Between the Tape
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?