• Jolanda Neff (SUI) Kross Racing Team. (Rob Jones)Source: Rob Jones
After a hiatus of two months, the XCO (cross-country) UCI Mountain Bike World Cup resumed over the weekend in Albstadt, Germany, with Round 2. In addition to the usual cross-country events for Elite and Under-23 men and women, Albstadt hosted the first ever XCC competition - the Short Track.
Rob Jones

Cycling Central
22 May 2018 - 12:19 PM 

Racing opened Friday with the Short Track; a new event for the Elite categories. The top-40 women and men race a shortened circuit for 25 minutes, with the first 16 in each event getting prime starting spots in the first two rows, plus valuable World Cup points. Annika Langvad (Specialized), the winner of Round 1 for the women, took the women's race, while cyclo-cross pro turned mountain biker Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) won the men's. The big loser was world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) in the men's race - he had to drop out after suffering problems with his electronic shifting and ended up starting the cross-country on the third row.

A single race took place on Saturday, the Under-23 men's cross-country, with Joshua Dubau of France the winner. Dubau rode away from Antoine Philipp (Veloroc BMC) and Jonas Lindberg of Denmark for the victory, with Round 1 winner Petter Fagerhaug of Norway finishing fourth to retain the overall lead.

It was Swiss world champion day on Sunday. All three of the races contested were won by the reigning world champion, and all three were Swiss, with Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing) winning Elite women, Nino Schurter winning Elite men and Sina Frei (Ghost Factory) taking Under-23 women. All three also moved into the World Cup leader's jersey with their wins.

Rain through the week and on the morning of the race made the circuit muddy and slick, with almost every rider in the Under-23 and Elite women's races crashing at least once on the steep and technical descents. By the time the Elite men rode in the afternoon, the track was starting to dry up a bit and they did not face the same conditions.

Neff seemed to relish the conditions and was already 30 seconds ahead of the rest of the women's field by the end of the start loop. Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team) had a strong start, and was in seventh place after the start loop, but went down hard on one of the drop-offs, falling to the mid-teens before finishing 19th.

Alessandra Keller (Thomus-RN Racing) spent most of the racing chasing Neff solo in second place, until the final lap, when she was caught by defending World Cup champion Yana Belomoina (CST Sandd American Eagle) and Anne Tauber (CST Sandd American Eagle), who took second and third, still over two minutes behind Neff.

"The conditions were my best friend today," said Neff. "When I heard that it was going to be muddy and rainy, I was the happiest person on earth. I love these condition and I love mountain biking. Today we had a real mountain bike race and I loved every second. A two minute gap [over second place] was my goal. I knew the conditions were going to play in my favour. It was like La Bresse [France] a couple years ago, we had similar conditions and I loved it. I knew if I could be the first through the downhills I could use it to my advantage. I just tried to be in front and from there it went all smooth."

Australian champion Rebecca McConnell (Primaflora Mondraker Rotor) fell back to the mid-30s on the start loop, recovered to 25th by mid-race, but then lost spots in the final laps to finish 35th.

Neff jumped from sixth to first in the standings with 480 points, while Round 1 winner Annika Langvad (Specialized) fell to second after struggling in the muddy conditions, finishing 29th. Tauber remains in third place. McConnell drops from 15th to 24th in the standings.

In the Under-23 women, Frei took the lead from the start and never looked back, setting the fastest lap times on all but one lap. Evie Richards (Trek Factory) slotted into second for the entire race, with Round 1 winner Malene Degn (Ghost Factory) in third.

Nino Schurter definitely had something to prove in the Elite men's race. He had lost the first round of 2018 after sweeping the Series in 2017, and then did not finish the Short Track race on Friday, relegating him to the third row of the start grid.

By the end of the start loop, Schurter was firmly in control at the front of the race. He was joined for the first laps by cyclo-cross pro turned mountain biker Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory), Mathias Flueckiger (Thomus-RN Racing), Lars Forster (BMC) and Round 1 winner Sam Gaze (Specialized).

Gaze flatted and eventually dropped out of the race, while Flueckiger also flatted and Forster could not handle the pace, and were replaced by Stephane Tempier (Bianchi Countervail) and Jordan Sarrou (KMC-Ekoi-SR Suntour).

When Schurter ramped up the pressure on the fourth lap, only Tempier could go with him, leaving van der Poel and Marotte chasing 13 seconds back. Schurter dropped Tempier on the penultimate fifth lap, while van der Poel dropped Marotte for third.

"It's a really good feeling to have my first World Cup win of the year," said Schurter. "I was quite disappointed after the Short Track, with the hard luck with a mechanical. It's a nice relief [to win]. The first lap I was lucky, I was able to ride well and into the first corner I was at the front. It's important to be at the front. Third row was okay, but it definitely makes it more difficult."

Australia's Dan McConnell (Primaflora Mondraker Rotor) finished the start loop in 40th place and struggled with the muddy conditions, dropping to 57th by mid-race before recovering to finish 48th.

Schurter leads the standings with 450 points, a slim 15 point margin over van der Poel, with Marotte at 385 points and former leader Gaze at 350 points.