• To the photo! Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) and Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) cross the line almost together in Nove Mesto (Rob Jones)Source: Rob Jones
One week after contending with slippery mud in Albstadt, Germany, the XCO Mountain Bike World Cup headed to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, for Round 3, where the riders were presented with the exact opposite - dry and extremely dusty conditions.
Rob Jones

Cycling Central
28 May 2018 - 12:44 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2018 - 4:58 AM

The elite women's race quickly came down to two riders - Round 1 winner Annika Langvad (Specialized) and World Cup leader Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing). The two went to the front on the first lap and pulled away on the climbs. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Canyon Factory) and Emily Batty (Trek Factory) had their own battle behind for third place.

Langvad was clearly stronger on the climbs and Neff was the same on the descents, so they began and finished every lap together, and coming to the finish line it was the same. Langvad attacked first at 150 metres and gapped Neff to take her second win of the season. Ferrand Prevot took third, with Batty fourth and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross Racing) finishing out the podium in fifth. Australian champion Rebecca McConnell (Primaflora Mondraker Rotor) was 26th.

"I was never sure about anything out there," revealed Langvad. "It was such a tactical race and super hard. I got a little gap at the beginning, but then I had to pay for that hard effort. I thought 'you need to sit up a bit and catch your breath. Just feel good again.' When I did that Jolanda came back. I'm usually sure what I have in my legs, but that last lap I was so sure she was going get a gap on me. Based on the Short Track, I knew that I had to commit to the sprint. So I did and it worked. I'm so overwhelmed by this race, it was fantastic."

Langvad takes the series lead with 798 points, followed by Neff at 760 and Ferrand Prevot at 586. McConnell drops from 24th to 26th in the standings.

The third round for the elite men saw two lead changes in three days, with Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) losing the lead to Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) in the Short Track (XCC) on Friday and then regaining it on Sunday with his second win of the season in the Cross-country (XCO).

The race began with chaos, as three crashes happened within the first 150 metres. The worst affected of the top riders was Mathias Flueckiger (Thomus RN Racing), who went down hard, hitting his face and losing contact with the front of the race. He would eventually abandon. Australia's Dan McConnell (Primaflora Mondraker Rotor) barely avoided going down in the crash, but had to come to a complete stop, falling well back into the 80s. He worked his way back to finished 48th.

The next to be hit with misfortune was XCC winner Sam Gaze (Specialized), who flatted on the start loop, far from the tech zone. By the time he got going again he was more than three minutes back and also abandoned.

At the front, it was Schurter and van der Poel setting the pace, with Lars Forster (BMC) chasing a few seconds back. This lasted until the third lap, when van der Poel crashed in a dusty corner. His left arm was clearly bothering him as he slowly remounted and rode for one more lap before eventually dropping out.

"I saw he [van der Poel] started to struggle a little bit," said Schurter, "so I thought: "let's see if he can respond to another attack". Then I heard he crashed and injured his arm again. I'm sad for him and hope he's back soon."

This left Schurter at the front with Forster, who was dropped on the fourth lap as Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) and Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory) bridged across. these three stayed together for the rest of the race until Marotte was dropped by a few seconds in the final half lap.

The finish came down to a drag race between Schurter and Cooper for the final 150 metres, with both throwing their bikes across the line, and then waiting for the photo finish camera to confirm that Schurter had won by a tire width, his 28th World Cup victory.

"First I thought I had him," said Schurter, "then I saw him coming on the right. That's the hardest sprint I ever did. I love this track, it suits me quite well and I felt pretty good today. I wasn't able to get away from the other guys, so it was a crazy finish."

Schurter moves into a commanding lead in the standings with 780 points, while Marotte jumps ahead of van der Poel to second with 573 points. van der Poel is third at 535, followed by Gaze at 475 and Cooper jumps from 11th to fifth at 459 points. McConnell moved up a couple of spots, from 53rd to 51st.

The weekend opened with the second round of the new XCC - short track - event for the top elite women and men. Langvad took her second consecutive victory while Gaze won the men's. Van der Poel by finishing second, took the lead in the overall standings from world champion Schurter. 

Saturday saw the Under-23 riders take to the XCO track, with World Cup leader, Round 2 winner and world champion Sina Frei (Ghost Factory) taking her second win to extend her lead in the standings, while in the men's race, Vlad Dascalu (Brujula Bike) became the first ever World Cup winner from Romania. Petter Fagerhaug of Norway retained the overall lead by finishing fourth.