The battle was intense for rainbow jerseys on day four of the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz in Leogang, Austria. In all three races it was a French rider who prevailed: after Loana Lecomte claimed the U23 Women title, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot retained her golden crown and Jordan Sarrou completed the hat-trick.
Under-23 Women’s cross-country Olympic: Lecomte in a class of her own
It was a cloudy start as the U23 Women got underway for the day’s first race, but after 1:13.34 the sunshine couldn’t have been brighter for Loana Lecomte who showed her dominance over the competition, many of whom were a year older than her.
With the race distance set for one start loop and four full 3.4km laps, 39 riders representing 25 countries took to the challenging mud of the Leogang cross-country track.
Leading from the front row, pre-race favourites Lecomte and the USA’s Hayley Batten (6th at the 2019 UCI World Championships in Canada) started with a frenetic pace and hit the first full lap with a clear advantage over a talented chasing pack including 19-year-old Kata Blanka Vas (HUN), Hélène Clauzel (FRA), Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (NED), Raquel Queirós of Portugal and Italy’s Giorgia Marchet.
At the recent Nové Město na Moravě (Czech Republic) UCI World Cup races Batten experienced strong starts before fading and by lap 2 Vas (4th in last year’s Junior Women’s UCI World Championships) had overtaken her, as did Alvarado (winner of the second U23 Women XCO race at Nové Město na Moravě) by half distance.
But the 21-year old French rider, who had stepped up to win the Elite Women XCO race at Nové Město na Moravě, beating Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, was in control. Lecomte maintained an advantage of more than 1 minute to Hungary’s Vas until the end, as the pair traded fastest laps. The Netherlands’ Alvarado finished third, Batten fourth, with 19-year-old Swiss multi-disciplinary rider Noëlle Buri in a noteworthy 5th position, another rider to watch along with Vas.
Elite Women’s cross-country Olympic: Pauline powers to retain the rainbow
2019’s cross-country Olympic and cross-country Marathon UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot proved herself to the young pretenders, taking her third XCO Elite Women rainbow jersey.
The Leogang XCO course’s five laps presented lots of climbing and descents, technical throughout with muddy switchbacks, roots and drop-offs. Under the weak autumn sun, the multi-disciplinary champion was one of many riders who chose hardtail bikes.
After 2016 XCO UCI World Champion Annika Langvad withdrew and simultaneously announced her retirement, Anne Terpstra (NED) and Jenny Rissveds (SWE) were amongst the early DNFs, joined later by 2019 UCI World Cup overall winner Kate Courtney (USA).
Ferrand-Prévot led from the line, aiming to push out a gap just as she did at the final Women Elite XCO race at Nové Město na Moravě.
The front pack included Rebecca McConnell (AUS), Courtney, Ukraine’s Yana Belomoina – silver medalist last time the UCI World Championships was held here, in 2012, albeit on a different XCO track – Anne Terpstra (NED), Sina Frei (SUI) and Eva Lechner (ITA). Also in touch were 2017 XCO UCI World Champion Jolanda Neff (SUI) back from the illness, her Trek-Segafredo teammate Evie Richards in her GBR kit as was the Scot, Isla Short.
At the end of lap 1 (5.75km), the defending UCI World Champion had a minute advantage over McConnell – who was looking to improve on her 2019 UCI Worlds bronze medal – with a clear gap to the chasers. Some cyclo-cross riders, including 2015 UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion Ferrand-Prévot put their skills to good use on the most treacherous sections, and after a crash for Courtney and a stuck seatpost for Belomoina, the leader slipped but immediately remounted.
At half distance the French star led by 1.14” from the Australian, with 2014 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships silver medalist Lechner and former U23 UCI World Champion Frei – the highest placed full-suspension rider – together at 2’ back.
As Ferrand-Prévot’s gap extended at the front, the long-standing battle for third place became a fight for second. Lechner caught McConnell on the final lap, the two swapped the lead back and forth and the Italian came round the Australian to win the sprint by a split second.
“I feel great … it was an amazing race,” said Ferrand-Prévot. “It’s a good day also for France with the title for Loana in the Under 23s.”
Elite Men’s cross-country Olympic: Tricolour treble completed!
As the expected rain held off for the start of the 6-lap race, defending UCI World Champion Nino Schurter (SUI), Henrique Avancini (BRA) and many other favourites chose full-sus bikes while the lighter riders wished to capitalise on the course’s climbing demands.
The initial speed set by Milan Vader (NED) was high, with the French trio of Jordan Sarrou (French Champion), Titouan Carod (2018 French Champion) and Victor Koretzky (2106 U23 UCI World Champion) staying close, looking to make a national hat-trick.
As the field began to string out Mexico’s Jose Ulloa Aravelo and Avancini – winners of Nové Město na Moravě’s two cross-country short track races – were near the front.
Vader and Sarrou pulled away before Avancini tried to bring the chasing group back to them.
Into lap 2, Avancini, Mathias Flückiger – silver medalist in 2019 behind his compatriot Schurter – Carod, Koretzky and Italy’s Luca Braidot (2nd at the 2018 XC Euros) were grouped at +40sec behind Sarrou and Vader. Young Dane Simon Andreassen was a minute back in ninth, with Schurter a further three places and 12 seconds down. The eight-time UCI World Champion eventually pulled back to ninth, but it was just not his day.
The 27-year-old Frenchman developed his lead before Vader slid twice on lap 3, slipped back into the chasers’ grasp and was dropped, as was Koretzky. Sarrou, who had started the week on a high by winning his fourth Team Relay gold, was intent on claiming his first solo rainbow stripes, maintaining an advantage of over 1 minute.
But who would claim silver and bronze? With Avancini falling back into the clutches of Ondrej Cink (CZE), Flückiger and Carod had pulled clear from Braidot and a resurgent Maxime Marotte (FRA) to decide the other podium places. It was 2010 U23 UCI World Champion Flückiger who took the silver while Carod improved on his fourth last year at Mont-Sainte-Anne with bronze.
“I can’t believe it, I’m World Champion,” said Sarrou. “It’s a dream, I have no words!”
Follow Sunday’s final day action with the downhill finals, here and at RedBull TV.