2019 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz – Schurter makes it eight!
At day 4 of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec, Canada, the penultimate day of the championships brought three exciting Cross-country Olympic races. The potential Swiss domination started with a powerful ride for Sina Frei in the Women Under 23 XCO. Then we saw the Women Elite XCO, with a compelling performance from France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, before the final race of the day, Men Elite XCO, which did not disappoint.
UCI Women Under 23 XCO: Frei on fine form!
Of the 44 starters the early pace was set by a group of four led by Loana Lecomte (FRA), Martina Berta (ITA), Sina Frei (SUI), and Haley Batten (USA), with Evie Richards (GBR) and Laura Stigger (AUT) in the following group along with Rocio del Alba Garcia Martinez (ESP) at the end of the first of five laps.
Frei – silver medalist in the 2018 UCI U23 Women XCO World Championship and quadruple U23 European Champion – established a 7sec lead over Lecomte – silver medalist in the UCI Junior Women XCO World Championship in 2017 – and Berta – winner at the last round of the UCI U23 Women World Cup – by the end of the second lap. Batten was overhauled first by Stigger – UCI 2018 Junior World Champion in XC and Road – and then Richards – double UCI U23 Cyclo-cross World Champion and regular podium finisher in the UCI U23 Women XCO World Cup this year. The young Austrian soon closed down the second and third placed riders.
Into lap 4, Frei extended her advantage to more than 30 seconds, and it was Stigger on the move, leapfrogging Lecomte and Berta. As the Italian started to drop off the ferocious pace, also conceding to Richards, the Austrian and French riders continued to swap second spot well into the fifth and final lap.
Coming home first for the gold medal, the 2019 UCI World Champion for Under 23 Women XCO was a jubilant Sina Frei in a winning time of 1:16:34 – her second rainbow jersey of this championships, having been part of the Swiss team Relay winning outfit on Wednesday. Taking the silver was Stigger of Austria, 31sec later, with Lecomte of France close behind in bronze medal position.
UCI Women Elite XCO: a French renaissance
With 63 riders representing 30 nations, many expected a head-to-head between reigning UCI World Champion Kate Courtney (USA) and 2017 UCI World Champion Jolanda Neff (SUI). But a number of competitors had other ideas, including Anne Terpstra and Anne Tauber (NED), Rebecca McConnell (AUS), a resurgent Jenny Rissveds (SWE) and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) - XCO World Champion in 2015, with an amazing record across not just cross country, but also road and cyclo-cross, having worn rainbow jerseys in all three disciplines.
On the first of six laps, the three early leaders were Neff, Courtney and McConnell with Tauber and Terpstra fourth and fifth. Rissveds and Catharine Pendrel (CAN) were paired in sixth and seventh. McConnell and Neff were soon swapping first position, Courtney started to feel the pace while Ferrand-Prévot was on the move, putting the hurt on the Dutch and American riders and inching towards the lead pair.
While Neff had led, she faltered on lap 3’s Marmotte climb, and McConnell passed and pulled out a 7sec gap… and pushed again on the downhill section, stretching the lead out to 18sec at the start of lap 4, with Ferrand-Prévot at +30 and Courtney in sixth, a minute back.
Ferrand-Prévot had the momentum and as she passed Neff the Swiss rider’s head seemed to drop. Could the Frenchwoman reel in the Australian’s 29sec advantage? With a slip from McConnell on the “Hell of Saint-Anne”, Ferrand-Prévot brought the gap down, then passed her to start lap 5 with a 3sec advantage. As that lead grew out to 41sec, a resurgent Neff got sights on McConnell, drew her in, and at the top of the switchbacks climb, made her move.
Ferrand-Prévot took the win, crossing the line with a French tricolor in 1:28:51, before collapsing into the arms of Julien Absalon. Neff took the silver medal and a proud McConnell winning Australia’s first medal of the championships.
UCI Men Elite XCO: a dramatic Swiss 1-2
The seven-time UCI World Champion Nino Schurter (SUI) went into today’s UCI Men Elite XCO race as overwhelming favourite. But a lot can happen in an Olympic-distance cross-country race, especially one around seven laps of a circuit as demanding as Mont-Sainte-Anne XC. Henrique Avancini (BRA) came into the race on form, with Ondrej Cink (CZE) and Gerhard Kerschbaumer (ITA) title contenders, and Schurter’s countryman Mathias Flueckiger and the French trio of Jordan Sarrou, Stéphane Tempier and Victor Koretzky all keen and confident.
Cink went out fast, before being passed on the first lap by Avancini and Schurter, who led out a group including the three Frenchmen, Flueckiger and Luca Braidot (ITA). After a cagey start, Schurter pushed the pace on the second lap, Avancini stayed closest, but on lap 3 it was all back together, with the lead group extended to 10 riders, including Kerschbaumer and Titouan Carod (FRA).
The race yo-yo’d as Flueckiger – who took his first World Cup win at Mont-Sainte-Anne – attacked, Schurter countered, and the two Swiss broke away into lap 4, before Tempier and Avancini rejoined them. Czech champion Cink led out French champion Koretzky and Carod as the third group on track.
Flueckiger suffered a mechanical late on lap 4 and his pit-stop cost him several places as Schurter and the experienced double former French champion Tempier went clear of the chase group: Avancini, Cink and the two Frenchmen. Into lap 5, just as Flueckiger worked hard with Kerschbaumer to chase down that group of four, the reigning champion put down the hammer to ride clear from Tempier… who then punctured and dropped to fourth.
And this time, once he went away, Nino stayed away. The battle for silver and bronze went down to the wire with six riders covered by 3sec on lap six of seven… then Kerschbaumer attacked and the rest had no answer, until creulluck: a very late puncture robbed the Italian of what had looked a certain medal.
In a time of 1:27:05 Nino Schurter won his astonishing eighth UCI World title. Silver went to Flueckiger some 30sec down for a Swiss 1-2, and bronze to a relieved Tempier.
Congratulations to today’s winners, the 2019 UCI World Champions for XCO in Women Elite and Under 23, and men Elite: Sina Frei, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Nino Schurter, with the medal table showing the strength of the Swiss and French teams so far this year.
Tomorrow is the final day of these UCI World Championships and it’s the turn of the downhillers who are looking to leave Canada in style. The four events in which we’ll see 2019 UCI World Champions crowned tomorrow are the Men and Women Junior and Elite DHI.