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What Nove Mesto reveals about this year’s World Cup landscape

Photo by: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

The first World Cup of the year is always an exciting weekend. After a long off-season, riders and fans get to see whose training has paid off and who still has some work to do. With 2023 kicking off at the iconic Nove Mesto course, this year’s was one of the most exciting season openers to date.

Here are a few takeaways from a busy first weekend of cross country racing.

Cross country is on the rise

Mountain biking is attracting more attention than ever. From fans, from athletes choosing to add it to their road calendars, and from brands making new bikes.

Maybe it’s due to the attention that road stars like Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock have brought to the sport over the last. Maybe it’s because women’s racing is as relentlessly competitive as it has been for a decade. Whatever the reasons, and there are so many reasons why cross country racing is amazing to watch, it’s a thrilling time to be a fan of the sport. This should be a fantastic year!

Joshua Dubau put Tom Pidcock on the backfoot in Sunday’s elite men’s XCO. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Pidcock is not invincible

On Sunday, Tom Pidcock struggled to get along with an unexpectedly wet Nove Mesto course. It showed, again, that as natural a talent as the Brit is, even he needs some time to be at the level he, and others, expect. That level is incredibly high, of course. Olympic gold, record winning margins at World Cups, etc. But Dubau came within meters of humbling the INEOS star and Pidcock seemed to know that. In the finish area, the usually boisterous Brit was missing his usual braggadocio, humbly stating that it was a hard day, and that it was nice to win.

A very distinguished filed launches off the line in Nove Mesto. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Women’s racing is still the most exciting

The depth of the women’s field is as staggering as ever. A young rider announced her arrival among the sport’s elite by beating, in the top-5, current quadruple world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, 2022 World Cup overall winner Alessandra Keller, 2022 World Cup overall winner Loana Lecomte, and past XCC world champion and Evie Richards. The top fifteen contained Olympic champions, world champions and Olympic medalists and more young, emerging talents. Everyone loves to support a winner, but the upside of the absence of a singular star like Nino Schurter is that week-to-week racing is much more dynamic in the women’s field. And that is exciting to watch.

Evie Richards is back

Evie Richards had a rough year in 2022, battling a lingering back injury that just wouldn’t go away. On Sunday, she was back on form and leading in the early laps. Her day didn’t end where she wanted, with flat tire and a less-than-lightening-speed tire change in the pits dropping her out of first and well down into the field. The Trek Factory Racing star still battled back to fourth and nearly onto the podium. While we’re all left wondering what would have been if her tire had held air, at least until the next World Cup starts. Added to her very strong showing at a Swiss cross country race one week earlier, it looks like the Brit is back on top form.

Emilly Johnston Nove Mesto World Cup
UCI World Series / YouTube

Canada’s next generation is poised for a strong future

Canada’s best results in Nove Mesto were earned by its youngest riders. Emilly Johnston earned a podium in the under-23 women’s XCO, with Carter Woods and Cole Punchard putting in very solid results in the u23 men’s XCO. Ava and Isabella Holmgren finished third and fourth, showing again that they’re fast no matter what bike they’re on. Even in the elite ranks, it was Gunnar Holmgren finishing as the fastest Canadian with Sean Fincham putting a few rough years behind him with a top-30 finish.

Nino Schurter showed he’s on form right from the start this year. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Discovery didn’t miss a beat

There were all kinds of questions about what Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) takeover of World Cup broadcasting would look like. On Sunday, the organization showed any doubts were unfounded. The coverage was great, the drone cameras added interesting angles and, while there is no replacing Rob Warner’s personality, the new commentating teams sounded like they’d worked together for years.

Tech feed zones could be strategically crucial

UCI changes rules all the time. Sometimes small changes can lead to unexpectedly large changes in how racing unfolds. With so much changing in World Cup racing in the switchover from Red Bull to Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), some smaller but significant rules slid in under the radar.

One such rule is the reduction in feed zones. In Nove Mesto, there were two tech zones. They are the only area on course where riders can receive mechanical assistance. In the past, these tech zones have also functioned as feed zones. But in Nove Mesto, only one functioned as a feed zone. That meant more riders were holding onto bottles instead of taking a quick drink and chucking bottles to save weight. Going into the feed zone also required riders to divert off the race line which was slower. That had more of an effect because the feed zone was in a fast section of the course in Nove Mesto, so it was more of a cost to riders. Other courses could set up the feed zone differently. Or we could see this turn into a new strategic element of racing, not unlike a pit stop in F1, where riders choose which laps to take extra hydration on board.