Australian Mountain Bike - - Between The Tape - WORDS: SE­BAS­TIAN JAYNE PHOTO: MICHEAL JAYNE

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!

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