War of Attrition in Lisbon | 2021 Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Championships
War of Attrition in Lisbon | 2021 Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Championships
A prolonged two-year global trek of the Red Bull UCI World Championship qualification tour culminated in 67 riders from 19 countries, gathering in Lisbon Portugal this past weekend, with only two goals … have fun and preferably leave with the coveted UCI Rainbow Jersey. Interestingly, for the first time in a UCI World Championships, the Women, of whom there were 34, outnumbered the 33 Men.
The first thing we should point out is that the images and video you see of the Velosolutions creation in Lisbon, do not do it justice, not even close! While it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the setting in the Parque das Nações, the intensity of the track can only be absorbed in person. This is a Pump Track on steroids, the good ones! It’s technical, deep, exhaustingly long and sculpted to perfection … the perfect venue for the tactical war of attrition that was about to unfold.
Unlike some previous Red Bull Pump Track events you may have seen, this venue would have no head-to-head battles but would rely solely on timed runs. It essentially worked like this … in round one, a one-hour timer starts to count down (we think it was an hour, but for argument’s sake let’s say an hour). The 30+ riders in each category would go in turn to get one timed lap on the board, then they can elect to do another lap if they want to try and improve their time, and another, and another … they can try multiple laps, within the session time, to get that lap time down. The top 16 move on at the end of round one and then try to make the top 8, all the while the available session time is reduced … the war of attrition. Eventually the top two riders have a single timed run each for the jersey … exhaustion ensues!
The chatter around the track on the morning of the event was clear, keep an eye on France’s Eddy Clerte and Belgium’s Aiko Gommers … both were going fast, both are extremely skillful, and key to success on this particular Pump Track, both riders are buttery smooth! And that, in a nutshell, is what we love about these events, it essentially rewards skill, you win this by racking up bike time, not weights in the gym.
During practice Eddy was testing new lines, lines that no one else was attempting, lines that most of us wouldn’t see on the track, but Eddy was finding them … some concerned looks crept onto his competitors faces. We asked Eddy if he was going to pull out the big transfers during the timed runs … ‘Maybe’ he replied with a grin, we suspected he was enjoying the mind games … he pointed to the third straight and said, ‘I think I can jump that and save some time’ … he meant most of the straight!
Meanwhile Aiko was going about the business of dialling in the track, quietly, under the radar … but the other riders knew. You could see fingers pointing when she emerged onto the track.
The first cause of concern for Aiko, and all the other women, was Latvia’s Vineta Petersone’s first lap … a 26 second lap time flashed up on the board which was in the realm of the fastest men … the time was quickly corrected to 29.084 secs … still blisteringly quick. Only two women would eventually go faster, the current World Champion, Payton Ridenour and the soon to be new World Champion, Aiko Gommers. Vineta couldn’t quite repeat her first lap again and unfortunately went out in the round of 16 with the number 1 on her plate … a victim of the physically draining, repeating laps, in a bid to reduce her time … the war of attrition in full effect. The USA’s Shealen Reno also fell victim to the ever-decreasing clock time and the increasing number of laps until her legs said no more.
When the men hit the track, Eddy was in full flow, nothing spectacular, just smooth and effortless … and a sub 27 second lap … mind games. He retired to the comfort of a beanbag trackside, watching the competition drain energy with every repeating lap. Eddy only did 6 laps all day, just one per round … his slowest, a 27.117 in the round of 8 … was still quicker than everyone else’s fastest time. While everyone else was seeing diminishing returns on their lap times as the day progressed, Eddy stayed consistent, and he still had a trick up his sleeve for the later rounds.
Aiko though, was not having it completely her way, The Olympic Bronze medallist, Merel Smulders was ominously hanging around the fastest lap times, Christa Von Niederhausern, who had made podiums in the previous two Red Bull Pump Track World Championships was also in the mix … and then there was Payton Ridenour. Payton had not been the fastest all day, similarly to when she won the rainbow stripes in 2019, but when it mattered, she dipped her toe in the sub 30 second club putting her in the driving seat for the final. Payton’s fast lap time put Aiko in a precarious second position in the round of 4, with Christa getting ready for another lap which could potentially put her in, and Aiko out of the final. Merel Smulders was seemingly settling for the bronze medal battle, opting to stay in the pits. The 17-year-old Aiko gambled and held her nerve, she decided her previous time was quick enough and also remained in the pits, admittedly after a brief consultation with Eddy Clerte. The gamble paid off … she made the final … with fresh legs.
Clerte emerged first for the men’s round of 4, the semi-final, dropping a blisteringly quick 26.67 and the massive third straight leap he alluded to earlier in the day, essentially making most of the obstacles on the third straight null and void! Germany’s Philip Schaub then wrote a 27.418 on the board, fast, but not Clerte fast. Thibault Dupont slid into third place until Niels Bensink and his OS20 bike, took it from with the big leap on the third straight, although a slight case killed some speed and kept him out of the top two and a chance at the jersey. Bensink made the only sensible decision available and laid it all on the line with another lap in a bid to make the final … he looked drained and unfortunately it didn’t pay off. The effort also blew out his legs leaving him to roll around in the ‘small final’, losing out on a podium finish.
Ridenour, with the fastest time in the semi chose to go first in the final and put in a solid 30.105 … meaning Aiko knew exactly what was required! With the sun setting in the background Aiko dropped in with the crowd going wild and amazingly recorded her second sub 30 second lap when it mattered and claimed her first World Title to the applause of Payton. At the finish line Aiko professed that she ‘just came here for the fun’ … we bet she enjoyed herself!
Clerte was next, headphones on, brimming with confidence but choosing to go second. Schaub cleaned his tyres, and with an uphill battle recorded a 28 sec lap, everyone knew it wasn’t enough … it was always going to be Eddy. Clerte rolled up and dropped in, quickly getting up to speed … another massive leap on the third straight and another ridiculously fast time … 26.920 … unbeatable! He ran to find his father and brother … World Champion! ‘It was a special moment … I’ve been dreaming about celebrating with my dad for three championships in a row now, this one just feels good!’
What Velosolutions, with the help of Red Bull, have achieved here is nothing less than extraordinary. The atmosphere, the intensity … the fun they have created is infectious, it’s impossible to not have a good time at these events … our only issue now is that the last two World Finals took place in Europe, meaning the next one is likely to be further afield … we’re going to have to start saving! But our pressing concern right now is finding a new supply of those yellow tropical Red Bull cans …
Watch the Full Replay HERE
See Full Results and Times HERE
1: Eddy Clerte (France) 26.920
2: Philip Schaub (Germany) 28.920
3: Thibault Dupont (France) 29.211
1: Aiko Gommers (Belgium) 29.755
2: Payton Ridenour (USA) 30.105
3: Christa Von Niederhausern (Switzerland) 30.225