In a thrilling battle, Emily Batty attacked world champion Jolanda Neff to finish second at the Val di Sole World Cup cross country race on Sunday.
Maia Wloszczowska (Kross Racing) attacked from a group of five on the penultimate lap of racing, to claim her first World Cup win of the season. The Olympic silver medallist came out on top in a strategic race, marred by a crash off the start that took World Cup leader Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing) out of the race.
Batty looked comfortable at the front of the race, sitting in third while Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon SRAM) and Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing) attacked lobbed attacks at each other repeatedly through the body of the race. The strategy paid off, as Batty rode away from two of cycling’s brightest stars on the final lap to claim second. Neff would fade to third, with Ferrand Prevot further behind in fourth.
Rio Olympic road race gold medallist Aanna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), who chose to race in Val di Sole instead of defending her Giro Rosa title, placed 30th in her World Cup XC debut.
Canadian’s in Val di Sole
Batty’s second wasn’t the only impressive Canadian performance at Val di Sole, as both Haley Smith (Norco Factory Team) and Sandra Walter (Liv / Team Canada) backed up breakthrough results at earlier World Cup rounds to finish inside the top-20. Walter finished 18th while Smith finished close behind her in 19th.
Racing her first mountain bike World Cup in a couple years, Maghalie Rochette (Clif Pro Team) rode up through the field all the way to 41st, finishing on the lead lap. Missing from Val di Sole was Rochette’s teammate, Catharine Pendrel, who remains sidelined from racing after breaking her humerus training at home in Kamloops, B.C.
Catharine Fleury was the next Canadian, placing 46th on the steep Val di Sole course that always seemed to be climbing. Cindy Montambault (Trek / Team Canada) and Elyse Nieuwold (Pendrel Racing / Team Canada) were next across the line in 52nd and 53rd, with Rebecca Beaumont (Peppermint Racing) close behind in 56th.
How the race unfolded: Elite Women’s XCO World Cup – Val di Sole, Italy
As has become expected, Jolanda Neff took to the front of the race as a huge field flew through the grassy start loop. With little elevation to separate riders, there was still a large group riding together when a crash took out World Cup leader Annika Langvad (Specialized). The Danish rider quickly exited the course holding her wrist, but from reports since, Langvad doesn’t have any lasting injuries.
The crash caused early separation, and a group of five quickly formed at the front of the race. Emily Batty was there, along with Jolanda Neff, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Maja Wloszczowska and veteran XCO racer Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Team Merida).
Going into the second lap, Neff attacked off the front again, opening up a gap and splitting the small group on the climb. It was Batty who took the initiative to chase down the Swiss world champion, bringing Ferrand Prevot with her. Wloszczowska and Dahle rejoined as the pace slowed, bringing the group back to five.
Behind, Kate Courtney (Specialized) was being joined in a second group on course by Anne Terpstra (Ghost Factory Racing), Allessandra Keller (Thomus-RN), Elisabeth Brandau and CST-Saand-American Eagle teammates Yana Belomoina and Anne Tauber.
On the lengthy climb starting the third lap, it was Ferrand Prevot pushing the pace, with Neff and Batty marking the French rider closely. The other two faded off the back of the group, looking unable to match the aggressive pace.
Unwilling to let her rival set the pace, Neff made a wild pass as the group descended through the four-cross track, getting by Ferrand Prevot by doubling a sizeable step-up that the vast majority of riders in both Elite races opted to roll.
As the race moved into it’s second half, heading out for the fourth of six laps, the group of five was together again, as neither Neff nor Ferrand-Prevot could find more than a few feet of separation from the other. Keller had attacked the chasers, but was isolated in sixth with Courtney and Tauber closing in again behind her.
Ferrand Prevot was again pushing hard on the climbs, stretching out the group and dropping Wloszczowska and Dahle. It was a short lived advantage, though, as the Frech rider stalled on a painfully steep pitch. It was a narrow part of the course, and neither Neff nor Batty could find room to get by, and all five riders were forced to their feet. The group was back together again.
Sensing weakness, Neff tried to attack on the ensuing descent, but Ferrand Prevot wasn’t done just yet, and took to the front again as the course, which seemed always to be climbing, pointed skyward once more. While the two big names continued to throw punches, Batty sat calmly on their wheels in third.
The group’s pace slowed as Neff and Ferrand Prevot looked across at each other to take initiative in the race, allowing Wloszczowska and Dahle, who had been accordioning on and off the back of the lead group for most of three laps at this point, to once again make contact with the front three.
It was Wloszczowska who would eventually move to the front, possibly pushing the pace for the benefit of her teammate, Neff, as Wloszczowska had looked to be struggling with the pace on the climbs for most of the race. Instead, she attacked and was able to create a small gap, which she held through the wide open grass descent to the finish line. Ferrand Prevot was working hard to close to the Polish rider, with Batty on her wheel in third and Neff in the unfamiliar position of being fourth in line on a descent.
Starting the penultimate lap, Wloszczowska was still in front, but the group of five had reformed once more and was sitting on her wheel. Ferrand Prevost once again looked to lead up the climb, with Neff and Batty holding her wheel, and Wloszczowska dangling a handful of metres behind while Dahle had again disappeared off the back. Neff and Ferrand Prevot rode bar to bar, side by side up the next doubletrack section of climb, with Wloszczowska and Batty in the same position on their wheels and Dahle improbably dragging herself back to the group yet again.
A short descent shuffled the group once more, putting Wloszczowska on the front, with Dahle working her way up to second wheel. Wloszczowska attacked on the same narrow section of track where Ferrand Prevot had stalled two laps prior. With Dahle unable to follow, and no space for the others to pass, Wloszczowska quickly opened up an advantage approaching 10 seconds. The trio behind had passed Dahle, who continued to fade, but were struggling to close the gap to the Polish rider.
Wloszczowska continued to lead as the race entered the final lap, holding a five second gap over Neff with Batty close behind and Ferrand Prevot chasing. Dahle had again, somehow, closed back to within sight of the front of the race.
Neff was able to close within a handful of seconds of her teammate at the end of the lengthy first climb with Batty holding close behind. After attacking through the opening laps, it was now Ferrand Prevot that was struggling to match the leaders pace.
Attacking hard down an awkward, rocky descent, Neff momentarily regained the wheel of Wloszczowska. Showing signs that the effort was taking a toll on the world champion, she bobbled when the course took an abrupt 180 to turn back uphill. This brought Batty back to her wheel and let Wloszczowska escape back off the front with only half a lap left in the race.
Neff attacked again through a high speed descent, opening a small gap to Batty but not making any impression on Wloszczowska’s lead at the front of the race. On the ensuing climb, Neff appeared to be struggling. The Swiss rider wobbled and Batty took advantage. Canada’s cross country national champion attacked the world champion, rode past her, and set her sights forward to Wloszczowska and her first World Cup win.
Batty was within sight of Wloszczowska, but running out of time. While the gap was closing slightly, the Polish rider still held a lead as she started the final descent down to the finish line.
While Batty continued pushing hard, there wasn’t enough course left in the race. It was Maja Wloszczowska crossing the finish line first, with Batty in second nine seconds back. Neff followed through for third 30 seconds behind, while Ferrand Prevot crossed the line fourth and Dahle fifth to round out the extended podium positions.