title would make for what Schurter has termed a 'perfect-perfect' season. However, he will get strong competition from two former world and Olympic champions - Julien Absalon of France and Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic.
The final day of the world championships, on Sunday, is devoted to the Downhill. The women's field has seen four riders on the top step of the podium at the World Cup this season, and any of them could win the world title. Myriam Nicole of France won the World Cup overall title, but Tahnee Seagrave (Great Britain), Tracey Hannah (Australia) and defending champion Rachel Atherton (Great Britain) could just as easily don rainbow stripes. Hannah, a native of Cairns who actually attends school at the university at the base of the course, will certainly receive support from the crowd.
The men's competition is equally strong. Aaron Gwin of the United States won the World Cup overall title after a season-long battle with Greg Minnaar (South Africa) and Australia's own Troy Brosnan. Gwin has one of the best records in Downhill over the past decade at World Cup competition but, surprisingly, has never won the world title. Will this finally be his year, will Minnaar win a fourth title, or could Troy Brosnan become the first Australian to win the Elite men's title since Sam Hill in 2010?