Posted by Editoress on 08/23/15
The 25th season of the Cross-country series in the Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday in Val di Sole, Italy, with the awarding of the overall titles for 2015. Jolanda Neff (Stoeckli Pro Team) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) maintained their leads in the women's and men's categories, respectively, to become the World Cup champions. While Schurter won in Val di Sole, Neff had to settle for second behind first time winner Annika Langvad (Specialized).
Canada had some strong performances, with Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) finishing fifth in the Elite women and seventh overall, while Catharine Pendrel (Luna) was fourth overall. Raphael Gagne (Canadian National Team) was 14th in Elite men - his best European result - and finished 17th overall. [Note: We have interviews with Batty, Pendrel, Gagne and Fleury Here]
Rain overnight had turned much of the course into sticky mud - referred to by one team manager as 'velcro'. The mud was transferred to many of the rocky sections, making them slippery and treacherous, and causing numerous crashes.
Neff got her usual fast start in the women's race, with world champion Catharine Pendrel and Langvad chasing through the start loop. As Pendrel faded back to the next chase group, Langvad seemed to be getting stronger, and surprisingly Neff could not open a gap on the Danish rider. By the halfway point the pair were together at the front, and when Langvad attacked on the penultimate lap, Neff could not respond, leaving the Specialized rider to cross the line with a huge smile as she scored her first win.
Behind, Pendrel was first caught by Irina Kalentyeva (Moebel Maerki), who then moved solo into third place, which she held to line. A chase group followed containing Maja Wloszczowska (Kross Racing), Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing), Adelheid Morath (BH-SR Suntour-KMC), Lea Davison (Specialized), Blaza Klemencic (Habitat Mountain Bike) and Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol). This group dropped Pendrel and then it became a race of attrition, with Wloszczowska getting away first to take fourth, followed by Batty in fifth. Sandra walter (Canadian National Team) finished 33rd.
"I must say I can't believe it," stated Langvad. "It felt so good out there today. Last weekend I did a race in Leadville [USA] at three thousand metres. This entire week I was filled with jet lag, I was exhausted, didn't sit much on my bike. I thought 'OK, I'll do this race for the points, for going for the overall team award'. Even yesterday I did some intensity on the course and I thought 'whoo, I'm tired'. So I started out with very low expectations. Then, all of a sudden, I felt really good. When you catch a good wave, you just have to stay with that feeling."
"You've all seen how I have been struggling the last few World Cups with crashes, lack of concentration. But, this race, I actually put it all together. I had a little bit of a mistake on the second last lap, but I kept it together. I am so happy. I am beyond words."
"The last two laps I really had to put the hammer down. I could see Jolanda was struggling and I had to put it to my advantage. But when you go over your limit, you go a little bit cross eyed, especially going into the downhill part. But still, I kept it together. I really wanted the win and the tears came into my eyes when I came to the last stretch and realized this is really going to happen. It is an amazing feeling."
The race shook up the standings behind Neff and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida), who were secure in first and second overall. Third placed Pendrel dropped to fourth, Davison moved up to third, and Kalentyeva bumped Batty out of fifth. Batty dropped to seventh when Langvad's win propelled her into sixth.
"Oh yes, this was a really tough race for me," agreed Neff. "Really hard. Tough climbing. Yeah, it really was a hard race. But I'm really happy I could take the overall. It means a lot to me and to take it two times in a row, yeah it's amazing."
Neff, who is still an Under 23 rider, has been permission to race with the Elite field at the world championships in two weeks, and commented "Oh yeah I am [confident about Worlds]. I have been training really well last week. I will go back straight to high altitude now. I hope I can prepare well for the World Championships. I am looking forward a lot to race Elite."
The men's race had no upsets, with Nino Schurter and his constant rival, world champion Julien Absalon (BMC) moving to the front by the second lap, along with Florian Vogel (Focus XC) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized). Kulhavy was dropped in the fourth lap and would finish solo in fourth, leaving the trio at the front.
At the front, Absalon was making an effort to set the pace so he could hit the descents first, ahead of the faster Schurter. Schurter seemed content to let him do this, as the pair pulled Vogel with them until the final lap, when a series of attacks by Absalon knocked the Focus rider off their wheels, to finish solo in third.
It was only in the final descent that Schurter showed his skills, opening a five second gap to take the win. He was partially aided by a soft tire on Absalon's bike, that forced the French rider to be more cautious in the descents to avoid crashing.
"Honestly, I didn't feel that good at the beginning," revealed Schurter, "I was struggling a bit. I was just hanging in there and tried to stay up with Julien and Vogel. Towards the end I felt better and better. I tried to stay on Julien's wheel. I knew if I could get first into the descent I could win again. It was actually a lot of drafting from my side but, yah, I feel really happy about this win here. Happy about the World [Cup overall] win also."
"It [World Cup overall] was a big goal for me this year. It started with a bit of bad luck, I always managed to get second, but now three wins in a row is amazing and a big achievement for me."
Schurter, with three seconds and three wins, had a 250 point margin on Absalon for the title. Kulhavy, with two wins, finished third and Vogel jumped from fifth to third with his placing in the final round. Mathias Fluckiger (Stoeckli Pro Team) was bumped down to fifth by Vogel.
"My tire lost some air on the first lap," said Absalon. "Maybe on the jump [in the 4-Cross section]? But it was too difficult to stop [in the pits]. I was losing time in the downhill because I was sliding with the front tire. But I didn't stop and I did all the race like this. It was not possible to do a gap even though I was pushing on the climb and I was losing time on the downhill. Nino was always catching my wheel. On the two last laps I was pushing hard. I was not thinking about the sprint. I was worried about my front tire, afraid to lose all the air. I was pushing to finish a soon as possible with air in the tire."
"Now we are all focused on the Worlds in two weeks. I think next week we will all train hard to be ready for Andorra."
In other Canadian results, Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox) was 26th, Cameron Jette (Scott-3Rox) was 71st and Leandre Bouchard (Canadian National Team) was 96th.
In the Under 23 Women's series, Jenny Rissveds (Scott-Odlo) completed an incredible clean sweep of all six events to claim the women's title, with Alessandra Keller (Strubey-Bixs) taking second overall and Lisa Rabensteiner (Focus XC Italy) jumping up to third from fifth with her third place in the final round. Top Canadian finisher was Catherine Fleury (Canadian National Team) in 17th, with Frederique Trudel (Canadian National Team). Neither Haley Smith (Canadian National Team) nor Maghalie Rochette (Luna) finished, with Smith crashing and Rochette sick.
In the Men's Under 23 series there was a change in the leadership after the final round, with Titouan Carod (Scott Creuse Oxygene Gueret) knocking Pablo Rodriguez of Spain out of the title by finishing second to Grant Ferguson (Betch.NL Superior Brentjens). Howard Grotts (Specialized) took third in the final overall standings. Neither Alexandre Vialle (Canadian National Team) nor Peter Disera (Canadian National Team) finished.