Laura Stigger earned her first World Cup XCC win in a thrilling sprint in front of the Nove Mesto grandstands on Friday. The young Austrian led a very strong start to the season for Specialized Factory Racing, who took three of the top six spots in the elite women’s race.
Stigger surprises field with sprint win
Laura Stigger may have ended the race on the front, but the race started with a different Specialized rider pushing the pace. Haley Batten of the U.S.A. was involved in shaping the early laps of Friday’s elite women’s XCC, trading off the leads with Alessandra Keller (Thomus Maxon) and, until she crashed, Santa Cruz’s Italian, Martina Berta.
That crash prompted the favourites to lift the pace in what had been up until that point a relatively strategic race. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Ineos), wearing one of her four current world champions jerseys, Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing) and Loana Lecomte (Canyon CLLCTV) joined Keller to keep the field stretched out for the remaining laps of the 20-minute race.
Going out onto the final lap, it was Richards pushing hard to stay on the front of the race. Keller soon worked past, bringing Ferrand-Prévot with her.
Then Stigger made her attack. Going early on the final lap, up the short track XC course’s main climb, the Austrian surprised the field and quickly had a small gap. Keller, Ferrand-Prévot, Richards, Batten and her Specialized teammate, Sina Frei struggled to follow.
Keller did catch, and briefly pass Stigger as the diminished front group approached the final two turns. As in the men’s race later that day, the final corners would prove decisive. Ferrand-Prévot tried to pass on the outside, only to have that door closed on her.
Keller led onto the 120m finish straight but had no response when Stigger opened her sprint. Laura Stigger wins the first elite women’s XCC World Cup of 2023. Keller held on for second with a hard-charging Sina Frei coming from behind in the group to take third in a Specialized 1-3. Haley Batten fought for sixth, adding another good result for Specialized Factory Racing.