America’s women’s cross country program is enjoying an incredibly resurgence this season. Between Kate Courtney and Chloe Woodruff, the stars an stripes were on top at every World Cup round in 2019, until now.
Jolanda Neff ended the streak on Friday, out sprinting Courtney and Alessandra Keller to win the Short Track XCC World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra. Remarkably, it is the Swiss rider’s first XCC win since the fast-paced format was introduced in 2018.
“It’s really exciting, I’ve been trying so long to win one of these” Neff said after the finish line. “I finally had the patience and it worked.”
Women’s Short Track XCC – Vallnord, Andorra
The majority of the tactical, 22 minute race was controlled by another Swiss woman. 23-year-old Alessandra Keller was either on the front dictating pace, or chasing down riders who tried to up the tempo. Despite a relatively controlled pace, the lead group dwindled down to eight riders by the time the group entered the final lap. Steep climbs, altitude, and dusty trails made it difficult on racers, and the effort showed.
Keller continued leading into the final lap, and held position until the race’s dying metres. Over a steep, wooden bridge, Courtney tried to attack on Keller’s right and for the line. Keller responded, holding off the American World Champion. But it was Neff, on Keller’s left, who had the kick to make the pass.
Neff took her first World Cup Short Track win. Keller held off Courtney for second.
Canadians had a strong showing in Andorra, with two inside the top ten and four riders making the 24-rider cut-off for a preferred position on Sunday’s XCO start grid. Two time world champion Catharine Pendrel stayed with the front group the entire race, finishing seventh. That put’s the Clif Pro Team rider on the front row for Sunday. Emily Batty showed signs of a return to form in Andorra, riding steadily through the field to finish ninth.
Sandra Walter finished 19th and Haley Smith 24th, each earning a third row start in the XCO.
Men’s Short Track XCC – Vallnord, Andorra
In the absence of Mathieu van der Poel, the men’s Short Rrack XC was wide open. In the end, though, it was a repeat winner that emerged from the field. Henrique Avancini won his, and Brazil’s first World Cup in the XCC at Andorra last season. He was on the top step again today.
Like Keller, Avancini controlled the field for much of the race. In his wheels were Gerhard Kershbaumer, winner of the XCO in Andorra last year, Nino Schurter, and a quartet of French riders.
Coming into the final lap, it was looking like a repeat of the women’s race. Avancini towed Schurter and Maxime Marotte through much of the final lap and both were closing on the Brazilian towards the line. With a professed love for racing at altitude, Vallnord sits over 2,000 m above sea level, Avancini was not to be denied. He made one more surge for the line holding off Schurter, in second, and Marotte in third.
Canada’s lone entry in the men’s XCC was Peter Disera. The two time elite XCO national champion rode strong to finish 18th, putting him on the third row for Sunday.
Unlike Neff, who finally has an XCC win, Schurter still hasn’t found the key to unlock his first win in the Short Track format. His second place, though, does bring him closer to van der Poel’s World Cup series lead. With a good result on Sunday in the XCO, where Schurter has had no problem winning, the Swiss rider will step into the white leaders jersey by the close of the weekend.
You can watch the replay of the exciting XCC races from Vallnord, Andorra here. Racing continues tomorrow at the first combined XC / DH World Cup of 2019. Saturday is downhill finals. On Sunday, its back to skinny tires for the Olympic Cross Country (XCO) event.
Full results from the 2019 Short Track XC in Vallnord, Andorra can be found here.