Cross-country titans Annika Langvad, Nino Schurter take world titles at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup
Canada's Raphael Gagne took 14th place in the men's competition, while Emily Batty took fifth place for the women today in the XCO finals of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy, just behind four of the toughest-riding women in the world.
Canada’s Raphael Gagne took 14th place in the men’s competition, while Emily Batty took fifth place for the women today in the XCO finals of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy, just behind four of the toughest-riding women in the world — Annika Langvad, Jolanda Neff, Inna Kalenteva, and Maha Wloszczowska.
Langvad, riding for Specialized Racing, took top honours in the race, with the Danish rider clocking a 1:30.56 finish, 57 seconds ahead of Neff, riding for Stoeckli Pro Team.
From the beginning of the women’s race, though, it looked like Neff would be perpetuating a trend that has seen her take many podiums in the past, blasting through the terrain with a twelve second lead on the rest of the field. Quickly, it was Langvad and Canada’s Catharine Pendrel who poured on the chase, painting a target on Neff’s back to ensure that the Swiss rider’s advantage didn’t grow to insurmountable levels. For a while, the pair worked together, trying to close her gap, and reel in her lead. But only for a while.
Soon, Langvad dropped Pendrel on the climbs and pressed ahead, closing steadily in on Neff. With each descent, though, Neff would regain her lead, sometimes to the tune of 17 seconds as she bounced and jumped over the slippery, tricky terrain, her confidence on those technical downhills working very much to her advantage. As climbs approached, though, Langvad’s ascending power would find her once again in the forward position, only for Neff to once again take the lead on the descents, and so forth through the race’s final laps. Eventually, Langvad’s marathon-refined strength worked to her advantage, leaving an increasingly winded Neff behind on the climbs.
“The last two laps,” Langvad said, “I had to put the hammer down; I could feel that Jolanda was struggling and I had to put that to my advantage.”
Eventually, with the final lap underway, Langvad’s persistent pouring on of force gave her a 19-second lead, but her fortunes were nearly reversed when she crashed out on one of the course’s many slippery, hairpin descents, possibly distracted by the dogging presence of Neff on her back tire. Hopping back in the saddle almost immediately, though, meant that no precious time was lost for Langvad — something aided considerably by the fact that Neff, too, had similar problems on the same soil. Approaching the finish, Langvad’s lead remained unmolested.
It was enough to sail the 31-year-old Danish rider across the finish line first, claiming for her the first World Cup victory of her career.
“I thought, OK, I’ll just do this race for the points going for the overall team,” Langvad said after the race, seeming a little astonished by her win. After all, she had arrived in Italy barely before the competition started, fresh from the 167-km Leadville 100 race in Colorado, an exhausting course at an altitude of 3,000 metres above sea level. “I started out with very low expectations and all of a sudden I just felt really good. This race, I put everything together. I’m so happy, I’m beyond words.”
In the men’s race, the competition came down to the two usual suspects — Nino Schurter of Switzerland, and BMC Mountain Bike Racing Team’s Julien Absalon, riding for France. Florian Vogel of Focus XC Team came in third, 22 seconds behind Schurter and five seconds behind Absalon.
The precarious terrain of Italy, though, kept Canada’s Raphael Gagne 2:46 behind Schurter, giving him a 14th-place finish.
The race continued a very familiar trend seen in past competitions: Schurter and Absalon, two mountain bike titans, slogging it out for the lead. Absalon kept the pressure turned way up, employing one attack after another to try to get a lead on Schurter, curtailing his winning streak. Each time, though, Absalon would be reeled in, only to power forward again on the descents — a strategy nearly lost to him by a depressurized front tire, but only barely. By the race’s final lap, though, Schurter prevailed, aggressively gapping his competitor on the final descent of the course to take his fourth overall title on the World Cup circuit.
Both powerful riders — who clasped hands at the end of the race as a gesture of respect — are now looking ahead to the Vallnord, Andorra World Championships, where Schurter hopes to round out an almost-perfect season.
Absalon, however, will be looking for a bit of payback.