With a big weekend of racing in Andorra, the XCO races offered continual surprises.
Photos: Emmie Collinge and Phil Gale
After a brief hiatus, the Cross-Country World Cup was back in action this weekend, visiting the high peaks of Andorra on the tail end of a European heat wave. And just as the temperatures were scorching, so too was the action between the tape, with the short track on Friday evening showing who had got good training done over the past 6 weeks, and who might not be where they needed to be.
The racing on Sunday would be dry, dusty and intense. Racing at altitude brings its own set of challenges, and each race would be a true test of managed efforts and well-timed attacks. Nino Schurter and Anne Terpstra dug deep to record brave UCI MTB World Cup XCO wins at the exhausting high altitude stop of Vallnord as Henrique Avancini and Jenny Rissveds rode well.
In the women, Terpstra became the first ever Dutch women's XCO winner on the World Cup circuit with a gutsy victory over reigning champion Jolanda Neff. While Neff really took off from the start (as per usual) she did drop back to about 30th place, for a reason we just don't know. Bec McConnell also had a blinder of a start, and said via social media that she knew she wanted to take the gamble, but it didn't quite work out.
Catherine Pendrel did the same, leading the race after her front line start, but fading a little from the effort. A similar story ran for Pauline Ferrand-Prevot who also lead, and then faded.
And then it was Terpstra had the lead for the majority of the race, and while Neff rode an amazing race to get to the front, after an attack from Terpstra the Swiss star was unable to bridge the gap as Ukrainian Yana Belomoina hit back superbly for third place.
Terpstra, 28, said: "I knew I prepared very good for the altitude because normally it is a weakness for me. I also wanted to take a risk. I did my own race, my own pace."
Sweden's Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds produced a brilliant ride for fifth as she struggled to contain her emotion following her 2019 return from depression.
Rissveds revealed: "I can't stop crying. I did not believe that I could come back and be up here. From Nové Město until now, I really started to work on my mind game again. It is incredible what your head can do if you believe in yourself. It is just amazing."
Vallnord UCI MTB World Cup XCO women's result:
1. Anne Terpstra NED 1:22.59
2. Jolanda Neff SUI +0.38
3. Yana Belomoina UKR +0.51
4. Daniela Campuzano Chavez Peon MEX +0.58
5. Jenny Rissveds SWE +1.03
8. Kate Courtney USA +2.04
UCI MTB World Cup XCO women's standings:
1. Kate Courtney USA 890 points
2. Jolanda Neff SUI 815
3. Anne Terpstra NED 645
4. Anne Tauber NED 499
5. Yana Belomoina UKR 486
Schurter wins his 31st World Cup
The men's race saw some of the leading contenders struggle early on with Czech rider Ondrej Cink eventually battling to the front with Brazilian Avancini. Cink had over 30 seconds lead with a chase group of Schurter, Flueckiger and Avancini behind. Then it dropped to 9 seconds, and then he pulled over to let them pass.
Cink pulled off in the tech/feed zone, and it was a heart problem. He had been indicating something was wrong, and his team manager revealed it was the stress leading into the race, plus the pressure to perform, the heat, altitude and of course the extreme physical demands of the race itself. This left reigning champion Schurter and Swiss compatriot Mathias Flueckiger and Avancini at the front of the race.
Flueckiger looked on track for victory, however the Olympic and world champion summoned a great last-gasp sprint to seal his first 2019 XCO World Cup win, then collapsed to thr ground in dramatic fashion after the finish.
Avancini was 12 seconds behind for his best result with Italian Gerhard Kerschbaumer and Frenchman Jordan Sarrou rounding out the men's podium.
Schurter, 33, said: "It was super tough. It is the hardest to race at high altitude. You are always suffering. The sprint worked out pretty well."
Avancini, 30, explained: "I am stepping up and a positive outcome for the weekend. I was not far from the win. I just missed the move towards the end."
Next week they do it all again in France.
Vallnord UCI MTB World Cup XCO men's result:
1. Nino Schurter SUI 1:19.34
2. Mathias Flueckiger SUI +0.02
3. Henrique Avancini BRA +0.12
4. Gerhard Kerschbaumer ITA +0.27
5. Jordan Sarrou FRA +0.45
UCI MTB World Cup XCO men's standings:
1. Nino Schurter SUI 835 points
2. Mathias Flueckiger SUI 755
3. Mathieu van der Poel NED 700
4. Henrique Avancini BRA 655
5. Jordan Sarrou FRA 553