In one of the most interesting World Cup venues, Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic we were treated to an incredible cross-country masterpiece. This truly is the new golden age of XC World Cup Racing. Here are five things we learned.
1. It is Definitely Breath-taking World Cup Flair
The Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country World Cup in Nove Mesto once again proved, why it’s such a favorite amongst riders and spectators alike. The unique start and finish area in Nove Mesto’s Biathlon Arena was once again packed and combined with the thousands of fans lining the track, the atmosphere was electric. Apart from the hoard of fans, the true star in Nove Mesto was once again the track. Steep climbs, roots, rock gardens, more roots, demanding descents, an asphalt pump track and even more roots, made for one incredibly challenging and spectacular track.
The demanding nature of the track also played a role in the athletes’ choice of gear. Due to the many root- and rock-filled climbs and rough descents, most of the riders chose to tackle the track on full-suspension bikes despite the weight penalty over hardtails, in an effort to increase rear-wheel traction and combine fatigue on the rough course.
2. Exciting Short-Track Racing – Early breakaways lead to victory
The Cross-Country Short Track races (XCC) made for an exciting start to the weekend’s racing in the Czech Republic. Thousands of fans along the track followed the exciting XCC races, in both of which an early breakaway lead to the win. In the women’s race, Chloe Woodruff (USA) surprised the field with an attack in the seventh of ten laps.
It almost seemed like no one was willing to follow Woodruff, hoping to close the gap down the line instead, which led to a comfortable 10-second lead for the American. Instead of hunting down Woodruff, the chase pack entered the final lap locked in a tactical battle over who was going to take the lead and the race favorites seemed content with fighting it out for second place in a sprint finish, much to the benefit of Woodruff, who took her first ever World Cup win.
In the chase pack’s sprint to the line, favorites Kate Courtney (USA) and Jolanda Neff (SUI) were so busy with each other, that they forgot about Annie Last (GBR), who made full use of her chance and took second, relegating Courtney and Neff to third and fourth. The podium was completed by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) in fifth.
The men’s race, on the other hand, was won by the big XCC favorite Mathieu van der Poel (NED), who took his second Short-Track victory of the year. In lap five of ten, the tall Dutchman first closed the gap to the leading pair of Henrique Avancini (BRA) and Anton Cooper (NZL) with a strong effort, before leaving the field in his dust with a second powerful push in lap six. In the end, the field wasn’t able to close the gap to van der Poel, who took his second XCC win of the season in front of Maxime Marotte (FRA), Henrique Avancini, Nino Schurter (SUI) and Carlos Coloma Nicolas (ESP).
Missed the incredible action from Nove Mesto? Fear not! You can re-watch the entire live-broadcast and all the highlights of the second stop of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup on-demand and anytime on Red Bull TV!
3. Americans dominate women’s field
Four races, four victories. The US Women are enjoying the best possible start to the World Cup season. Unlike in Albstadt, where Kate Courtney won both the XCC and XCO races, it was Chloe Woodruff, who triumphed in Friday’s Short-Track. Sunday however once again belonged to Courtney, who celebrated her second XCO World Cup win in seven days. Considering the fact that the last American World Cup victory dates back 22 years, the American women have truly put on a historic show to start the 2019 season.
The XCO race itself was however far from as clear cut, as the result portrays. Unlike Albstadt, where Courtney led the field from the start, Courtney’s race in Nove Mesto played out quite differently. After the start, a group of five riders including Australian Rebecca McConnell, Courtney, Jolanda Neff, Anne Tauber (NED) and first-year elite rider Sina Frei (SUI) quickly opened a twenty-second gap to the rest of the field.
At the start of lap two, Neff and Tauber started to break away from the group of five, eventually opening a gap of 25 seconds to the three women behind. Just over the halfway mark, Tauber put down the power on the first climb of the fourth lap and pulled away from Neff, who struggled to follow, dropped back to chase group and was overtaken by Courtney. The young American spent the next two laps trying to chase down Tauber, but despite closing in, never quite managed to close the gap completely.
Entering the final lap, both Tauber and Courtney struggled on the ‘Shimano Expert Climb’ and had to briefly get off the bike. While Courtney quickly recovered, disaster struck for Tauber as she suffered a mechanical. While Courtney rode to her second XCO victory in seven days, Tauber had no choice but to nurse her bike to the finish line, dropping all the way back to tenth. Riding in third place, Neff suffered a similar fate to Tauber with a flat tire ending her podium hopes, eventually finishing in 8th.
