UCI MTB World Cup Season Wrap
Canada’s Batty 3rd Overall
CROSS-COUNTRY Elite Women
Things heated up quickly and early on the World Cup MTB circuit with the opening XCO round playing out under a late-summer South African sun in Stellenbosch on March 10, where Annika Langvad (DEN, Specialized Racing) came out swinging on a brand-new track to take the Elite women’s victory. As the hotly contested season continued, several different faces graced the podium until the last round, when the World Cup trophy finally belonged to speedster Jolanda Neff (SUI, Kross Racing).
Round two in Albstadt, Germany almost felt like the season was starting again with the debut of new World Cup discipline XC Short Track (XCC) – an off-road Criterium 20 to 30 minutes in length on a compact course. If riders wished to compete for the overall World Cup title, earning points in the Short Track was essential. Langvad capitalized on her infamous horsepower and accelerated to the front of the women’s field to take the historic first win on the Friday evening. Sunday’s Albstadt XCO threw everyone for a muddy loop on a course that became nearly unrideable for all but Neff. Clearly back on form after a winter injury, she thrived in the conditions while the rest of her rivals struggled. She dominated the day, finishing more than two minutes ahead of second-place Yana Belomoina (UKR, CST Sandd American Eagle MTB Racing Team).
Neff charged off the front again in round three in Nove Mesto Na Morava, Czech Republic, but couldn’t keep away from back-to-back
Short Track winner Langvad, and the Great Dane took it in a sprint. Emily Batty (CAN, Trek Factory Racing) finally returned to her competitive self to finish fourth after a couple of disappointing performances in the first two rounds. This trend continued for the rest of the season and saw the Ontario native on the podium at every following XCO round, which she wrapped up with a stellar third in the overall standings.
The XCO in Val di Sole, Italy went swimmingly for Maja Wloszczowska (POL, Kross Racing Team), who bagged her first World Cup win since 2012, while Batty took second. Langvad, who maintained her perfect record in the XCC discipline by winning the event two days earlier, did not finish the XCO after a start crash cut her race short.
The following weekend in Vallnord, Andorra saw another legendary racer regain the top step after a few years of chasing – 45-year-old Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (NOR, Team Merida-Gunn Rita) logged her 30th World Cup victory and her first since 2015. Batty was third. The XCC saw a first-time winner in youngster Alessandra Keller (SUI, Thömus-RN Racing Team).
The final two XCO rounds belonged to Neff. She landed a decisive win in Mont-Ste-Anne, Que., with Batty third in front of a home crowd and Haley Smith (CAN, Norco Factory Team) hurtling to her first-ever top-10 result with an eighth place in a breakout season. Neff’s win in La Bresse, France did not come easily, as she was forced to battle back from two separate flat tires. But fight she did in a most unyielding style, while Batty, who could almost taste the win, had to settle for second.
While the last two XCO’s were Neff’s, the XCC’s were Langvad’s. Of the season’s six events, the powerhouse only missed one win.
Catharine Pendrel’s (CAN, Clif Pro Team) season seemed off to a decent start when she logged the top Canadian result – a solid seventh – after chasing the podium for most of the day in Stellenbosch, but she would head back to Canada with underwhelming results in the first two European rounds in May. Disaster struck in June on her first weekend home when she crashed hard during training and broke her humerus – a large weight-bearing bone in her arm that would take months to heal. She returned to competition in August just in time for the final two World Cups.
After reigning Olympic and world champion Nino Schurter’s (SUI, Scott-SRAM MTB Racing) perfect 2017 season, the question was whether he could go undefeated again in 2018. The answer came in the toughest way for the Swiss rider at the end of the first World Cup in Stellenbosch, where he was outsprinted by powerful youngster Sam Gaze (NZL, Specialized Racing) at the line. Gaze bested a frustrated Schurter, who blew out of his pedal with metres to go.
Round two in Albstadt saw Schurter take another hard hit in the debut Short-Track event. Suffering a mechanical, he was out of the running and relegated to a third-row start in the XCO race, while cyclocross star Mathieu Van der Poel (NED, Corendon-Circus) snatched the win and the pole position for Sunday’s event. Gaze finished second. Things didn’t go Gaze’s way in the XCO, however. Unable to hold the pace at the front, he then fell victim to a flat tire, as Schurter reasserted his place at the top.
Schurter was forced into a sprint again at the end of round three in Nove Mesto Na Morava, but this time he came out the winner in a photo finish over Anton Cooper (NZL, Trek Factory Team). After winning the Short Track, Gaze did not finish Sunday’s XCO when a hard fall took him out.
Schurter went on to win round four in Val di Sole, but did not go unchallenged, as XCC winner Van der Poel took the early lead and climbing-machine Gerhard Kerschbaumer (ITA, Torpado Gabogas) closed the gap to Schurter. It looked like they would have to sprint it out, but Schurter attacked on the final descent to ensure it wouldn’t come to that.
Kerschbaumer’s strong ride in Italy was a sign of things to come, as he went on to crush the competition in the thin air of Vallnord the following weekend, riding away from Schurter. Henrique Avancini (BRA, Cannondale Factory Racing), who won the XCC two days before, finished a strong fourth in the XCO.
