Why Does Germany Drive Trends in MTB but Not Produce Top Racers?

Despite being a massive country with an even bigger economy, embracing two wheels and being kings of direct bike sales, medals aren’t forthcoming.

You just look at the bike brands that hail from Germany to know that it is a market influencer. YT, Canyon, Merida and Cube to name a few make up a massive German MTB market, they are arguably the power house of bike brands and drive the market accordingly.

Photo by Lee Miller.

Germany also sits behind China and the USA in total Olympic medal counts, has eleven UCI elite teams across cross country and downhill and hosts five Cat 2 IXS Downhill Cup Races a year, yet despite this, Elite World Cup glory has eluded German riders for decades.

The up and comer, and the highest ranked German DH, rider is Max Hartenstern, who rides alongside Phil Atwill on the Cube global Squad. With a Bronze medal at Cairns World Champs and a host of wins in U17 and U19 level at the IXS, he is the one with the seemingly brightest future in the sport. It will be cool to see how he gets on as a 2nd year Elite.

Johannes Fischbach is another German World Cup rider that sits in our collective conscience, having been successful at downhill, 4X and more recently, some urban downhill events. That leaves the count at two.

Sandra Rubesam rides as a privateer for Nukeproof, but hasn’t managed to find her way inside the top 10 at World Cup level.

UCI Downhill World Cup 2016 Lenzerheide Switzerland Red Bull Wideopenmag

Merida eOneFourtyMerida eOneFourty

Why do we think that this is?

There doesn’t appear to be a large grass roots programme despite there being numerous venues spread across the country including some classic World Cup venues and the IXS Rookies Cup. We know that the draw of the UCI points available at the IXS Cup races that are held there brings racers from across Europe to compete, but it may be that this makes it less appealing for local racers to test their skills or race craft against some of the best elsewhere.

With cross country being an Olympic sport and Germany sitting pretty in the top three all-time medal tally, it is probably more surprising that Sabine Spitz’s gold in London 2012 is likely Germany’s most infamous global victory in the last decade.

Is it simply a question of geography?

Germany covers an area 1.5 times the size of Great Britain. If you live in Dusseldorf, Winterberg Bike Park is an hour away but doesn’t offer a massive hill, but that is offset by a very quick lift back to the top. While the Bavarian Alps might be the first thing you think of when your mind wanders to German peaks, but a large portion of Germany’s southern half is mountainous.

With just 17 bike parks in a country as large as Germany, are they simply too far away? Perhaps by not having anyone at the top of the sport for such a long time, the youth aren’t aspiring to be at the top to follow in the tyre tracks of their elders?

Germany sports more ski resorts than France, and hundreds more than the UK, but seemingly, less is more in this instance.

Or is land access an issue?

Land access laws are very different in Germany, especially compared to Scotland and Scandinavia. Landowners have absolute control over their land and any immovable objects, which means rights of way are restricted to walkers alone. Cycling is not allowed on many paths in Germany and that law can change between regions.

Therefore if you’re not at a bike park or at a race, there’s considerably less trails on which to cut your teeth.

Who’s the next big thing for German MTB that we should be keeping our eyes on? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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