In the end, McConnell rewarded herself for a fantastic race with a career-best second place in front of Haley Smith (CAN) in third, also a career-best. The two first-year elite riders, Sina Frei (SUI) and Malene Degn (DEN) showed their full potential as future stars by rounding out the podium in fourth and fifth respectively.
4. Dutch cycling phenomenon takes first XCO victory
Two years ago in the biathlon stadium of Nove Mesto, a Dutchman, who was little known in the Cross-Country scene, raced his first World Cup and ended up 8th after starting at the very back of the start row. This rider, Mathieu van der Poel, has since risen to stardom not only in the Cyclo-Cross scene, where he has won pretty much everything there is to win, but also on the road with wins at the Spring Classics and a second place at the 2018 European Road Championships. One title VDP was still missing, was that of a mountain bike World Cup winner. But that was about to change at the exact venue where he first started his XCO World Cup campaign.
The men’s XCO race in Nove Mesto got off to a quick start with the trio of Mathieu van der Poel, Nino Schurter and Henrique Avancini setting a quick pace on the start loop. Towards the end of the first full lap, Schurter and VDP managed to shake Avancini and it quickly became clear, that the battle for first and second place would be decided by the reigning Overall World Cup- and World Champion and the Dutch cycling phenomenon.
Schurter and VDP kept on switching lead duties, whilst keeping up the pace and continuously distancing themselves from the chase pack. By lap six, the leading pair was already a massive 1:16 minutes. ahead of the four-man chase pack of Avancini, local hero Ondrej Cink (CZE), Albstadt winner Mathias Flueckiger (SUI) and Frenchman Maxime Marotte. Schurter kept attacking on the long, technical climbs and pushed hard on the difficult, fast descents, but van der Poel never dropped back as much as an inch. Continuously switching the lead, it wasn’t until the last long climb just past the halfway point of the final lap, that the race was decided. VDP had a quick look over his shoulder, kicked down hard on his pedals and off he went. Schurter attempted to follow for several meters, but it quickly became apparent that he couldn’t match the Dutchman’s power and speed anymore. Van der Poel rocketed up the climb leaving Schurter in his dust, pushed hard on the descent back to the finish line and crossed the line to win his first XCO World Cup.
With dozens of Cyclo-Cross wins, several victories at the Spring Classics on the road, including the prestigious Amstel Gold Race, two XCC World Cups and now an XCO World Cup – all of it in 2019 -, Mathieu van der Poel has well and truly proven why he is considered to be the best all-round cycling talent of his generation.
5. Overall standings: Courtney and van der Poel increase lead
Kate Courtney and Mathieu van der Poel have each won three of the four races to start the season. Both have now accumulated 700 points in the overall ranking and lead their closest competition by 200 points (van der Poel) and 210 points (Courtney). While it’s too early to speak of decisive leads after only two of six races, both riders have shown extremely strong form early on. One key difference between the two is however the fact, that van der Poel has announced that he will not be racing the next two World Cups in Vallnord, Andorra and Val di Sole, Italy. After a long and intense winter of racing Cyclo-Cross and a successful spring campaign on the road, the Dutchman has decided to take a break in order to recover.
Looking at van der Poel’s impressive XCC wins, his XCO victory in Nove Mesto and second place in Albstadt’s XCO, it’s hard to spot any signs of fatigue. His decision to rest however does make for an exciting battle for this year’s Overall World Cup title. And who knows what a fully rested van der Poel can do at the last two World Cup stops?
On the women’s side, the season so far has been the Kate Courtney Show. The 23-year-old reigning UCI World Champion has proven her talent and determination in the last weeks, but will she be able to hold her form throughout her second season in the Elite category? While the young American currently is the woman to beat, her fiercest rival, reigning Overall World Cup Champion Jolanda Neff, has already openly admitted to be focusing her training efforts on the second half of the season.
Last season’s runner-up in the Overall Ranking, Annika Langvad (DEN), should also not be counted out. Langvad had a difficult start to the season and pulled out of both XCO races, but will surely be looking to attack hard after the 5-week break before the next World Cup stop in Andorra.
One thing is for sure; the Cross-Country World Cup season has only just begun, there are many races yet to come and in July, the battle for the Overall World Cup Title is set to intensify.