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Victors from down under – Rebecca McConnell and Sam Gaze win short track in Albstadt

McConnell celebrates her second World Cup win in 2022, while Gaze's win is a comeback two years in the making.

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Don’t worry about confusing the two, because both Australia and New Zealand had winners on the short track on Friday.

Rebecca McConnell continued her World Cup winning streak by sprinting ahead of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Jenny Rissveds during the short track race in Albstadt, Germany. Last month, the Australian national champ won her first World Cup XCO race in Petropolis, Brazil, and just missed the podium at that event’s short track race.

Samuel Daze won the men’s short track in Albstadt ahead of former world champ Jordan Sarrou and current rainbow stripes jersey wearer Nino Schurter. The Kiwi, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix, is back on the track after nearly two years away due to injury and surgery.

Elite women’s race

Albstadt, while not known for challenging riders’ technical skills on either the XCC or XCO tracks, usually fosters tactical racing. This was on display from the gun during the women’s race; a tight group formed over the first three laps, with no rider wanting to make a move.

Finally, McConnell accelerated coming into the fourth lap. She wasn’t sure what the consequences would be.

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“I felt really good again today,” McConnell said. “The whole time it was a bit frustrating, the bunch was so big and I kept getting stuck but I had legs. When I made that move I didn’t really actually know that it stuck and I should have actually pushed on with it and not left it to a sprint.”

At the start of the penultimate lap, Sweden’s Jenny Rissveds accelerated sharply, with reigning Olympic champion Jolanda Neff on her wheel. Then it was six riders, with Ferrand-Prévot close behind the Australian. Little by little, the two made the gap and sprinted to the line. McConnell was just as surprised as Ferrand-Prévot that she was able to outsprint the European champion.

“Where did you find these sprinter legs?” Ferrand-Prévot asked the Aussie at the finish.

“I just had good legs and so I went for it,” McConnell said. “Even on the last lap it was like go for it, and get a good position. And even though it was a sprint in the finish, I had legs. Now on Sunday, I can race for the jersey, so I’m super happy with that.”

Elite men’s race

The men’s race saw similarly tactical group racing. Riding into a stiff headwind for most of the race, riders tried to stay protected. Each lap saw micro attacks, and German rider Luca Schwarzbauer, who would eventually finish fourth, spent the most time off the front.

Given that, world champ Schurter doesn’t think that the short track was any indicator of what will happen during Sunday’s XCO event.

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“It was quite tactical,” Schurter said after the race. “Nobody really wanted to go full out. There was quite a headwind, so I don’t think it was a super hard short track, it was mostly tactical so it doesn’t say much about everyone’s shape.

Schurter mostly stayed tucked into third or fourth position for the entirety of the race, along with Henrique Avancini, Jordan Sarrou, and Olympic champion Tom Pidcock. Riders battled bar to bar, staying in a tight formation through the penultimate lap.

Schurter was the first to attack during the last lap, followed by Avancini and Sarrou. Then it was Schwarzbauer, with Gaze on his wheel. At the bast of the last climb, Gaze went clear of the bunch in his race-winning move.

The win was a long time coming from the 26-year-old New Zealander who’s been mostly sidelined by injury since a successful 2018 season.

“It was only three days before Brazil that I could actually step on the bike after five weeks off from a double knee surgery,” Gaze said. “We didn’t know what to expect coming here but I’d like to think it’s the years of crawling back from the trenches that I was able to persevere for this one.”

In 2018 Gaze had two World Cup short track wins: Nové Město and Mont-Sainte-Anne. However, the only rider to have won the short track in Albstadt is Gaze’s teammate Mathieu van der Poel, who won the first stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday, as well.

Gaze said that the win in Albstadt was particularly poignant for a number of reasons, including how Alpecin-Fenix has supported him throughout years of injury.

“I’m privileged to be wearing this jersey,” he said. “It’s contagious, the team environment. I have one of the best coaches in the world. I have one of my best friends in my mechanic. This whole setup has become home to me over the last two years.”

“A lot of people gave up on me, [and] thought I was done. Even myself, I thought I was done. These guys believed in me. To give it back to them at this point is really special, but yeah, I’m not finished.” yet.