• 2018 World Cup winners Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff after the final round of the 2018 World Cup in La Bresse (Rob Jones) (Robert Jones)Source: Robert Jones
The 2018 edition of the XCO Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday in La Bresse, France, with Round 7.
By
Robert Jones

28 Aug 2018 - 9:12 AM 

The World Cup leaders in both the elite women and men completed the season by winning their respective races, with Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing) taking her third women's title and Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) his sixth in the men's. It was Schurter's 30th World Cup win, putting him in an exclusive club with Julien Absalon and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa.

After raining for most of the week, race day dawned sunny but cool. The sun gradually dried the sections of the circuit in the open, but it remained muddy and slippery in the woods. The 4.1 kilometre course opened with a long gravel climb before heading into the woods for some technical and muddy sections - a couple so muddy that riders had to run. They came out to a technical descent with a dropoff and a rock garden and headed into the woods again for a short section before a second climb and descent to the finish line. The women raced two shortened laps and four full laps, and the men one additional full lap.

The women's race proved to be one of the most exciting in years, with multiple lead changes as riders flatted and chased back to the leaders. Neff took an early lead, with Emily Batty (Trek Factory), Annika Langvad (Specialized), Alessandra Keller (Thomus - RN Racing) and Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Canyon Factory) chasing.

After Neff flatted on the second lap, Langvad moved into the lead, closely followed by Batty. When Langvad also flatted on the next lap, Batty moved into the lead for two laps. Neff was chasing back, but flatted again, although she finally managed to rejoin Batty in the lead at the end of Lap 5, with Ferrand Prevot.

In the final lap, Neff managed to get away by a few seconds and hold it to the finish line, with Batty coming in five seconds later, followed by Langvad at 27 seconds.

"It was pretty unbelievable today," admitted Neff. "It was crazy from start to finish. It is incredible to race in France because there are so many fans always. I raced with mud tires and maybe not enough pressure, so it was definitely my own fault. Twice I saw the race go away and I thought, 'this is it'. But I kept riding and closing the gaps, and I felt that it was still possible. This was definitely the toughest [overall] title to win, and I had to fight all season."

Neff finished the series with 1930 points, followed by Langvad 187 points behind. Batty jumped from fourth to third, 30 points ahead of Keller.

The men's race proved to be less dramatic, with Schurter pulling away on the opening lap and leading for all but one lap. Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Torpado Gabogas) and Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) kept Schurter within 15 seconds for the first three laps, with van der Poel actually joining the world champion at the front on Lap 2, but they both began to lose ground in the second half of the race. Kerschbaumer rallyed in the final lap to pull to within 12 seconds and take second place, but van der Poel crashed and suffered a slow leak, and was overtaken by Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory) for third in the last lap.

"It was my plan to attack right from the beginning and see how the others respond," said Schurter. "Every World Cup I want to try and win, and my 30th World Cup win was a big goal. And it's a good feeling to go into the world championships with a good result."

Schurter had already mathematically won the title after the previous round, but ended the season with 1861 points. Van der Poel remained in second, a distant 506 points back, while Marotte moved into third, bumping Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory).