With four races in the XCO World Cup so far this week, it's fair to say there is fresh blood in the ranks.
From March, international racing ground to a halt. Right as athletes were moving into crucial months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, a global pandemic threw a huge spanner in the works. The UCI hors categorie stage race, the Cape Epic, was cancelled less than 24 hours before it started, and it was months before top mountain bikers were racing again.
We saw a reformatted World Cup promoted, but rounds were dropped and the final shape of it is greatly diminished - back to back rounds in the Czech Republic ahead of the World Championships in Austria.
So after months of change and uncertainty, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is finally back. Tuesday delivered a wet and wild Short Track race to open the season, with Evie Richards from the UK winning the women's and Gerardo Ulloa from MExico winning the men's race. Australian Bec McConnell had a mechanical in the short track, and Dan McConnell finished 19th.
The first Olympic distance cross-country threw up just as many new races for the podium.
After taking the win in her first ever Short Track race on Tuesday, Evie Richards was last to the grid and quick off the line. Along with Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Anne Terpstra, she formed the first lead group of the race. They were joined by Sina Frei, Laura Stigger and Kate Courtney.
There was a crash behind that caught out Bec McConnell and others, but Bec was quickly fighting back to the front end of the race.
Soon it was the World Champion, Ferrand-Prevot, who started driving the race at the front. Behind her it was the young French rider, Loana Lecomte, who took up the chase. Notably Lacomte was faster than Ferrand-Prevot on the descents, but a little slower on the climbs. This was Lecomte’s first Elite World Cup, but after her third place in the XCC she was full of confidence and in contention from the very beginning.
By the mid-race point the U23 French Champion had caught her compatriot and overhauled the World Champion, looking in control. Behind her, Ferrand-Prevot looked safe in second, but she also looked tired on the slippery course. Ferrand-Prevot was safe in 2nd place right up to the last lap when Anne Terpstra managed to find an extra gear and quickly close in on the World Champion.
The chase group behind was all quite close, but it eventually split. Lena Gerault and Laura Stigger rode clear to secure fourth and fifth respectively, Terpstra’s strong finish translated to second place and the early race leader, Ferrand-Prevot had to settle for third. Lecomte was clearly the strongest rider today, and with more than 30 seconds to second place she had time enough to soak in her achievement as she rolled down the finish straight.
Bec had a storming ride to finish in 9th, a fantastic result after getting caught out early on and missing out on a good grid position with a mechanical in XCC.
1 - Loana Lecomte
2 - Anne Terpstra
3 - Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
4 - Lena Gerault
5 - Laura Stigger
After lighting up the Short Track race two days ago with a surprise win, Mexican National Champion Jose Gerado Alluo Alevaro was once again at the front in the cross-country race with the number one plate, but unfortunately fell foul of the wet roots and crashed out.
But Brazilian Henrique Avancini was at the head of affairs from the start and looked to be in charge of the race. Milan Vader’s Dutch National Champion’s jersey was never far from the front. Nino Schurter was a long way back, and the front group was full of faces who aren't typically at the front of a World Cup - mixed with the likes of Mathias Flueckiger and others. Simon Andreassen, who didn’t race Short Track, had his work cut out to make it to the front of the race but after a couple of laps it was clear the young rider was in the mix.
Mathias Flückiger was the first rider to challenge the authority of Avancini at the front but problems later in the race sidelined him. Avancini himself ended up dropping back whilst Nino Schurter gradually clawed his way back into contention.
As the lead group whittled down, the young guns Vader and Andreassen began to look set for the victory. However, Maxime Marotte was able to put the pressure on and drop Vader on the final lap. With half a lap to go, Andreassen eked out an advantage over Marotte until finally he had time to celebrate his victory ahead of Marotte in second and Vader in third. The fight for fourth came right down to the line with a sprint finish between Schurter and Avancini, with the World Champion just taking it ahead of the Brazilian Champion.
Dan McConnell came across in 32nd place, in a race where he admitted he had 'concrete legs'. We'd take that finish for a bad day! The next rounds start tonight with Short Track again
1 - Simon Andreassen
2 - Maxime Marotte
3 - Milan Vader
4 - Nino Schurter
5 - Henrique Avancini
All photos via Redbull/Bartek Wolinksi