Next up was ruthless Mont-Ste-Anne, who took her share of victims. After Gaze won Friday’s XCC, he crashed in training and broke his wrist, ending his season early. In the XCO, favourite Schurter, who suffered a broken chain to wind up seventh, yet still managed to secure the overall title with one round to go. With Schurter out of the running, fellow countryman Mathias Flueckiger (SUI, Thömus-RN Racing Team) picked up the slack to capture his first World Cup victory.
Van der Poel threw down the watts in the La Bresse XCC to grab his third win in the new discipline. The XCO belonged to Schurter, however, as he found redemption on a very slick track to take his 30th career World Cup win over a charging Kerschbaumer.
It was a tough season for the Canadian men, with Raphael Gagné (CAN, Silverback OMX Pro Team) earning the country’s best result on home soil with a 25th place in Mont-Ste-Anne. Peter Disera (CAN, Norco Factory Team) powered to Canada’s strongest European result in Albstadt with a 28th-place finish.
Sean Fincham (CAN, Forward Racing-Norco) was consistently Canada’s top U-23 men’s performer on the circuit. After sitting out the first round, where Quinton Disera (CAN, Norco Factory Team) earned the top Canuck honours with a 24th, Fincham went on to finish best Canadian in all of the subsequent rounds, highlighted by a 17th in Nove Mesto Na Morava and a 10th in Mont-Ste-Anne to wind up 26th in the overall standings. With three wins, the series title went to Petter Fagerhaug (NOR, Norwegian National Team).
The Ghost Factory XC Team dominated the U23 women’s series, with Malene Degn (DEN, Ghost Factory Racing) grabbing her first World Cup win in the Stellenbosch. After that, teammate Sina Frei (SUI, Ghost Factory Racing) took over to win all of the remaining rounds in dominant fashion. In the end, Frei and Degn finished first and second in the series, respectively. Top Canadian overall was Sophianne Samson (CAN, CVM Sigma Assurance) in 31st after an impressive 11th-place ride on home turf in Mont-Ste-Anne, with Mackenzie Myatt (CAN, Team Canada) earning Canada’s best European result with a 19th in Andorra.
DOWNHILL Elite Women
The Downhill World Cup kicked off with a new Short Track on the rocky island of Losinj, Croatia. The 2017 Elite women’s series champion Myriam Nicole (FRA, Commencal/Vallnord) rose to the occasion, winning decisively by 3.5 seconds over Rachel Atherton (GBR, Trek Factory Racing), who struggled last year with injuries. Atherton wasn’t far off, however, and found her way to the top of the podium in four of seven rounds to capture the title with her consistency. Tahnee Seagrave (GBR, Transition Bikes/Muc-Off Factory Racing) quickly became Atherton’s closest rival, snapping up two wins and three top-three’s, but disqualification at the third round in Leogang, Austria haunted her when the final points were tallied, and she had to settle for second overall.
The 2017 world champion Miranda Miller (CAN, Specialized) was the best-ranked Canadian, but she struggled to find her mojo all season, scoring only two top-10’s in the final two rounds – eighth in Mont-Ste-Anne and 10th in La Bresse – to finish the series in
The Elite men’s battle for the Cup was one of the most exciting of all time, with legend Aaron Gwin (USA, The YT Mob) charging out of the gate to take the season’s first victory in Losinj. After that, it was all about Amaury Pierron (FRA, Commencal Vallnord), who took the inaugural World Cup win of his career at round two in Fort William, Scotland and followed it up with two more in Leogang and Val di Sole. At round five in Andorra, another Frenchman earned his debut World Cup win, Loris Vergier (FRA, Santa Cruz Syndicate). Then in MontSte-Anne, world champion Loic Bruni (FRA, Specialized) finally found his way back to the top. After such a tumultuous season, it was no surprise when Enduro specialist Martin Maes (BEL, GT Factory Racing) turned everything on its ear to win the finale in La Bresse. The final points tally awarded Pierron the crystal trophy for his amazing season. Meanwhile, Finn Iles (CAN, Specialized) had a breakout season, punctuated by his first-ever Elite podium with a fifth place in Andorra. He also captured eighth in Val di Sole, behind fellow Canuck Mark Wallace (CAN, Canyon) in sixth.
Valentina Holl (AUT, SRAM RockShox Factory Racing) completely dominated the junior women’s field, winning every single race by massive margins and posting times competitive with the Elites. Piper Allman (CAN, Kovarik Racing Magura Rider Development) was the only Canadian to race a single World Cup, finishing fourth in Mont-SteAnne and earning enough points for 10th in the series.
The junior men’s competition saw Thibaut Daprela (FRA, Commencal Vallnord) win five of seven races, with Kye A’Hern (AUS, Canyon) taking two victories. Daprela earned the series title, while Canada’s Lucas Cruz (CAN, Santa Cruz Syndicate) took the top Canuck spot in seventh overall. He landed four top-10’s during his stellar season, highlighted by a fourth place in round one. Fellow Canucks Ben Wallace (CAN, Kovarik Racing Magura Rider Development), Elliot Jamieson (CAN, Norco) and Kendall McLean (CAN, Kovarik Racing Magura Rider Development) also cracked the top-10 at points during the season, showing strong potential in the development ranks.
Emily Batty took home five consecutive XCO podiums to claim third overall.
Haley Smith had a breakthrough season with two top-10 results.
Sean Fincham was 26th overall in the U-23 men’s series.
Finnley Iles earned his first Elite men’s podium in Andorra.
Miranda Miller finished 14th overall.
Raphael Gagné: best result on home soil in 25th at Mont-Ste-Anne