UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Cross-country Elite titles go to Ferrand-Prévot and Schurter
After rain all week, the sun finally came out for the Elite races. However, the course in the forested sections was still heavily soaked, and the muddy conditions made rock sections slippery and treacherous, with almost every rider crashing at some point in their race. The Women's race was almost 20 minutes over the usual time due to the difficult conditions, and the Men's race was subsequently shortened by one lap.
The Women's race saw World Cup champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) get off to her usual fast start, with defending World Champion Catharine Pendrel (Canada) immediately taking up the chase, along with Ferrand-Prévot, Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland). Neff faded rapidly, a victim of the 2000 metre altitude and the many steep climbs, leaving Ferrand-Prévot and Pendrel at the front.
The French rider, who is also the reigning Road and Cyclo-cross World Champion, then rode Pendrel off her wheel in the second lap, recording the fastest full lap split of the race. While Ferrand-Prévot was comfortably set in the lead, behind the standings were getting shuffled as some riders who started fast faded and others moved up.
Pendrel continued to hold second place through the fourth lap, but Russia's Irina Kalentyeva and Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa were moving up, and caught the Canadian at the end of lap four. The three stayed together for half the lap before Kalentyeva attacked, getting a gap on Pendrel and Dahle Flesjaa, and moving into the silver medal spot.
Pendrel dropped Dahle Flesjaa in the pursuit, but Belomoina was also moving forward, and went straight by Dahle Flesjaa to catch and drop Pendrel in the sixth and final lap. Pendrel was also caught in the final few hundred metres by Dahle Flesjaa.
Ferrand-Prévot now holds, concurrently, an incredible four world titles across three disciplines: team relay and cross-country in mountain bike, the Elite road title and the Elite cyclo-cross title.
"Well, I gave it everything," stated Ferrand-Prévot. "With the altitude, the climb and the slippery downhill it was so hard. I really gave it everything because I wanted this title. I want to say a big thank you to French staff and French Federation because they believed in me and that was a really big help."
All year, the Elite men's competition has been between rivals Schurter and the defending champion Julien Absalon of France, a five time World Champion in the Elite category. The race for the rainbow jersey in Andorra was no different.
Schurter, always a fast starter, took the lead in the men's race after the first climb and was quickly joined by Absalon. The pair opened a 15 second gap by the second lap on a chase group containing Andrej Cink (Czech Republic), Manuel Fumic (Germany) and Mathias Fluckiger (Switzerland).
The time gap stayed steady through the next couple of laps, with Fluckiger dropping back after suffering a flat and having to stop in the pits at the beginning of lap four, and Cink dropping Fumic in the same lap. By the fifth lap, Schurter and Absalon were clearly going to take gold and silver, with Cink starting to pull away from Fumic for the bronze medal.
Schurter then attacked Absalon, opening a slim seven second gap by the start of the final lap. The gap may have been small, but both riders were at their maximum, and Absalon could not close it and Schurter could not extend it. only in the final few hundred metres did Absalon concede, allowing Schurter to roll across the line with his arms in the air. Cink came in just over a minute back, and seven seconds in front of Fumic.
"It was a tough race, especially here with altitude," commented Schurter. "I was suffering with [my] breathing. Midway through the race I was struggling and starting to think maybe it's not my day. But then I realized I'm a bit faster on the downhill than Absalon and could get a gap there. I am so happy about this victory, but I'm still so exhausted. Every World Championship is a nice achievement. It is the best feeling to ride in the World Champions jersey."
"It is very nice to battle with him [Absalon] and it is even better to beat him. I tried to just do my race, not to go too much in the red zone. Tried to race my pace."