UCI World Cup legends roar back to the top step of the podium in dramatic style.
Swiss starlet, Jolanda Neff, and French veteran, Julien Absalon, re-established themselves as UCI World Cup winners in triumphant form at the third round of the 2016 season in La Bresse, France.
The night before race day had produced a dramatic thunder and lightning storm which paled in comparison with the 23 year-old Swiss riders start from the second line on the grid. Resplendent in her European Champion’s kit, Neff was in no mood for hanging around and bullied her way to the front in fine style. The series leader, Annika Langvad, admitted pre-race to being under the weather with a cold virus contracted earlier in the week and had to make do with 15th on the day. Only a last minute puncture threatened to derail Neff’s domination and sent her right back into the clutches of hard-charging Canadian, Emily Batty. Jolanda dug deep though and attacked again leaving Batty to fall victim to her experienced countrywoman, Catharine Pendrel.
After opting not to travel to round one in Cairns and being ill in Albstadt last weekend, La Bresse was about proving to the world and amassed ranks of the Elite XCO women that Jolanda Neff means business in 2016. As the summers big races loom on the horizon, it’s a threat she looks capable of making good on.
In the men’s race, there was only one man anyone wanted to talk about. Julien Absalon’s piercing gaze fixes hard upon anyone entering the small Voges town from a huge billboard; this is very much Absalon country.
Bad luck had plagued the local man throughout this season though but there’s never been any denying his fight. Mathias Flueckiger impressed early on with his searing pace which forced Absalon and the series leader and perennial danger man, Nino Schurter, to dig deep to weather. The title rivals were inseparable in Albstadt and it looked like they were lining up a repeat performance until a flat rear tyre forced Schurter into the tech zone but only after hemorrhaging time. Absalon never looked back and duly ticked the laps off carried around on a wave of noise. If Schurter was disappointed to have lost so much inertia then he was in for a double dose of bad luck as a second puncture saw him back in for yet another change of rear wheel. Impressively, he was able to recover and push himself back through the ranks to claim a fourth, enough to leave France with his series lead intact.
For Absalon, there was no time for such far-sighted thoughts, as he crossed the bridge for the final time he eyed his family and friends across the La Moselotte river and punched the air in celebration. It was a win which was to wow the crowd further thanks to an unprecedented French whitewash of the podium courtesy of sensational rides from Maxime Marotte and Victor Koretzky. Absalon rated the victory as one of the most emotional of his career and after a year away from the top step it’ll prove to be a welcome return to form ahead of the next few months hectic schedule of racing.