Two back-to-back weekends of World Cup XC has kicked the season off to a fast and furious start for a hungry field making up for lost time, vying for Olympic spots, and striving to beat World Cup records. It’s been anything but predictable as athletes and teams launch into a high stakes season.
The energy was palatable as racers toed the start line for the first World Cup event in Albstadt, Germany, May 7-9. With an XCC and XCO to shake off the off-season, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot(Absolute Absalon–BMC) returned in rainbow stripes to claim her first victory in the XCC and pushed the chase pack in one of the hardest XCO courses on the circuit, sustaining enough of a gap to securely take second place.
After Nino Schurter (Scott SRAM Racing) reasserted his spot on the XCC podium, he came to the XCO looking for a record-breaking 33rd World Cup win.
I felt strong, believed in my chance to win, and I gave everything I had. I'm proud of how I raced today. If this is not enough for first place, I have to accept and keep pushing hard to end up where I want to be - on top of the podium.
Haley Batten (Trinity Racing) made her debut on the Elite Women’s XCO circuit in Albstadt with a top-three finish just ahead of fellow American Kate Courtney (Scott SRAM Racing). Batten carried this momentum into Round 2 in Nové Město, CZE, launching the winning attack in the XCC with two laps remaining to take gold and cementing her position with a second place in the XCO on Sunday.
It was an exciting race in the mud. There are so many sections where you have to be in control and technically skilled. My eyes were just all on the course. Crossing the line was the first time I realized I was in the front. I really can't believe it - it's crazy.
Rebecca McConnell (Primaflor Mondraker), Ferrand-Prevot, and Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing) battled it out in the slippery and technical conditions to round out the Elite Women’s XCO podium in Nové Město, CZE.
In the Men’s U23 XCO, Carter Woods (Norco Factory Racing) is a new face on the start line, swiftly shaking up the field by claiming Canada’s first UCI XCO wins since Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2016. Carter won the XCO in Albstadt with a 6-second lead, extending his margin to a full 1 minute 55 seconds, in Nové Město.
When its muddy like this, I had the plan to go off the front second or third lap, because when you ride the slippery, rooty sections solo it’s smoother and you can see the lines.
Current Elite World Champion Jordan Sarrou (Specialized Factory Racing) snuck into the top five of the Elite Men’s XCO in Nové Město. With two second place finishes from Albstadt and a top ten in Nové Město’s XCO, Schurter sits in second in the Elite Men’s overall ranking. Ferrand-Prevot leads the Elite Women’s overall and after crashing out in the XCC in Nové Město, she has sights set back on the top of the podium.
With the season in full swing, XC athletes have only a few weeks to rest, recover, and strategize before the next stop, June 12-13, in Leogang, AUT, where they will share the stage with the opening downhill race of 2021.
Photos by Michal Cerveny.