After the long layoff, the quickfire UCI Mercedes-Benz World Cup for XCO went with a bang, with first time winners and the young talent confirming themselves as genuine Elite riders after stepping from U23s. But they didn’t have it all their own way, as the established riders fought back – World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot winning and Henrique Avancini beating Nino Schurter in a sprint to take the last XCO wins.
The winners of the first two XCO World Cups, Denmark’s Simon Andreassen (aged 23) and France’s Loana Lecomte (21), were both Elite debutants. We also saw two XCC wins for Britain’s Evie Richards (23) in her first ever Elite races – both in photo finishes from Ferrand-Prévot! – and the first Men’s XCC going to Mexican Jose Ulloa (24) for his first Elite win before Avancini’s XCC win eventually set up his first XCO World Cup victory.
“I went full gas… It’s better to be at the font and choose my line,” said XCO winner and double World Champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. “I had surgery in January. I feel so much better and I think I’m ready for next week.”
“I think the 97s year, we had so many strong guys,” said XCO winner Simon Andreassen. “We all pushed each other hard in the U23s and we’re all bringing up a high level to the Elite category this year.”
“It’s a dream that was inside me for around 20 years,” said a tearful Henrique Avancini. “Such a special moment for me and for my country.”
The 2020 UCI Mercedes-Benz World Cup for XC came down to two rounds across a week in Nové Město na Moravě (Czech Republic). The challenging technical course included a steep rocky climb, a rock garden descent, rooty jumps and fast tarmac with a tight hairpin. If that wasn't enough, throw in and a year without top-level competition and a storm dumping wind and rain across Europe. Here’s how it played out…
The action began with the Under 23 Women’s XCO races. It was a first win for Italian U23 Champion Giorgia Marchet (ITA) by 9 seconds from Carmen Alvarado (NED) and 17 seconds from the USA’s early leader Hayley Batten. Alvarado got her victory in the second race, beating Marika Tovo (ITA) and Hélène Clauzel (FRA), who edged out Batten who had led again before fading.
The U23 Men saw two wins from Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock in his first XCO World Cup – fresh from riding in the Elites in the UCI Road World Championships in Imola – the U23 Cyclocross World Champion showing his legs work in any discipline. He beat the Swiss pair of Alexandre Balmer and early leader Vital Albin in the first XCC, and rode away from USA’s Christopher Blevins and Albin in the second by more than a minute.
“Honestly don’t know what I did because I don’t really know what I’m doing yet,” said Pidcock.
Elite Women: young blood and the world’s best
2019 World Cup overall winner Kate Courtney wanted to defend, despite no racing in 2020. 2017 World Champion and current European Champion Jolanda Neff, after recovering from injury at the start of the year, was below par, and climbed off halfway through the 2nd XCO. And whatever the threat from the new generation, all eyes were on the rainbow jersey, Ferrand-Prévot.
The first XCC race, on Tuesday, saw the amazing breakthrough ride from Evie Richards, putting down the power to win on her Elite debut, in a photo finish from Ferrand-Prévot, and the young Lecomte.
Thursday saw the first, muddy Olympic distance race. Ferrand-Prévot pushed the early pace, shadowed by her countrywoman Lecomte – they were World Champs team relay bronze medalists together at Mont-Sainte-Anne (Canada) in 2019 – and the chasing group being joined by the 25-year-old new French champion Léna Gérault. At mid-distance, the youngest Frenchwoman pulled away, forcing a 40-second gap over her mentor, who was beginning to look back at Anne Terpstra (NED). And that was the podium order, the winning margin 30 seconds.
In the second short course race, Richards proved that her first win was no fluke, getting up from a last lap crash to push back to the front and assertively clinch another victory from the World Champion. 20-year-old Laura Stigger (AUT), the youngest in the race, finished third.
“I was in a bit of pain and frantically trying to get back to the font,” said Richards. “I feel maybe the short track is for me… I’m really enjoying it.”
The young trio of Richards, Lecomte and Stigger all knew a result was possible in the final Elite Women’s race. Could Courtney, who had finished 6th in each of the first three races, improve? “I thought four races in a week might be too much, I started to get stronger each time I line up”. But it was not to be. And with three podiums and no wins, would Pauline Ferrand-Prévot reassert herself? The answer was an emphatic yes.
As the World Champion pushed early she looked unbeatable. It finished the same top three as the first XCO race, but with Ferrand-Prévot 21 seconds clear from Terpstra, and more than a minute ahead of Lecomte. Four podiums for Ferrand-Prévot, and the final one on the top step.
Elite Men: shake-up and return to order
Jose Ulloa won Tuesday’s first XCC race in a sprint finish for his, and Mexico’s, first ever XC World Cup win, beating the established French duo of Victor Koretzky and Maxime Marotte. Schurter’s early crash – on the muddy jumps – saw him slip to 33rd and a back row start for the first XCO race.
In Thursday’s first Elite Men’s XCO race, 31-year-old Avancini and 32-year-old Mathias Flückiger (SUI) forced the early pace, before the young Dutchman Milan Vader – aged 24 – and Simon Andreassen took to the front with Marotte in the final two laps. Andreassen won clear from the Frenchman as Vader faded. 34-year-old Schurter worked his way back through the field, getting the better of Avancini in a sprint.
“It was a big honour for me to show the Danish jersey,” said Andreassen, a week after becoming national champion – and a few days after his 23rd birthday.
The next day Avancini – former UCI XC Marathon World Champion – turned on the burners for the second short course blast to restore some of the established order. He beat Thomas Litscher (SUI) and Max Brandl (GER) in a sprint. Schurter took sixth, setting up with a front row start for the final race.
The last race of a fascinating week was set up for Schurter’s revenge. Looking to take his 33rd World Cup win to equal Julien Absalon’s all-time record, Nino followed Pauline’s example and went out hard.
At half distance, Schurter and Koretsky led with Vader on their tail, and Andreassen, Avancini, Filippo Colombo (SUI) and E-MTB World Champion Alan Hatherly (RSA) all in touch. Starting lap 6 of 7, the top 10 were covered by 10sec, with Schurter and Avancini trying to push clear on the long climb. Ultimately it came down to a sprint, when it was Avancini who took revenge, pipping Vader who claimed second in a photo finish from Schurter.
If this week was not quite a changing of the guard, it certainly heard loud and clear warning shots fired. It’s been an intense and unique XCO World Cup season, and we can’t wait for next week’s UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz.