Sakarya, Türkiye – Friday 27th October. The speedy German, Marion Fromberger, took a morale-boosting win in the women’s race and Dan Noyola of Mexico took victory in the men’s version in the latest round of the XCE continental series. The competitors were racing ahead of the European Championships that will happen on Sunday. But exactly what is Mountain Bike Eliminator (XCE to the aficionados)?
It is the supreme test of technical abilities and short sharp efforts, almost an antithetical discipline to Mountain Bike Marathon. The courses are typically short and races last around two minutes. Riders must complete either one or two laps of a circuit, depending on the length of the laps.
The first step is qualifying, which seeds the riders and – if the start-lists are long enough – also means that some riders make an early departure and don’t make it through to the heats. In the men’s, the top 32 riders progress; in the women’s the top 16. Qualifying is important because the better your seeding, the easier your opponents. Additionally, the top seed in each race gets their pick of the four starting gates, next best seed gets to pick next and so on until the gates are full. If you qualify first, you will get to pick your gate in every race you compete in. If you qualify last, you will never get to pick.
Once qualifying is done, the riders progress to the heats. Four riders start: top two progress to the next round; bottom two out. As the races are so short, technical abilities including cornering well, crossing obstacles and overtaking opponents are all key skills for a top eliminator rider.
At the semi-final stage, the top two of each race go to the so-called ‘big final’ where riders are racing for the win; the bottom two qualify for the ‘small final’ where riders fight it out for places 5 through to 8.
Sunday is due to be an interesting race because although there was a World Cup round in Sakarya earlier this year, along with yesterday's continental series - those races took place on a more rural out of town course. I am led to believe the UEC Championships will be a city-centre course and therefore riders might not be as familiar with the route.
Now, onto the ones to watch. First the men: France's Titouan Perrin-Ganier is the current world champion and has performed well this year, so he’s definitely got a good chance here. However, he faces competition from trade teammate Simon Gegenheimer (Germany), who is a former world champion and has been pushing him in some of the World Cup rounds. Slovenian Jakob Klemencic is the reigning and defending European champion, so he will likely be very motivated to keep the jersey for another year, although he isn’t as known to me as the other riders mentioned above. However, there is a lot of depth in the men’s competition as there’s plenty of riders who, if you told me afterwards that they had won, I would simply believe you without question.
In the women’s the reigning champion is also the world champion, which is Gaia Tormena of Italy. She rides on the road for the UAE-ADQ Developmental team and has competed in World Cups in Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) and has regularly won World Cups on the XCE circuit. Her big rival this year has been German champion Marion Fromberger, who seems poised to challenge her again here. It’s tricky for the women as there’s only 12 entrants, so not a huge field of participants but I am personally excited to see how Germany's Hannah Beck gets on and whether she makes it through to the semi-finals.
This is a really dynamic and growing discipline and one well worth keeping an eye on for the future. City MountainBike have done a lot to publicise the sport and bring it to a new level. The championships themselves are watchable at home on the City MountainBike YouTube channel on Sunday 29th October at 4pm CET.