The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Mountain Bike World Cup returned to Snowshoe Mountain Resort last week, drawing in riders from around the globe to tackle West Virginia’s notoriously challenging terrain. “We always hear that Snowshoe is hard and rough and a really amazing place to ride,” said Angelica Pietranton, a downhill racer whose home resort is Snowshoe. “But then people come from all over the world and verify how hard it is and how unique it is for riding.”
Snowshoe hosted the UCI World Cup finals in 2019, earning PinkBike’s prestigious “event of the year” award. The 2019 series was the resort’s first World Cup—and the first on American soil since 2014—that culminated in legendary finishes in each event. The resort hosted the finals again this year for three mountain bike events: downhill (DH), cross-country short circuit (XCC), cross-country Olympic (XCO). Downhill racers were treated to a doubleheader this past week, with the first race occurring on September 15 and the finals on September 19.
“With the doubleheader, it was hard to keep your focus. Everybody was so tired,” said Frida Helena Roenning, a downhill racer from Norway who competed in five of the six 2021 World Cup DH races and is currently pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Normally we go celebrate, have a fun night out, and chill for a couple of days, but we had to get right back to it.”
In contrast to the steep downhill tracks at the races hosted in Europe, the terrain at Snowshoe features fast, flowy sections, huge jumps, and chunky rock gardens, making it arguably the most physical and demanding track of the series. “You have super crazy slopestyle that’s fast, followed by insane tech. You mix it with having those flat sections—flat rocks are so difficult,” said Pietranton. “The best of the best still crash and make mistakes.”
The Wednesday and Saturday races featured slightly different tracks, but both remained uncharacteristically dry for West Virginia. Racers flew down the tracks, leaving plumes of dust in their wakes. Many crashed or picked less than ideal lines through the rock gardens, costing them precious seconds in a race where winners are often determined by fractions of a second. Austrian rider Valentina Hoell won the women’s elite race, clocking in at 3:39.679 and securing first in the women’s elite overall 2021 downhill World Cup season. French phenom Loic “Super” Bruni nabbed first place on the final run of the day with a time of 3:13.379, earning him the men’s elite overall title for the season.
In 2019, West Virginia became globally known on the UCI circuit for its wild and raucous crowds. This year didn’t disappoint as thousands of fans braved the steep slopes of Cheat Mountain to line the track with crazy costumes, myriad noisemakers, and, of course, copious amounts of moonshine. “The spectators in the U.S. were definitely the best ones of the year,” said Roenning.
Riders based in the US felt the love from friends and family members who attended the event. “As a local, there were tons of kids and friends that were extremely supportive and stoked that they knew somebody out there. I felt all the warm and fuzzies,” said Pietranton.
CROSS-COUNTRY OLYMPIC TRACK
The UCI World Cup isn’t just about downhill riders racing the clock on the knife’s edge of control—the cross-country races also draw huge crowds and feature direct and exciting competition between riders on the same course.
The XCC and XCO races see competitors flying right through Snowshoe Village before plummeting off the Basin side of the resort and into technical roots, rocks, and climbs where the best of the best make their passing moves. British rider Evie Richards took first place in the women’s elite XCO race with a total time of 1:14:53 and a 1:31 lead over second-place rider Rebecca McConnell from Australia. French rider Loana Lecomte took the overall title despite not racing at Snowshoe.
But the story of the day came from the epic finale of the men’s elite XCO race with American rider Christopher Blevins taking first place with a total time of 1:15:14, just nine seconds ahead of Romanian rider Vlad Dascalu. Swiss rider Mathias Flueckiger finished 16th but clinched the overall title.
Blevin’s win represents the first elite XCO World Cup win by a U.S. male rider since Tinker Jaurez way back in 1994—before Blevins was even born. American rider and local favorite Kate Courtney won the women’s elite XCO overall title in 2019 at Snowshoe—Courtney’s and Blevin’s big wins forever cemented the venue as a place where American race drama reigns supreme.
While the spotlight is focused on the amazing athletes, the various teams working around the clock at Snowshoe also deserve major credit. Preparation begins months ahead of the event and cleanup continues for several weeks after. It’s no easy task to pull off a feat like this, but it’s well worth the effort, says Ken Gaitor, vice president of mountain operations at Snowshoe. “Payback is written in the faces of the racers and fans as they have the time of their lives here in the West Virginia.”
The UCI World Cup returns once again to Snowshoe from July 29 – 31, 2022, and we’re anxiously awaiting another world-class and legendary event—hopefully this time with some rain to make those roots and rocks a wee bit wet. Come join us on the slopes for the biggest bike party of the year!