The XCO World Cup series this year certainly has a different feel to it. Gone is the predictability of last year as while Nino has won two out of three World Cups those races have played out in a very different manner than we’re used to seeing. They have been a diverse mix of full-gas explosiveness and aggression.
The Albstadt World Cup was a beautiful mess. Practice was a ridiculous mess with A-lines either closed or blocked with bodies strewn down the steep chutes. They were some of the toughest behind her was epic. And then the topsy turvy carnival of the elite men’s race started. Some say it wasn’t a mountain biker’s course being less technical, but it certainly wasn’t less exciting. With Sam Gaze controlling the race, Mathieu Van Der Poel pushing through a broken scaphoid and Nino Schurter crashing, only to come back for a threeup sprint with the other two, was, I use this word too much but, epic and certainly aggressive.
What a show it seemed to set up for Sunday’s XCO. Who would have thought so many of the front runners in the men’s race would end up as DNFs. Maybe a combination of things caused so much ‘tragedy’ in this play or maybe everyone is just a lot hungrier and pushing the limits more. A lot of riders have had their noses in the wind this year at the front of the pack and once you’ve been there once, a lot of riders just want to go back. Or maybe conditions I’ve ridden in and that was when there was mud. When the mud was pushed to the sides, we were left with ice-like hard pack limestone that became so slick that once you were on it you practically fell to the bottom with both wheels skating underneath you. These conditions made Jolanda Neff’s race on Sunday even more amazing. Her aggressiveness paired with the fluidity she used to tackle those descents in the worst conditions of the weekend was seriously impressive. To put over two minutes just a whole bunch of random stuff happened and there was no reason for it at all.
The course this year lent itself to a much more aggressive style of racing with two of the four climbs on the course shortened from around one minute to just under thirty seconds and the course was dry. Even in practice you could tell you were going a lot faster. The shorter climbs meant that once you got to the longer climbs, you were climbing faster as you hadn’t gone as deep on the previous climb.
This also meant that there was less of a challenge to separate riders, which can be shown in the results. Usually the top 70 finish on the lead lap, with the rest lapped out, but at Nove Mesto 104 people finished on the lead lap. This meant those 104 riders were all jammed into a much shorter into second place when second to sixth were split by less than one minute, shows just how much better she was that weekend.
While Jolanda showed an aggressive fluidity, Nino showed an aggressive explosiveness that was simply ridiculous. His attack up the first climb of the start loop, when he made the other best mountain bikers in the world look like they were standing still, was amazing. He was absorbed into the group in the next climb, but after starting on the third row of the grid after his mechanical in the short course, you do wonder how much of that attack was reminding everybody just who they were messing with.
The short course at Nove Mesto was live streamed on Redbull TV for the first time and everyone is thankful they did. To see Annika Langvad’s last lap attack and to see all the grimacing faces space of time which means closer racing. This extended all the way to the top with every race except the U23 men’s ending in a thrilling sprint finish. As a fan this was exciting, as a racer this was enticing. Being able to battle with someone instead of just lapping around sounds like the best kind of racing.
I didn’t make it off the start line after someone snapped their chain in front of me and I piled into them. I’d say all I need is some UCI points to move up the field to get out of this trouble, but seeing that the right-hand side of the second row was taken out and Mathias Flueckiger ended up head butting the crowd, maybe we just have to put it down to the randomness of bike racing and get on with it!