One of the largest Australian MTB teams in years secretly travelled to Laissac, in southern central France, to compete in the UCI Cross Country Marathon (XCM) MTB World Champs while final selections were being made for the Olympic Team.
In 2016, What Sport Held Their World Championships in Laissac?
Media and fans generally ignore XCM because it is one of our sport’s lesser forms. We reached out to the whole Australian squad that competed in this year’s World Championships to learn more about their motivations and experiences competing at the highest level of mountain biking.
Why Do Our Top XCM Racers Race?
A total of seven competitors were chosen, however only five ended up racing: ladies Jenni King, Imogen Smith, Anna Beck, and Briony Mattocks, and men Chris Hellman. Given their varied levels of experience and origins in the sport, each competitor came to France for the race for their own reasons.
With over 15 years of international racing experience, Jenni King was the team’s most seasoned competitor, and this World Championship event was the realisation of a lifelong ambition. Whether it be XCO or XCM, King says he has always aspired to compete in a World Championship.
Injury, lack of cash, lack of time, and all the other circumstances that I’m sure most athletes can relate to have prevented me from attending the few for which I had previously qualified. I’m happy I went to the Marathon World Championships; even though I wasn’t at my best, I had a terrific time.
The other two women on the squad, Smith and Mattocks, also regarded the XCM World Championships as a way to improve; having competed successfully over the past few years, they were curious to see how they fared against the best in the world.
The Australian Team,
Who had all travelled independently to France for the race, found the entire town buzzing with excitement. Located in the beautiful Aveyron region, Laissac is a little rural village of about 1,500 people surrounded by lush fields and woods. Numerous additional people, including onlookers from all around Europe and beyond, crew members, family members, and, of course, mountain bikers, flocked to the event. ‘France was wonderful,’ Mattocks remarked.
Seeing the massive official UCI start chute drove home the fact that we were about to compete World Championships, and the atmosphere in Laissac in the days preceding up to the race was fantastic. A record number of spectators lined the streets for the race’s start, and each of the first 30 cyclists to be announced was met with enthusiastic applause.
Race courses have a significant impact on competitors’ mental and physical well-being, and Laissac served as an inspiration for our Australian XCM team. As Anna Beck put it, “Australia likes three digits, for some reason it needs to be 100km.” This explains, in part, why so many Australian events are 100 kilometres in length.
The World Championship route was 69 kilometres long with 2,500 metres of elevation gain because “they keep it genuine” in Europe by making it harder and shorter. Then there were the trails, which were a hit with the Aussies despite being a little different from the terrain we’re used to.
Mountain bike parks and manmade trails are becoming increasingly popular in Australian XCM competitions, despite the fact that the landscape in Australia is as diverse as the events themselves.
There’s a time and a place for this, but… I prefer more natural terrain, and Laissac truly displayed goat track singletrack, and then there were cobblestone walks, paddocks, fire-roads, and marshy mud parts to connect it all together. said Beck.