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McConnell stamps authority on women’s World Cup series

Sandra Walter leads the Canadians in Czech

Photo by: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Rebecca McConnell’s fantastic start to the 2022 season continues to gain momentum. The Australian dominated the women’s cross country race in Nové Město on Sunday, riding alone from the first lap onwards to claim a third win in as many races.

“My goals have been well and truly achieved for the year,” the Australian beamed after the finish, adding “I’m just living the dream.”

Sandra Walter led the Canadians in Czech, breaking into the top-30.

RELATED: Four Canadian juniors storm Nové Město top 10

Keller (left) and Rissveds (right, with Jackson on her wheel) started fast in Czech. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Jackson shines off the start

Off the start, Canadian national champion Jenn Jackson (Canyon MTB) hops on fast wheels from her second-row start, sitting behind Jenny Rissveds (Team 31), who leads, and Alessandra Keller (Thomus Maxon). Jackson is fighting along the fencing, but finding room and staying at the sharp end of the race.

It’s Rebecca McConnell (Mondraker Primaflor), though, leading into the first single track on the start loop. The World Cup leader is already opening up a gap to Rissveds and Specialized’s duo of Sina Frei and Haley Batten.

McConnell leads off the start loop and onto the first proper lap with a two-second advantage over Rissveds. That pair already has 12 seconds over Batten, Jolanda Neff (Trek Factory Racing), Frei and Loana Lecomte (Canyon Cllctv). Jackson is in 20th, part of a large third group chasing.

Rissveds briefly joins McConnell on that first lap but the Australian takes off on a climb and, with a gap, absolutely flies through Nove Mesto’s rocky descents. The World Cup leader clearly has no plans of waiting for company in Czech.

Jenny Rissveds briefly followed McConnell early on in Nove Mesto. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Rissveds and Lecomte take chase

Rissveds, for her part, appears to be pacing more carefully. She’s soon joined by the dominant rider of 2021, Loana Lecomte. Keller chases close behind, but can’t quite catch the wheels in front of her.

After two laps, McConnell already had a dangerous 21-second advantage over the chasing duo. Gaps are opening up fast in the field, even with the fast, dry conditions in Nove Mesto.

There’s a mix-up in the chase group behind as short track world champion Sina Frei crosses wheels while reaching for a bottle in the feed zone and goes down hard. The Specialized rider is quickly back on her bike and rejoins the chase behind Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing) and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (BMC)

Loana Lecomte leads Rissveds through the rocks of Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
McConnell in a race of her own

Going out onto the second half of the seven-lap race, McConnell is maintaining a 20-second gap over Lecomte and Rissveds. Keller continues dangling just behind that duo but is losing ground due to a rear flat tire. Neff, the reigning Olympic champion, is working her way back towards the front in fourth.

The Lecomte-Rissveds duo gets the gap down to as little as 14 seconds at times, but McConnell is attacking the descents and keeping the gap consistent every lap at 20 seconds.

On the penultimate lap, that time gap remains unchanged. But Lecomte is opening up an advantage to Rissveds behind her. Behind, the race has exploded. Neff is fourth on course, but 1:30 back. Caroline Bohé (Ghost Factory) separates from the chase group to catch, and pass Neff. Keller is still fighting for position, 12 seconds back in sixth.

Rebecca McConnell was in a class of her own on Sunday. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
McConnell makes history

Going out onto the final lap, it’s all about McConnell. Lecomte’s efforts only serve to maintain the gap at 17 seconds. Rissveds is a further 30-seconds behind the French woman. Neff uses her descending prowess to eke out an advantage over Bohé. The under-23 rider still has the momentum, though, and works back past Neff on the climb. Moana Mitterwallner (Cannondale) is also putting pressure on the Olympic champ as the fight for lesser positions heats up.

McConnell enters the grandstand area already beaming, smiling and waving to the Czech crowd. The Australian, who only won her first World Cup a month ago, now enters an elite group of four riders to have a perfect start to the season and win the first three World Cup races of the year. Canada’s Alison Sydor, U.S. icon Julie Furtado and Norweigan Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå are the only other riders to have won the opening three rounds.

Rebecca McConnell is enjoying her run at the top of the podium. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

“I knew coming into this race that I’m in the best form of my life. I wasn’t really sure how to attack this race, and we decided that going for a podium was the better way to approach this race instead of the pressure of going for a win. So I’m speechless again,” McConnell shared after the race. While she rode solo, the Australian was keeping close tabs on the chasers. “I always seem to have a good run in Nove Mesto, and the start loop really broke it up this year. I was riding alone in the wind and looking back, and Lecomte was always in the wind too, jenny never seemed to be on the front.”

With three wins in XCO and one XCC World Cup to boot, McConnell now leads both series. Asked if she’s started thinking about the overall titles, the Australian is cautious.

“Last year we had six World Cups, and this would be a really good advantage if there were six this year. But with nine World Cups, it’s still early days. My goals have been well and truly achieved for the year, I’m just living the dream”

Jolanda Neff raced her 50th career World Cup on Sunday in Nove Mesto. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Lecomte is second, a tired Rissveds finishes third. Bohé leads out Neff, who sprints past the young Danish rider to take fourth place at the line. It’s the Swiss star’s 50th World Cup start and only fitting that she stands on the podium.

RESULTS: World Cup XCO #3 – Nové Město na Moravě

Emily Batty follows teammate Jenn Jackson in Nove Mesto. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Canadians in Czech

Sandra Walter (Liv) leads the Canadian women, in 28th. It’s another strong finish from the perpetually speedy Coquitlam, B.C. racer.

Jenn Jackson started on the second row and was riding in that position through the opening lap. An early mechanical sent the national champ backwards through the field, as far back as 60th on course, before chasing back for the remainder of the race. Jackson set top-20 lap times for the final four of seven laps to work back to 34th on course.

Laurie Arseneault and Emily Batty of Canyon MTB racing finished 43rd and 44th in the women’s race. Haley Smith (Maxxis Factory Racing) followed close behind in 46th. Cindy Montambault (65th), Mackenzie Myatt (66th) and Dana Gilligan (75th) complete the Canadian results.