Sunday’s World Cup XCO in Lenzerheide in Switzerland ended in stunning fashion. After dueling all race, two Swiss riders – Nino Schurter and Mathias Flueckiger, crashed within seconds of the finish line.
The crash happened out of sight of the camera, leaving the audience stunned and holding the exact order of events as a mystery.
The stakes leading into the race couldn’t have been higher. Schurter had the opportunity to win his 34th career World Cup win, and surpass Julien Absalon’s record, at home in Switzerland. Flueckiger was also chasing an emotional win in his home country. And, maybe, a bit of revenge.
There’s some history…
While Sunday was expected to be another showdown between the Swiss, it isn’t the first time that their close battles have had a contentious element.
This also isn’t the first time Schurter and Flueckiger’s rivalry has flirted with disaster. In fact, at the same venue last year Schurter made a clean, but close pass on Flueckiger in a very similar spot, again on the last lap, to pass Flueckiger at take a World Cup second place behind Victor Koretzky.
You can see that pass below.
That wasn’t the only tight inside pass Schurter pulled on Flueckiger that year, either. Just one week earlier, at 2021 world championships in Val di Sole, Schurter passed his Swiss rival on the inside within seconds of the finish line. That time, the move earned the Scott-SRAM racer a world championship title, his ninth.
While Schurter celebrates, Flueckiger can be seen pounding his bars in frustration at the lost opportunity.
After the race, Flueckiger made some strong comments. The following day, he walked those back a bit in a video posted to Instagram, saying “I’m still very disappointed, but I was much more disappointed yesterday. There were so many emotions. which took over me.”
But Flueckiger went on to add “I was really surprised that he [Schurter] cut my line. He didn’t push me out, that’s true. I don’t know if I would do the same. Maybe not yesterday. But it was a smart move, and I’ll learn from it. In the future I will fight to win the world championships jersey, that’s how it is now.”
Heated reactions in 2022
This year, Lenzerheide again brought the two Swiss riders together – quite literally – in a dramatic finale. On the last lap, just before the finish straight, both riders crashed. This opened the door for Luca Braidot and Alan Hatherly to sprint for the win.
What happened between the two riders remains unclear. Both had successfully made tight passes earlier in the lap to re-take the lead, and the rivalry was clearly nearing a boiling point. Where the crash happened was on a section of course not covered by broadcast cameras. Fans live and watching on TV were left stunned when Braidot and Hatherly emerged first out of the woods, but both Flueckiger and Schurter showed signs of hitting the dirt.
Immediately after the finish line, Schurter can be seen standing over Flueckiger, who is sitting on the ground. The camera overhears shouting, that sounds like Schurter, “You are not normal, you crashed me out” while another voice cautions to be “decent.”
Flueckiger was calm, if disappointed about the exchange.
“I would say it’s just racing. We passed each other several times. He passed me pretty tight, but it’s racing. I passed him pretty tight, but it’s racing. We crashed,” Flueckiger explained. “There’s not much more to say. It’s sad for everybody.”
“It’s not nice to end the race like this,” Flueckiger added. “It is like it is. Everybody wants to go for the win. It was tight, it’s racing.”
Schurter’s and Flueckiger’s response
After, in an interview with SRF Sport, a still animated and short-of-breath Schurter was more direct.
“He [Flueckiger] tried to overtake me at a point where it wasn’t possible. He just crashed me,” the world champion said. “It’s sad. We would have been first and second. I am sure I would have won. I was in a better position than him. It was a very bad response from him.”
Flueckiger, aslo talking with SRF Sport, insisted that it wasn’t intentional but, after so many run-ins, something that was bound to happen eventually.
“We saw enough of Nino and me last year. This time it went wrong. He passed me earlier in a place where I didn’t expect it. We touched there too.”
Still, the younger Swiss star did repeat that Schurter’s tactics last season were on his mind still.
“He taught me something last year: How to overtake and how cheeky you can drive. I’m sorry. I didn’t want us to crash. it’s a pity, but unfortunately happened. This is not a time trial where everyone is trying to set the fastest lap possible. We’re racing! We don’t go overboard. But it’s about a World Cup win and everyone wants to win.”
Asked about Flueckiger’s comments, Schurter’s thoughts also returned to last year’s World Cup. “I can only interpret that to mean that he gotten over last year’s defeat yet. You can overtake without touching the other rider, but you can’t touch each other. You just can’t. Something like this must not happen. We are at a World Cup in Switzerland. Two Swiss are in front, first and second.”
But Flueckiger balked at Schurter’ssuggestion that he was retaliating for what happened the previous year.
“I acted out of frustration? No, you have to see, I’ve never cheekily overtaken him,” Fluecker retorted. “I can put my hand in the fire. I understand that he is frustrated. I’m frustrated too. I would have liked to win too. I don’t just give him an extra win just because he’s waiting for one.”
Because the crash happened off-camera, it’s hard to say who is in the right and who, if anyone, is in the wrong. With the sheer number of Swiss fans lining the course, surely video footage of the incident will emerge. Perhaps as both riders calm down, they will give a less emotional take on the days dramatic finale.
Until then, the only winners in this fracas are Luca Braidot and Alan Hatherly. Braidot attacked all race to put himself in the position to take advantage of Schurter and Flueckiger’s misfortune. He also won a brilliant sprint finish against the South African, making his first World Cup very deserved.
Hatherly, like Braidot, did more than successfully avoid the fallen Swiss. After riding with the leaders much of the race, Hatherly looked to have come unhitched as the group started the final lap. Instead of fading, Haltherly fought back to rejoin the leaders just as they hit the dirt. He earns his best-ever XCO finish in second.