Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.
This week we’ll take a different approach and focus on last weekend’s UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. It was the third round of the seven-round series and a good time to check in as the cross-country World Cup breaks for a month before resuming July 6 at Val di Sole, Italy. Looking for gravel news with Dirty Kanza coming up Saturday? We’ve got you covered right here >>
Without further ado, here are five takeaways from round #3 of the XC World Cup.
1. Van der Poel is the real deal (if he doesn’t crash)
In a sport that increasingly rewards specialists, Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) is a rare crossover act. The former world cyclocross champion is absolutely brilliant in World Cup XC, adding a new dynamic to the front of a men’s scene long dominated by Nino Schurter (SRAM-Scott) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized). Unfortunately on Sunday at Nove Mesto, he crashed out of the race while wearing the World Cup leader’s jersey. He’d just finished second in the Czech short track, and with a third-place finish to his credit the weekend prior in Albstadt, Germany, it was easy to imagine him scoring his first MTB World Cup win. A nagging wrist injury led to a crash, which ironically aggravated that same wrist. Based on his Instagram post after, it seems like he didn’t sustain any major injuries, so let’s hope he’s on track to be back at the front in Val di Sole.
2. Short track cross-country is good for the Americans
The big change in this year’s cross-country World Cup is the introduction of short track racing. These aren’t just exhibition races either. The top-eight finishers get to start front row in that weekend’s cross-country — a huge advantage in these all-out races. This may be giving American racers a leg up in World Cup racing. They finished well in Albstadt and continued the trend in Nove Mesto with Chloe Woodruff (Pivot-Stan’s No Tubes) riding to fifth. She went on to finish 13th in the XC. The weekend before, Kate Courtney was sixth in the short track and rode to 10th in the XC.
3. Nove Mesto is downright nasty
Along with van der Poel, a number of prominent riders were felled by mechanicals or crashes on the rocky track through the Czech forest. Right off the bat, there was a big crash at the start of the men’s race. Soon after, short track winner Sam Gaze (Specialized) suffered an early crash and a flat tire. He had to abandon. One unlucky rider was standing in the pits for minutes as his mechanics wrestled the grips off, then back on his bike while replacing a shifter (maybe try lock-on grips next time?). And in the heated battle for fifth place in the men’s race, former Olympic champ and hometown hero Kulhavy stood up to attack the track’s rocky, steep climb only to have his chain derail, knocking him out of contention.
4. Kate Courtney is wise beyond her years
Speaking of mechanicals, another Specialized rider, Courtney, had some trouble in Nove Mesto, but she took it in stride. Although just 22 years old, she’s riding with the poise of a seasoned pro. After a minor crash at the bottom of the “BMX” descent, she ran around a corner with her bike and remounted, only to find her chain was off. In the time it took to fix things, she fell out of the top-10 to 13th with only a few laps to go. Undeterred, Courtney rode her way up to ninth place. She’ll leave Europe ranked 13th in the UCI’s overall XC standings. Not bad for a first-year elite racer.
5. Both men’s and women’s fields are competitive as ever
Gone are the days when XC mountain bike races devolved into dirt time trials. Both men’s and women’s elite races at Nove Mesto were down-to-the-wire duels. In the women’s race, we were treated to a battle between Danish champ Annika Langvad and world champ Jolanda Neff (Kross). Langvad jumped early in the sprint to win her second XC World Cup of the season. Similarly, in the men’s race, after an early move by Schurter and van der Poel was reeled in, the Swiss world champion faced a young challenger in the form of Anton Cooper (Trek Factory Racing). After Maxime Marotte (Cannondale) was dropped on the last lap, Cooper clung to Schurter’s wheel on the final steep climb. They entered the stadium together, sprinting shoulder-to-shoulder on the tarmac, and it came down to a photo finish. Schurter won by the narrowest of margins in a bike-throw. But this won’t be the last we hear from Kiwi champ Cooper who is just 23 years old.
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