ALBSTADT, GERMANY – MAY 21, 2019 – The first round of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup in Albstadt offered everything fans and spectators could hope for. Excitement, drama, surprises and incredibly close racing – and all of that in challenging weather and difficult conditions. Here are some of the highlights of the first Cross-Country World Cup of 2019:
Challenging track conditions make for exciting racing
There has been a lot of discussion about Albstadt’s track prior to the races. In 2018 heavy rainfall had a large impact on the course and turned the loamy ground in Albstadt into a barely rideable, slippery mess more akin to an ice rink than a mountain bike trail, leading to a number of crashes. As a result of last year’s extremely difficult conditions, the track was modified for 2019 in an attempt to make it more weather-proof. In practice this meant that several difficult sections were tamed and either stabilized with crushed sand and gravel or bridged with wooden elements. After work on the course was completed, the organizers faced criticism for making the already not very technical track too easy. However, come race time, heavy rainfall and very wet conditions made the track very challenging once again. The take-away from this weekend is, that the track is neither too easy, nor too hard - it’s selective.
Thanks to its two long and steep climbs, the Albstadt track punishes riders even for the smallest lack of stamina. The descends on the other hand are extremely slippery when wet, which once again led to a number of spectacular crashes by the likes of Kate Courtney (USA) and Lars Forster (SUI), thankfully without causing any major injuries. In summary, the track looks to rightfully be part of the World Cup – not least thanks to the thousands of excited fans, who, even in the worst of conditions, carried the riders up the climbs with their cheers.
Exciting Short-Track races: van der Poel continues dominance – Courtney surprises
The 2018 season saw the introduction of a new discipline – Cross-Country Short Track (XCC). An addition that was welcomed by fans, as it intensifies the battle for the Overall World Cup Title and serves as a great start to a weekend of action-packed racing. The thousands of fans in Germany’s Albstadt were treated to two exciting and close battles on Friday night. On the women’s side, the first XCC Word Cup race of the season saw the Top 10 entering the final lap within just 4 seconds of each other. In the end, Kate Courtney managed to edge out Jolanda Neff (SUI) and Kathrin Stirnemann (SUI) by one second to take her very first XCC World Cup win. Like the women’s race, the men’s race was only decided on the last lap. Mathieu van der Poel (NED) showed his explosive power and within seconds overtook several riders on his way to the front, stretching the field in the process. Only a few could follow van der Poel, but none could match him on the sprint to the finish line, in which he beat Lars Forster and Nino Schurter (SUI) for the win. At the end of the day, the XCC races provided the goods once again and left the crowds excited for Sunday’s main event.
Swiss dominance continues – in an unexpected order
A Swiss rider wins the men’s XCO race in Albstadt and four more score a Top 10 result. One could think, the race took its expected course. After all, Nino Schurter had achieved a perfect season in 2017 and won four of seven rounds, the Overall Title and the UCI World Championships in 2018. That’s however not what happened this weekend. The Swiss rider on top of the podium wasn’t Nino Schurter, it was Mathias Flueckiger, who won his second World Cup after winning in Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2018. Flueckiger took the lead in the second lap and held on to it throughout the race, crossing the line 32 seconds ahead of Mathieu van der Poel in second place. Scott-SRAM teammates Schurter and Forster set an incredibly high pace right at the beginning of the race, fragmenting the field early on. Both, however, had to pay the price for their incredibly high pace as the race continued. Schurter managed to hang on to a 6th-place finish but Forster, in peak-form, fell victim to the treacherous, slippery conditions and had to pull out of the race with a heavily bruised knee and foot after his third crash and will unfortunately miss the next round in Nove Mesto. With Flueckiger on top of the podium and fellow countrymen Vogel, Schurter, Reto Indergand and Andri Frischknecht finishing in 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th respectively, the Swiss however still enjoyed a dominant performance.
A perfect weekend for Kate Courtney
Celebrating a perfect start to the season, Kate Courtney won Sunday’s XCO after already winning the XCC on Friday. In what is only her second season in the Elite category, Courtney has now won her very first XCC and XCO-World Cup races within a single weekend. Last season the young American only appeared on the podium of one XCC race with a third place in Vallnord, whilst not making the Top 5 at any of the XCO World Cup stops. At the UCI World Championships in Lenzerheide, Courtney however showed her potential and incredible talent by taking a surprising, yet deserved victory. It appears, the young American has carried the momentum of winning the Gold Medal over into 2019. In Friday’s XCC Courtney was amongst the lead group throughout the race before attacking from third place in the final lap and fending off Jolanda Neff and Kathrin Stirnemann (SUI) in the sprint to the line, winning her first XCC World Cup in the process. Courtney’s performance in the XCO two days later was even more impressive. Not even a crash in the second lap could keep her from demonstrating an absolute show of strength. Courtney and Neff had already distanced the field on the start loop, before the young American left the reigning World Cup Champion behind on the second climb. Following that attack, Courtney comfortably controlled the race from the front and eventually crossed the line to win her first XCO World Cup. What a perfect weekend and start to the season for the young American.
Dutch cycling phenomenon takes World Cup lead
Following numerous victories in Cyclo-Cross and at the Spring Classics on the road, Mathieu van der Poel demonstrated his strong form on a mountain bike. The Dutchman played his cards especially well in Friday’s XCC. Keeping in touch with the leading group, van der Poel started the race inconspicuous until he put the hammer down in Lap 7 and rapidly pulled away from everyone. Only Schurter and Henrique Avancini (BRA) managed to follow, but neither had a chance when ‘MVDP’ launched his second attack shortly before the finish line. Two days later, van der Poel looked equally strong on the Olympic distance. Following the high pace of Schurter and Forster at the start of the race, the Dutchman wisely decided to fall back to the chase group to conserve energy and crossed the line in 12th after lap 2. Having recovered slightly, van der Poel started to increase the pace again and crossed the line in 6th the very next lap. After two thirds of the race, he was already in third. Giving it all he had in the final lap, van der Poel caught and overtook Jordan Sarrou (FRA) and crossed the line in second, 32 seconds behind Flueckiger. Thanks to his victory in XCC and strong show in XCO, van der Poel left Albstadt with 325 World Cup points and, for the first time, wearing the leader’s jersey.
There’s barely any time to breath and recover from the opening round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup in Albstadt as the season heats up and the second round is set to start this weekend in Nové Město, Czech Republic. An estimated 30,000 fans are expected to line the technically demanding track in the biathlon stadium of the Czech mountain bike Mecca. Can Nino Schurter (SUI) strike back after his 6th place in Albstadt? Can Mathias Flueckiger (SUI) and Kate Courtney (USA) repeat their success from the opening round? Can Mathieu van der Poel (NED) win his first XCO World Cup? How is the form of favorites Jolanda Neff (SUI) and Annika Langvad (DEN)?
The second round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup live from Nové Město, Czech Republic on Friday, May 24 and Sunday, May 26 only on Red Bull TV!