Round one of the UCI XCO World Cup in the Czech Republic was immense! The season has started with World Champions doing their stripes justice.
Nino Schurter stormed to victory again at Nové Město to open the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup cross-country season, following in the steps of women's world champion Annika Langvad, who won her first World Cup wearing the rainbow bands the previous day.
Langvad was seemingly untouchable on the course in front of at least 20 000 fans, the 33-year-old started strongly in her rainbow jersey with a first-lap move in the Czech Republic and held off early attacks from Swiss pair Linda Indergand and Jolanda Neff.
Indergand was soon joined by 45-year-old Sabine Spitz, whose decision to delay her retirement looked like the right call as she dug in to try and bridge the gap to Langvad.
The Dane, though, is an expert at forcing the pace from the front and, despite arriving late to the venue this week, she crossed the line first in a time of 1 hour 28 minutes and 45 seconds.
Student dentist Langvad said, “I did not expect this at all. Since September I was very busy at university full-time finishing school. Monday morning I will be back at school doing surgery.
“The last couple of weeks I swapped my training a bit doing more short, intense stuff. I just felt so good. I thought I would make it difficult for everyone else and ride my own pace.”
German Spitz, who won cross-country gold in the 2003 World Championships and 2008 Summer Games, battled hard to finish second just under a minute behind with Indergand resisting Poland’s Maja Włoszczowska and Ukrainian Yana Belomoina for a deserved podium.
Spitz revealed, “It was really unexpected, but the last training on the track was pretty good. I was very happy with the bike. Had a lot of fun.”
Reigning UCI World Cup XCO champion Catharine Pendrel did not enjoy the best of days with a broken drivetrain and puncture seeing her finish way down in 21st place.
Bec Henderson had a storming ride to 8th, a great start to the World Cup season.
Swiss star Jolanda Neff was notably off the pace, finishing 18th, her worst World Cup result ever, by her own admission.
Schurter's back as the World Cup boss in Nove Mesto
The Swiss, who won gold on the Czech Republic course at the 2016 World Championships, had to find an extra gear late on to see off towering Spaniard David Valero Serrano.
Reigning World Cup champion Julien Absalon finished strongly to fend off four fellow Frenchmen with Maxime Marotte and Jordan Sarrou rounding out the podium.
Many people were expecting Schurter to take his foot off the pedal after his stellar 2016 that also included Rio gold, however the 31-year-old was on the charge from the start loop.
The big crash at the start, after Matthias Stirnemann’s chain snapped, did not affect too many of the favourites with Swiss rider Thomas Litscher forcing the early pace from compatriot Schurter. But it did take out Australian National Champion Dan McConnell. While McConnell did get up, he ended up on a spine board. No doubt after medics pulled a bar-plug out of his helmet and had to treat him as a suspected head or spinal injury.
On the attack in Nove Mesto
Valero Serrano and Lukas Fluckiger soon started their own attack as Litscher slipped back down the field, the Spaniard joining Schurter as Swiss Fluckiger toiled away in third.
With 10km ridden, Schurter and Valero Serrano had managed to put around 50 seconds on Fluckiger with Absalon moving up into contention alongside Marotte, Sarrou and Stephane Tempier.
Schurter eventually managed to create a gap to the Spaniard at the 17.85km mark and he had 24 seconds on him with one lap left to go.
He held his nerve to win by 26 seconds in a time of 1hr 27m 35s and celebrated with a wheelie on the home stretch, Valero Serrano an excellent second and Absalon fending off Marotte for a gutsy third place.
Schurter said, “I had a really great start and felt really good. Valero showed great performance. He attacked quite hard and I had to suffer a bit.
"This course suits me, it is one of my favourites and I am really happy to win here again. For me it is totally different this year. Much less pressure." And what is helping? "Great winter, good training and less expectation. It is going pretty well so far. I am really stoked."
Czech crowd favourite Jaroslav Kulhavý did not enjoy the best of races for the 25,000 strong crowd at the Vysočina Arena, a puncture on the last lap seeing him come home in 55th.
The series heads to Albstadt in Germany next weekend where Schurter won by the narrowest of margins from Absalon last time out.