Europeans dominate down under at the opening UCI World Cup of the XCO season.
The reigning UCI World Cup winner and World Champion, Swiss Nino Schurter, and Dane Annika Langvad reigned in the rainforest at the opening round of the world’s top flight cross country mountain bike series. In the elite women’s race the young Yana Belomoyna lined up at the start line with the coveted number one plate having inherited it partly via some stunning pre-season form and partly by an absence of some of her piers. Jolanda Neff, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Gunn Rita Dahle, the dominating figures of 2015, had opted not to travel to the opener. This is an Olympic year and their careful preparations building up to Rio precluded the lengthy travel to the tropical heat of Queensland. A win was up for grabs and Langvad, the winner of the last UCI World Cup race of 2015, smelt blood. The Danish rider attacked from the off and one by one the rest of the pack simply couldn’t keep with her searing pace. Linda Indergrand dug deep however and held on. Indergrand is one of the many Swiss riders who still need to secure a spot on the team for Rio and a result in Cairns could be vital. Eventually, having done enough to secure an impressive second spot, her challenge faded and Langvad broke free. Crossing the line punching the air her elation was clear. Also celebrating was the strongly supported Australian, Rebecca Henderson. Roared on by her home crowd she crossed the line in a career best third.
As the men’s field began their final preparations under the hot afternoon sun, Nino Schurter paced the holding zone like a bull. Soaked through in an effort to keep cool, he puffed his cheeks and stopped occasionally only to shake his impressive calf muscles loose. Resplendent in an all-blue riding kit, the European champion, Julien Absalon was tasked with stopping him. It was a familiar if no-less enthralling script. Sadly though for the Frenchman, a puncture on the opening climb resulted in a slow half lap back to the tech zone and an even slower wheel change sunk any hopes that he had about starting his 2016 with a win. But this was Absalon, the winner of 30 UCI World Cups, and he was in no mood to give up. Hunched over his bars, he dug deep and dragged a group of riders with him before eventually vanquishing them and returning home in a sensational third. History has taught us that when Absalon and Schurter square off over the course of a season, the smallest amount of points can be critical.
Up front, Schurter didn’t have it all his own way. A group of five was eventually thinned down to just another Swiss, Mathias Flueckiger. Again, Olympic tracksuits would have been on the former U23 World Champion’s mind. The stage was set for a final lap show down between Schurter and the young pretender but Nino’s savage pace eventually broke a weary Flueckiger who dropped back. A valiant push for the line wasn’t enough and he was left to watch the rainbow stripes of the World Champ outstretched at the line.