Austria and host nation Switzerland were winners on Thursday in Lenzerheide, at the 2018 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, as the XCO competitions got underway with the Junior women's and men's races. Laura Stigger of Austria repeated as the women's champion, while Alexandre Balmer brought Switzerland their second gold medal, after the Swiss won the Team Relay on Wednesday with Balmer on that team also.
Stigger was untouchable in the Junior women's five lap race, riding away from the rest of the field on the opening climb, and extending her lead throughout the race to win by over three minutes. Tereza Saskova of the Czech Republic moved into second on the first lap, but was challenged in the second half of the race by Harriet Harnden of Great Britain. Saskova managed to drop her British rival in the last half lap to take the silver medal, 34 seconds in front of Harnden.
The Junior men began in rain, making the track slick and treacherous, although it gradually dried out in the second half of the six lap race. Mathis Azzaro of France jumped out to a strong lead in the first half of the race, opening a maximum gap of 41 seconds on the second lap. His gap began to shrunk after that, with Leon Kaiser of Germany, Balmer and his team mate Loris Rouiller steadily closing in. By the start of the last lap, Balmer, Kaiser and Azzaro were together, and when Kaiser attacked, only Balmer could respond. The Swiss rider then countered to cross the finish line a slim two seconds ahead of Kaiser, and immediately collapsed after his effort. Azzaro held on for third ahead of Rouiller.
"My start was very bad," said Balmer, "and I lost 30 seconds. In my head, I thought my race was over, but I decided to get everything - for my country, my family, my team. I just kept calm, but it was very long and difficult. Leon [Kaiser] went crazy on the uphill, but I was able to come back; it was a crazy race. I am usually not so good at altitude, so I'm very happy with this race; it has been a perfect season. Now I will focus on Innsbruck [Road World Championships]."