Be­tween the Tape

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS:SEBASTIAN JAYNE PHOTO: MIKE BLEWITT

Well that was an ex­cit­ing start to this year’s in­ter­na­tional rac­ing! At the time of writ­ing we are three races in and those three have cer­tainly set the bar high for the rest of the sea­son. Since the Lon­don Olympic XCO race there have only been a few XC races that have had me on the edge of my seat. That per­fect mix of close and ag­gres­sive rac­ing, drama and an­tic­i­pa­tion is hard to come by, es­pe­cially when you have dom­i­nant fig­ures in the sport.

Kick­ing things off was the aptly named Epic World Cup in Stel­len­bosch, South Africa. To build in­ter­est and an­tic­i­pa­tion for the week­end, Red­bull TV put on a pre-race show that was great to watch. Speak­ing to Nino Schurter and Maja Włoszc­zowska about cur­rent top­ics like the short course race was in­ter­est­ing and cer­tainly set the stage for the rac­ing to come. The women’s race was an ex­cit­ing two-pronged tus­sle be­tween Pauline Fer­rand Prevot and An­nika Lang­vad. Al­though I do ex­pect we’ll see closer rac­ing in the Eu­ro­pean rounds with a pos­si­ble re­turn to the podium for Lon­don Olympic champ Julie Bres­set, who re­turns to top level rac­ing in 2018. Mak­ing up 29 spots from her 61st start po­si­tion at Stel­len­bosch was a good start!

Tak­ing the cake of the week­end was with­out a doubt the men’s race. The bat­tle be­tween

Nino Schurter and Sam Gaze was epic. Close, ag­gres­sive rac­ing with mul­ti­ple full-gas at­tacks in the fi­nal laps is the kind of race dreamed of by fans and rid­ers. The an­tic­i­pa­tion of the bat­tle for the win was mo­men­tous as was the chase by Maxime Marotte in third. The fight­ing spirit shown by Maxime af­ter re­peat­edly get­ting dropped but fight­ing back to the wheel was amaz­ing to watch. The Lon­don Olympics had the bat­tle for the lead and a few other races like that Mont Saint Anne race where Nino and Ab­sa­lon went neck and neck and Len­z­er­heide last year where Jaroslav al­most caught Nino were the bench­marks of great rac­ing, but this Epic World Cup is def­i­nitely the new stan­dard and hope­fully some­thing we can get used to.

Keeping the epic South African theme was the Cape Epic. The big­gest MTB stage race in the world seems to be go­ing from strength to strength in terms of their cov­er­age. The re­mote­ness of the South African bush may make it hard to get a full livestream sent out but what they man­aged this year cer­tainly was enough to build ex­cite­ment. The rac­ing was about as close as marathon rac­ing gets with the leader’s jersey swap­ping and stage podi­ums be­ing switched up con­stantly. Dom­i­nance may make XC rac­ing a lit­tle dull at times but some­times in marathon

it can be beau­ti­ful to watch. This is in re­gard to Jaroslav Kul­havy and An­nika Lang­vad who with their team mates won their re­spec­tive cat­e­gories. Watch­ing Jaroslav go full gas along a dirt road with Howard Grotts in the wheel and no one else may not sound great but for some rea­son I find that much power ap­plied so flu­idly to be amaz­ing to watch. Maybe I’m just en­vi­ous he can av­er­age 378 watts nor­malised over 4+ hours!

Speak­ing of ridicu­lous amounts of power, ex­cite­ment, close rac­ing, an­tic­i­pa­tion and drama, how good was that Com­mon­wealth Games XC men’s race! Sprin­kled over most of the laps was that per­fect list of in­gre­di­ents that make an amaz­ing race. Al­though, that last lap re­ceived a whole bag of each and re­ally topped off the spec­ta­cle. If you haven’t seen the race, you re­ally should try to find a re­play as that race is ex­actly what I love about XC rac­ing and the kind of race I dream watch­ing and be­ing a part of. The first part of the race may have seemed ‘slow’, but it was a tac­ti­cal af­fair that posed sub­tle tests to the top rid­ers. It all built up to a fever­ish an­tic­i­pa­tion for the fi­nale, which would un­for­tu­nately boil over, but I’ll let that stay on the track where it re­ally should have stayed in the first place.

What these three races put to­gether was ev­ery­thing I love about this sport. At times, it can be frus­trat­ing and def­i­nitely dis­ap­point­ing with se­lec­tions and pol­i­tics, the drama and ev­ery­thing else. But to those who watched along through­out the be­gin­ning of this year, se­ri­ously, like Rob­bie McEwen said af­ter the race were you not en­ter­tained?

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