#FullgasMTB: Van der Poel and Ferrand-Prévot win Short Track Debut in Lenzerheide – Costly mistake for Brandau
One year after the succesful World Championships, the world’s best mountain bikers are back in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup was opened with men’s and women’s Cross-Country Short-Track, which had its Swiss debut. The measure of might was championed by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) in the women’s field and Mathieu van der Poel (NED) in the men’s race. Four thousand enthusiastic spectators witnessed a battle for the ages and saw their local favorites, Jolanda Neff and Nino Schurter, battle tooth and nail for a spot on the podium. Drama unfolded for German racer Elisabeth Brandau, who gave away her potential win with a costly mistake.
With the sun high in the sky, the tracks in prime condition and four thousand specatators on the sidelines of the Cross-Country track, conditions could not have been better for the kick-off of the #FullgasMTB days at the foot of the Rothorn. Exactly at 17:30 / 5.30pm CEST, when the race timer sounded loudly throughout the Lenzerheide Bikepark, the Cross-Country Women Elite opened the proverbial festivities. The race was on, the atmosphere electric. The race pace was high, the battle between the riders fierce – and what unfolded over the next 10 laps was a race filled with overtaking, risky maneuvers and high-stakes drama. Swiss speed machine Jolanda Neff came off the start line on fire – her goal being obvious: to take first place here in Lenzerheide, which could be considered her local playground. It wasn’t until the seventh lap that a number of favorites separated themselves from the pack – including Kate Courtney (USA), Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) and Jenny Rissveds (SWE), who had to battle back from incidents earlier on the track. Once again, Elizabeth Brandau stepped on the gas pedal during the second half of the race, passing riders as they appeared.
With two laps to go, the German speedsteer took the lead, set the pace and started separating herself from the chase group. Brandau’s performance and pace were one for the history books, which makes what followed all the more dramatic. With just over one lap to go, Brandau once again increased the pace, created a serious gap between her and her chasers and started celebrating her win the moment she crossed the finish line. Brandau rolled to the first turn, got off her bike, exhausted and sat down to catch a breath. Only when the chase group passed in front of her eyes and the screams of the audience became clear, did Brandau realize her costly mistake. She scrambled to get back on her bike, but it was too late – she had lost the lead and had to settle into the mid-pack and once again go flat out in order to salvage her race. The last lap was a thrilling duel between Ferrand-Prévot and Neff, a duel which would be decided at the last possible moment while crossing the finish line, when Ferrand-Prévot crossed the finish line half a wheel length ahead of Neff, just like last week in Val di Sole:
“It’s unbelievable. I had to fight back and knew from last week that I could beat Jolanda in the sprint. After my little crash at the start all I wanted to do was go flat out and do the best that I could. What happened to Elisabeth is awful, but that’s racing,” said Ferrand-Prévot. Neff continues to build her Overall World Cup lead with her second place finish, making the gap between her and Courtney 83 points, but was visibly still disappointed because of the missed home soil victory, especially because it was so close. Following her race, she immediately started analyzing her mistakes: “I have to try to be ahead at the end of the next race. For me, it’s important to find exactly where I need to take the lead. I have to work on that. Other that that, 99% of my race was good. But I am disappointed that I could not take the win here. The fans were already sensational today and on Sunday it will probably be even better. I try to do my best on Sunday,” said Neff.
The third place went to Jenny Rissveds (SWE). The last time she was in Lenzerheide, in 2016, she won the Olympic distance, so a Short-Track podium shows promise for more. “It was a tough race. I was nervous at the start, because this was my first World Cup Short-Track race. But now I’m happy because of my third place.” The podium is rounded out by Anne Tauber (NED) in fourth and Nové Mesto Short-Track winner Chloe Woodruff (USA) in fifth. Courtney finished in ninth place, with Brandau finishing in 21st, which means she’ll start in the third row on Sunday. “My brain turned off. I pushed my limits so far and thought that it was the final lap. It was just stupid of me. It could have been my first win, I feel good and I’ll pay more attention in the future. Now I’m going to recover for Sunday and I’ll attack again,” said a very self-critical Brandau following the race.
