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E-MTB racing at the World Cups

Hit the power and engage full fun mode!

The introduction of e-MTB racing has raised a few eyebrows, both in excitement and in disdain. But either way, it is hard to deny that the thought of flying up climbs like a professional cross-country racer doesn’t sound great! The e-MTB race in Albstadt was a chance to get a taste of a pro race, the track and the speed included.

The town of Albstadt in the German Zollernalb region is well-established as a World Cup venue, but never before had it played host to an e-MTB race. Indeed, for the organisers, UCI commissaires, spectators and some of the riders it was a new experience.

Stephan Salscheider, Managing Director of the race organisation was proud to be the first World Cup to event to offer an e-MTB race. "We want to open the door for the athletes who enjoy e-MTB and give them the opportunity to be part of racing and the sport as a whole. Once again we are innovative and involved in the process of establishing the regulations.” 

With something new comes a lot of questions, foremost of which for many people is how e-MTB racing can be made fair. It’s no secret that electric bike motors can be derestricted or tampered with. But fear not, Shimano was on hand to oversee the race and the regulations. 

The core elements of the regulations are the limitation of motors to a maximum of 250 watts of power and support from the motor only up to 25 km/h. Above 25km/h, riders have to accelerate their pace through muscle power alone. In addition, the motor must only be active when pedalling at the same time. A jump start without pedalling is only allowed up to 6 km/h.

Racers were given a half hour slot before the start of the race to bring their bikes for scrutiny. The diameter of the rear wheel and tyre was measured to give the length of one full rotation. This allows the commissaires to check that the motor is correctly set to top out at 25 kilometres per hour. In addition, Shimano plugged into each bike and used special software to check the motor and show if a bike’s factory settings had been tampered with. Once bikes were given the all clear to race, they were kept in a corralled area while riders were free to go about their preparations wherever they wished.

Despite meticulous checks and technical regulations, the atmosphere was relaxed and the banter was in full flow. Mountain biking is, in essence, fun, and the introduction of e-MTBs certainly seemed to up the stoke levels as riders got ready for the start. Even for those who are no stranger to a World Cup start line, the idea of taking on a World Cup course with some power assistance was an exciting prospect.

Tracey Mosely is a multi-discipline mountain bike legend, and in Albstadt she added e-MTB racing to her palmares. 

“So many people have asked me what I think about e-MTB racing,” she said. “The best thing is to actually do it, and form my own opinion. I think what we all know is that e-biking is here, and it’s going to stay. It’s massive, so inevitably people are going to want to start racing them. It is going to be interesting to see how it evolves.”

Tracey was roped into the race by friend and ex-professional cross-country racer, Nathalie Schneiter. 

“Two and a half years ago I never would have said openly that I like to ride e-bikes; I would have done it by night when no-one could see me!”, Nathalie laughed. “But the world has changed and a lot of people ride e-bikes and many many of them are sold. E-bikes bring more people on bikes, and that’s what I like about them. I’m excited to be back here – although I promised to myself three years ago that I would never ever ever climb Albstadt again. Like ever! But with an e-bike it could be fun!” 

When Jochen Kaß – multiple Cape Epic stage winner and cross-country marathon master – rocked up to the start line looking lean, mean and on a mission, everyone knew that the front of the race was going to be anything but amateur. But whilst Kaß was kept on his toes by Kjell van der Boogert – the young Dutchman representing Bart Brentjens’ professional mountain bike team exclusively in e-MTB races – for the rest of the field it was all about shout-outs and tongues out to their vociferous trackside supporters! And this succinctly represents what the e-MTB race in Albstadt was all about: at one end it offered some serious athletes the chance to race a new format, and at the other it gave amateurs the chance to experience a World Cup course, and have a blast doing so.

More grin than grimace

E-MTBs are an awesome way to rip it up with your mates at speeds that put a huge grin on your face, rather than a grimace. So, what did Tracey think about her first e-MTB race, after a pretty epic four lap battle with her pal, Nathalie?

“I actually had fun! I’ve ridden multiple laps this week on a normal bike and it’s a grovel to get up those climbs; it’s not really enjoyable for me. But with the e-MTB I still had to push hard but I was actually moving! I guess that’s what fitness gives you, that’s what it is like for the pros.”

One such professional is Manuel Fumic of Cannondale Factory Racing. He rides and races at speeds most of us can only dream of, but that doesn’t mean that he dismisses the growth of the e-MTB sector. 

“I’m not sure that racing e-MTBs on a World Cup course is appropriate, but separate events which are oriented around e-MTBs could be good because I love to see people competing on mountain bikes,” said the German XCO Champion. “E-MTBs can be a great tool to get people into the sport – my father in law has one and it’s really helping him to get fit. For racing, regulation is a really big thing, so I’m happy to see Shimano leading the way here.”

The discipline is still very much in its infancy, and which path it takes is still up for discussion and open to change. Shimano’s involvement as one of the major players in electric bike technology, coupled with its intrinsic link with cycling at all levels, puts the company at the forefront of technological and sporting development. 

It’s an exciting time for the sport, with the race at the UCI World Cup in Albstadt being only the beginning. So, what do you think? Do you fancy racing a World Cup track at the speed of the professionals, or just ripping it up faster than ever on local trails with some friends? Either way, may the e-MTB force be with you!