UCI Mountain Bike World Cup: Swiss riders dominate in XCO at Mont-Ste-Anne
It was Swiss day at Mont Ste Anne, Canada, on Sunday, for Round 5 of the Cross-country series in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano, with Jolanda Neff (Liv Pro XC) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) convincingly winning the Elite women’s and men’s races, respectively. Neff added to her lead in the overall standings, while Schurter crept a little closer to men’s leader Julien Absalon (BMC), who finished second.
Mont Ste Anne is always one of the hardest courses on the World Cup circuit; a true classic with steep climbs and rocky, rooty descents. Add in mud from heavy rain the night before and hot, humid conditions on race day, and this became a race of attrition.
Neff shot off the front of the women’s race on the start loop of the six lap race, never to be seen again. The Swiss rider, who is actually the Under-23 world champion but chooses to ride in the Elite category, extended her lead to nearly a minute and a half by mid-race, before Catharine Pendrel (Luna) began to reduce the gap slowly, to just over a minute at the finish.
Pendrel took up the solo chase effort in the first lap, with a group of three forming behind by lap four, containing Lea Davison (Specialized Racing XC), Katerina Nash (Luna) and Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing). While the front two positions were set, the trio vying for third battled until the last lap, taking turns opening slight gaps on the other two. Finally, Nash was able to break clear for third, with Davison taking fourth just ahead of Batty.
“I maybe didn’t want to go out that early, but it just happened,” explained Neff. “The race started and I was in the front, so I just thought that I would ride my pace and see what happened. I like the track here very well, so it was a great race. I don’t actually like these hot conditions, I’m usually the best when it rains, but I did a lot of cooling today because I knew it was going to be hot. I hope I can keep my shape and I hope to continue doing well.”
Neff now holds an almost unbeatable lead in the series with two races remaining at 900 points. Batty jumps from sixth to second at 590 points, just two ahead of Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools).
The men’s race, as expected, became a duel between the two preeminent men on the circuit – Schurter and Absalon. Between the two riders they have won all five rounds of the World Cup thus far, with Absalon holding an advantage by one win.
World champion Schurter attacked after the start loop and had a 15 second lead after the first lap over a chase group containing Absalon. However, the French rider bridged across on the second lap and the pair rode away from the rest of the field to battle it out for the win. Each tested the other on the steep climbs and technical descents, but it wasn’t until the penultimate lap that Schurter finally got a gap. Even then, there was no time to back off because the gap never went over 18 seconds, and was 16 seconds at the line.
Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing), after a slow start, steadily worked his way up through the field to move into third with one lap to go and held it to the finish, with Lukas Fluckiger (BMC) taking fourth and brother Mathias Fluckiger (Stockli) fifth.
“It was a super tough race,” commented Schurter. “It’s a really hard course here with the changes they made for this year, with super hard climbing. It’s really exciting to win here in Mont Ste Anne. I had quite a crash; I nearly took down Absalon, I’m sorry about that! The past years I’ve had a lot of bad luck here; at the world championships [in 2010] I flatted twice, so I feel really lucky to win here in Mont Ste Anne, it’s an awesome feeling and always nice to do well here. I missed one round, so it’s going to be tough to catch up in the standings, but you never know – it’s still two races to go and I will fight until the last race.”
Absalon leads Schurter by 260 points with two races to go, which makes it virtually impossible for the Swiss rider to catch him. McConnell remains in third, a further 140 points back.
Photo: Nino Schurter