With only a few minutes in between the finish of the women’s race and the start of the men’s race, spectators made sure to get the best possible spots once again. At 18:15 / 6.15pm CEST, it was the men’s turn to attack the one kilometer long Bike Arena loop. The men started cautiously into their first lap. With the track lying 1,485 meters / 4,927ft. above sea level, endurance definitely comes into play. Due to the cautious start, the lead pack that came into the fifth lap was still 26 riders strong. One lap later, Henrique Avancini (BRA) cranked up the pace and only Short-Track dominator Mathieu van der Poel (NED) and local speedster Nino Schurter (SUI) were able to stay close to him. What followed was a battle of epic proportions with a number of lead changes. In the seventh lap, it was Schurter who was at the front and setting the pace. The 32-time World Cup winner showed a very aggressive, if slightly unusual, riding style in order to separate himself from the two chasers, both of which are extremely strong sprinters. However, both van der Poel and Avancini showed plenty of resolve and kept up with Schurter. In the ninth lap, van der Poel showcased his signature explosive attack, overtaking Schurter and putting some distance between him, the Swiss racer and Avancini. Avancini was all but beat though – he caught up to the chase pack and it was this exact trio that would decide the race between themselves. Avancini and van der Poel started the last uphill section together, putting distance between them and Schurter, who was unable to keep up, resulting in another battle for top spot between the Dutch dominator and the Brazilian sprinter.
At the end of the race, it was the Dutch powerhouse that celebrated his fifth Short-Track victory of the season – which also means that he’s won every Short-Track race that he’s started this season. “Winning every Short-Track race is great, but also really hard. Especially Nino, who has some new tactics, was exceptionally strong. I’m satisfied with my season. I’ve managed to get better once again and am now riding against the best riders in the world, which is fantastic,” said an ecstatic van der Poel. Second-place finisher Henrique Avancini (BRA) acknowledged van der Poel’s feat: “At first, it was a very strategic race, until Schurter showed his more aggressive side. He wanted to achieve something special in front of the home crowd. I tried everything and really wanted to beat van der Poel, as it was probably the last chance to do so this year. My goal was to be on the home stretch before him, which is why I started my attack on the last long uphill, but his attack was stronger.” The third-place finisher, racing in front of his home crowd, was also satisfied with his result: “I felt really good at the start and tried to attack quickly, but in the end, I was missing something. Mathieu van der Poel is simply the man to beat when it comes to Short-Track, but it was my best Short-Track race so far, which makes me confident for Sunday. The race will be one of my season highlights,” said Schurter.
Following Brandau’s costly mistake, it was Manuel Fumic (GER) who managed to snag a strong finish and a good starting place for Sunday, keeping German Cross-Country hopes high. The 37-year-old not only got his best sprint result to date, but also secured the highest-placed finish in any men’s German XCC race. “I’m happy with my sixth place and the fact that my teammates finished in second and fourth place, makes it that much better. Racing in Lenzerheide is always amazing, there are always so many fans here and they support us all the way,” said Fumic.
The Short-Track debut in Lenzerheide was a showdown of the highest level and the perfect opener for an eventful race weekend.
Saturday is Downhill Day
After the thrilling start of the Cross-Country speedsters, it’s all about the Downhill aces on Saturday. The action starts at 09:45 with the Junior Women’s race, followed by the Junior Men, who take to the track at 10:15. At 12:30, it’s up to the Women Elite to show who manages to champion the Lenzerheide STRAIGHTline, while the men will battle it out for podium spots at 13:30.
The Men and Women Elite races from Lenzerheide will be broadcast LIVE on Red Bull TV. The women’s broadcast starts at 12:30pm CEST, followed by the men’s broadcast at 13:45 / 1.45pm CEST. The full broadcast will be available for replay immediately after the conclusion of the LIVE broadcast.