Round two of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, concluded with the Elite women's and men's races.Â Both races saw a change in the World Cup overall lead, with Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools) winning her first ever elite World Cup and taking the overall lead in the women's category.Â World champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) came back from a poor race in round one to win for the second consecutive year in Nove Mesto, and also take the overall lead for the men.
The women's race saw five riders break away from the rest of the field early on.Â Zakelj, World Cup leader Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), Maja Wloszczowska (Giant Pro XC), Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) had pretty much decided what the podium would be by the end of the first lap, with only the placings to be battled over.
Engen was dropped by the other four, who stayed together until the fourth lap of the five lap race, when Lechner flatted.Â The Italian had a quick wheel change in the tech zone, but was caught by Engen, who eventually beat her for fourth.Â At the front, Zakelj attacked on the same fourth lap, dropping both Wloszczowska and Pendrel.Â Wloszczowska managed to claw her way back to Zakelj in the final kilometre, but then crashed in the last tight turn, enabling Zakelj to roll across the finish line and fully celebrate her first win.
"It feels amazing," said Zakelj.Â "I know what I achieved today was special.Â I had problems to stay with the leading group for the first few laps, but I stayed focussed and knew that on fourth lap I would make an attack.Â I just rode my race and didn't worry about Maja's race.Â I thought she might try to pass me on the climbs but I guess I was strong enough to stay in front.Â Then I was waiting for the sprint but Maja crashed, so I was able to achieve this awesome victory."
Zakelj and Wloszczowska are tied atop the standings with 400 points each; Zakelj gets the lead due to her win, with Lechner ten points behind.
The men's race got off to a similarly explosive start, with a group of eight setting the pace.Â In addition to Schurter, the group included Julien Absalon (BMC), Lukas FlÃ¼ckiger (BMC), Thomas Litscher (Multivan Merida), Emil Lindgren (Giant Pro XC), Ondrej Cink (Multivan Merida), Fabian Giger (Giant Pro XC) and the Olympic champion, and local favourite, Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Factory).
However, this group soon began to splinter under the pace set by Schurter and Absalon.Â Kulhavy crashed heavily and fell back, while every other rider, with the exception of FlÃ¼ckiger, just couldn't keep up with the two perennial rivals.Â Finally, even FlÃ¼ckiger was shed, leaving just Schurter and Absalon to fight it out, as they have so many times before.
The world champion was riding the technical sections better than Absalon, and on the last lap finally began to open a few seconds gap, but his margin of victory was a slim three seconds after over 90 minutes of racing.Â FlÃ¼ckiger hung on for third, with Litscher fourth, and a late charge putting Canadian national champion Max Plaxton into fifth.
"I'm really happy about the victory," explained Schurter, "because this is an awesome place to race.Â It fits me well, the climbs are not too long and the technical sections are good.Â Last week did not go so well, so it was a tough week coming here.Â But I had a good start today and felt really strong, so I'm happy to be back on top.Â I recognized that Julien was always losing a little bit in the downhill sections, so I tried to race at the front there and get little gaps that made him chase and get more tired."
The men's overall standings are also tied, with Schurter and round one winner Daniel McConnell (Trek Factory Racing) both at 320 points.Â FlÃ¼ckiger is third with 300 points, and Plaxton fourth at 260.