It was sunny and 23 degrees in the Czech Republic for Sunday’s Elite Women’s World Cup cross country race in Nové Město na Moravě, and the warm weather was just a hint of the heated battle that would unfold between Jolanda Neff and Annika Langvad on the rider-favourite track.
The contrasting strengths of the two top Women would make for dramatic racing that would remain undecided all the way to the races closing meters in an all out sprint for the line. Canada’s Emily Batty had a stellar return to form after struggling at the early season races, finishing fourth behind multi-discipline cycling star Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Norco Facotry Racing’s Haley Smith had her best World Cup result to date, finishing in 14th.
Canada’s strong Women’s cross country riders mixed big results with bad luck in Nové Město na Moravě, with Batty’s fourth being balanced by Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team) suffering an untimely puncture on the first lap, forcing the accomplished XC racer to chase through the pack for the remainder of the race. Pendrel would finish 22nd, one spot ahead of Coquitlam, B.C.’s Sandra Walter (Liv Canada) who followed up a great 15th finish in Albstadt, Germany last week with a 23rd in Nové Město. Cindy Montambault (Team Quebec) worked her way up to 33rd in the Czech Republic, while Catherine Fleury (Team Canada) had a strong start, and finished 67th.
Haley Smith (Norco Factory Racing) of Uxbridge, Ont. took full advantage of an improved starting position to claim 14th, her best World Cup finish in Elite racing. Smith finished 13th in Friday’s Short Track XC, moving her all the way up to 2nd row on the start grid. It was an opportunity Smith would capitalize on, fighting to stay in the low-teens on course all race. In the end, Smith would hold onto finish one spot ahead of Yana Belomoina, last years World Cup overall winner and current European Champion.
UCI World Cup XCO Elite Men – Nové Město na Moravě
As soon as the race began, Emilly Batty moved up quickly from her third row starting position to go over the wide open climb on the start loop in the top 10, with Catharine Pendrel and Haley Smith close behind
After letting Elizabeth Brandau lead for most of the short start loop’s road section, world champion Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing) sprinted to the front going into the first technical descent and immediately opened up a five second gap over the rest of the field, just as she had seven days earlier when she rode clear to win by two minutes in Albstadt.
Nové Město was an entirely different course than Albstadt’s muddy mess, though, and Neff had a pack of the world’s fastest chasing her on a fast, dry course this week. Batty started the first proper lap in 9th, Smith 14th, and Pendrel 19th, with Cindy Montambault, Catherine Fleury and Sandra Walter all close behind in 30th – 40th in a tightly packed race.
Neff’s opening move was quickly closed down by Annika Langvad (Specialized) with Elizabeth Brandau of Germany struggling to hold the leaders pace. A short gap back, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon SRAM) was leading Emily Batty, in fourth and fifth positions.
RELATED: Schurter saves World Cup win by a tire width in Nové Město photo finish
After passing the big rock garden descent, Langvad took her turn in the lead to attack hard up, and had 8 seconds over Neff at the top of the punishingly steep straight up hill section. Ferrand-Prevot was closing in on Brandau, while Batty was pushing away from a large chasing group containing Smith, young American Specialized rider Kate Courtney and, slightly further back, Catharine Pendrel.
At the end of lap 1, Neff and Langvad had a 10 second lead over Ferrand-Prevot and Brandau, and Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa and Batty were riding together another 10 seconds behind.
As the race hit the steep climbs, Langvad used her fitness to attack again, opening another 10 seconds gap over Neff, while Batty was riding away from Dahle Fleshaa to catch, then continue forward to move past Brandau into fourth position on course. Smith was still riding 13th in a solid group, while a flat tire on the rocky course had pushed Catharine Pendrel back into the field.
In a repeat of the first lap, Neff’s incredible descending skills brought her back to Langvad’s wheel. The two top riders contrasting styles and abilities were making for an incredibly strategic race for the World Cup win. The rest of the field wasn’t content to let the two battle for the win uncontested, and Ferrand-Prevot was close behind at 13 seconds, and Batty had closed down to 20 seconds while the front two looked at each other to take the lead.
Smith was still riding strong in 15th, just ahead of last week’s second place finisher, Yana Belomoina (CST-American Eagle).
Heading out onto lap 4 of 5, Neff and Langvad’s battle had pushed Ferrand-Prevot to 16 seconds behind the leaders, while Batty was fourth at 28 seconds. Behind them, Dahle Flesjaa was alone in fifth at 1:08 back from the front of the race.
Langvad continued to push the pace on the climb, but this lap Neff dug deep to stick with the Dane and surged to just barely squeeze by and take the lead on the descent, the first time she would lead through the rock garden since Langvad caught her on lap one. Neff wasn’t able to use the descent to any advantage, and the two headed out for the fifth and final lap still locked together in the lead. Ferrand-Prevot was at 26 seconds after the leaders acceleration with Batty still in sight behind her at 43 seconds.
Langvad was again unable to drop Neff on the climb, and the Swiss world champion pushed hard to take the lead at the top of the descent this lap instead of half way down. Neff was able to open a small gap down the steep drops, but Langvad closed immediately on the short uphill that followed and the two remained wheel to wheel. Through the rock garden, Neff was able to open up small gap of 20 feet, but Langvad again sprinted to close the gap on the next short climb, and a sprint finish was now inevitable.
Neff slowed right down to coming into the grandstands, hoping to draw Langvad into leading out the sprint. Langvad took the chance, and jumped for the line. Neff could only just catch her wheel, but was unable to pass. Langvad won her third straight Nové Město World Cup, with Neff second. Ferrand-Prevot crossed in third, and Emily Batty a short distance behind in fourth. Neff’s Kross Racing teammate Maja Wloszczowska had surged late in the race to take the final podium spot in fifth.